Prot. 43/2010R                                                                                                                                        Rabweh


To our dear brother bishops, members of our Holy Synod,

Superior generals, mother generals,

Our sons, the priests,

Sons and daughters of our eparchies and parishes of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church

In Arab countries and throughout the world,

Quadragesimal greetings, with affection, blessing and prayer!


"Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17: 21; Mark 9: 29)

Thus Jesus addresses his disciples, who were asking him why they had not been able to eject the evil spirit from the possessed man.

This teaching is directed to us all and in my turn, I pass it on to you, dear friends, at the beginning of Great and Holy Lent. The basic Lenten programme consists of fasting and prayer, which form the introduction to the practice of Christian virtues and Gospel values. They are our guidelines towards loving God, worshipping him, encountering him and loving our fellow humans.

The first point is prayer: at home, with Gospel reading, then participating in the beautiful Lenten services of Great Compline, the Presanctified Liturgy, the Akathist to the Theotokos, the Lenten Sunday processions with icons and with relics, the Veneration of the Holy Cross, and the Liturgy of Saint Basil, with its fine, theological prayers. The second point is fasting, the rules of which according to the old discipline are as follows[1]:

Great Lent in the Ancient Discipline of the Church

The days of fasting (abstinence) are the days of Wednesday and Friday of the Carnival Week before Cheesefare Week and Monday through Friday of the weeks of Lent and of Great and Holy Week, except the day when the Annunciation falls (25 March).

Great and Holy Saturday is the only Saturday on which one must keep a fast. It is forbidden to fast on the other Saturdays of the year, because Saturday (Sabbath) is a holy day linked with the day of the Resurrection (Sunday).

Days of abstinence are for the whole time of Great Lent, including Sundays and during all of Holy Week, unless the Annunciation falls then, except Palm Sunday, when fish may be eaten.

The Wisdom of Fasting

The Holy Fathers of the Church consider Great Lent or the Great Fast of the Great Days as a carrying out of the tithe for God. Forty days is almost a tenth of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. In fact, we read in the commandments, to carry out the tithe and receive blessing. (Deuteronomy 12:6-7) To that we add the Advent Fast, the Apostles' Fast and the Dormition Fast. The different fasts fall in all four seasons of the year to sanctify the whole year. The Advent Fast is in autumn, the Great Fast of forty days is mostly in winter, the Apostles' Fast is in late spring and the Fast of the Dormition in summer.

So the faithful Christian who observes the different fasts remains in a continuous relationship with the spiritual and ascetic exercises and in a spiritual watchfulness to enable the Holy Spirit to work in him. In the same way he keeps his fitness of soul and body together.

Many people seek out doctors and scientists to get information relevant for keeping their bodily good health but we should not be at all surprised to find that the wisdom of the Church in distributing the fasts is absolutely in agreement with medical instructions and even superior to their advice, for it is aimed at health of soul and body. So is fulfilled the saying of the great master Jesus, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33) And again he says, "It is written, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4) That was the reply of Jesus to the tempter in the desert. St. Paul says, explaining the true meaning of Lent, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." (I Corinthians 10:31) And he also says, "Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." (I Corinthians 6:20)

The Canon and Discipline of Fasting and Abstinence in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church

Our Holy Synods have more than once dealt with the question of fasting and abstinence, especially between 1949-54. General guidance was given, above all, after Vatican II, that each local bishop organise the discipline of fasting and abstinence suitable to his eparchy.

Despite different dispensations which were put in place for different situations in life, the discipline of fasting according to the old, Eastern tradition remains firm and, thank God, fairly well practised in many monastic religious institutions, among the clergy and faithful.

Great Lent starts this year on Monday, 15 February and lasts until the morning of Pascha on 5 April, 2010. This year and next year too, Christians everywhere will be celebrating Pascha on the same day, a cause of great joy!

For our part, we should like to emphasise the importance and necessity for fasting according to the old tradition. We encourage everyone - clergy and laity, old and young, teenagers, men and women, families and single people to practise fasting and abstinence according to the rule, with enthusiasm, warmth and joy.

To all I wish a good Holy Lent, with my love and blessing,

+ Gregorios

Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Translation from the French: V. Chamberlain

[1] Letter for Great and Holy Lent (2004) I am with you always Pastoral Letters of Patriarch Gregorios III (Eastern Christian Publications 2008)

Teachings of Christ

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem

O Lord and Master of my life, drive away from me the spirit of despondency, carelessness, love of power, and idle chatter. (Prostration)

Rather grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humility, patience, and love. (Prostration)

Yes, O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults and not condemn my brother; for You are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen. (Prostration)

Random Proverb

"The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing." (Proverbs 9:13 ESV)

Pray Without Ceasing

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

Let not us who would be Christians expect anything else than to be crucified....for to be Christian is to be crucified in this time and in any time since Christ came for the first time. His life is the example and warning to us all. We must be crucified personally,mystically; for trough crucifixion is the only path to resurrection, if we would rise with Christ, we must be humbled with him even to the ultimate humiliation, being devoured and spit forth by the uncomprehending world.... We must be crucified outwardly in the eyes of the world, for Christ's kingdom is not of this world and world cannot bear it, even a single representative, even for the single moment.

Fr Seraphim Rose