Message to Youth for the Great Fast from Bishop John of Parma
Self-mastery is a goal of Great Lent: mastery not only of self, but also of those things not worthy of God.
Young people are often counseled to strive for “self-mastery.” This concept is appropriate to our Great Fast consideration.
Especially in this country, this may be understood from the viewpoint of a master who has control over another (slave).
This form of relationship denies one person the right to make decisions; it actually removes the one’s personhood. Even the Greek word for master, “despota” gives us the word “despot,” meaning a leader who exercises authority with no restrictions.
“Self-mastery” may be understood in this way as becoming master of myself, as controlling that in me which is not worthy of God. This implies that part of me is not good, but that seems to contradict our understanding that all God created was good.
Consider another use of the word. An expert in something is also called a master, like a master carpenter, or a master of the piano. This is a person to be sought out, not avoided. From such a person, we can learn and possibly advance to become a master ourselves. This kind of master lifts us up rather than holds us down, offers us freedom to be rather than suppression.
This is the context in which Jesus was called “Master.” He was the perfect teacher, the master of living. He never wielded a strong hand of domination but reached out a hand of service. He offers us his example of service and obedience to God the Father.
Jesus shows how, as a human, he can “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Mt 5:48) and invites us to model ourselves after him and become masters of living itself.
In conforming ourselves to his person I may perfect, not a skill, but my very life.
As we proceed toward Great and Holy Week, we unite our Great Fast sacrifices to that of Jesus and we learn, we progress in, self-mastery. This progression leads to the freedom of the children of God, (Gal 5:1) not slavery.
Not journeying alone, we are supported by other Christians and are encouraged by the witness of the martyrs like Blessed Theodore Romzha. These courageous Christians who truly mastered life, accepting even death in their pursuit, are given to us to help us know our role in our mastering of life.
Our Great Fast discipline of fasting, prayer and almsgiving will indeed lead to a self-mastery because in this way we become icons of God the master.
Let us proceed in the footsteps of Christ, in the footsteps of Blessed Theodore, with confidence and hope in the resurrection. With Christ we shall realize true freedom.
Bishop John Kudrick is the bishop of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma Ohio.