Repentance was the main theme of Patriarch Daniel’s homily delivered Monday evening at the Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest. ‘The Great Lent is a school of repentance,’ because it is ‘a mystical partaking of the Saviour’s forty-day fast,’ and a struggle against the tendencies inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve, especially ‘the tendency to accuse others and excuse ourselves,’ the Patriarch of Romania said after having read out the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete on the first day of Lent.
His Beatitude told the believers attending the Great Compline at the Patriarchal Cathedral that ‘fasting is the only way to regain paradise that was lost by our foreparents.’
‘Although without sin, our Saviour fasted, prayed, and instructed us how to become obedient to God unto death – even death on a cross. The Old Adam’s disobedience was healed by the obedience to God of the New Adam, Jesus Christ,’ Patriarch Daniel explained Feb. 19.
The Patriarch reflected on the etymology of the Greek word metanoia meaning ‘a transformative change of the way we think, speak and live,’ and pointed to the fact that ‘repentance means regret for the evil we have done, for our sins, and a decision to correct ourselves, for a new beginning.’
‘However, this fight against sin is not a fight with sin within others, but a struggle with the sin within us. That is why, repentance is a difficult labour. Sometimes it is easier to fight your enemies rather than your sins,’ the patriarch noted.
Although it is a difficult and tiresome struggle, ‘we should not be sad,’ the patriarch said quoting the Gospel of Matthew, ‘When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do’ (Mt 6:16).
Why we receive joy during the fasting season, the patriarch asked. It is because we love Christ, he said adding that ‘beyond eating less, we give up food of animal origin and eat more vegetarian products, which give us a predisposition to prayer, to the relief from our selfish passions.’
Patriarch Daniel went on to highlight that fasting is a sacrifice in which our Saviour accompanies us:
‘We fast because we love our Saviour. Fasting is an offering, a sacrifice, a self-offering brought to Christ who sanctifies our life and partakes of our fasting. He helps us fast so that our fasting may not be a mere self-starvation, but rather a transformative change.’
The patriarch said that this transformative change is manifested in the way of reasoning and living. ‘We untie the bonds made by food when it becomes covetousness or a selfish passion, when we are more concerned of food and drink than of prayer and good deeds.’
Above restraint from material nourishment, ‘the fasting period ordained by the Church is a transformation of physical hunger and thirst into a hunger and thirst for God, a longing after God,’ Patriarch Daniel added. ‘If we fast but do not pray, our fast becomes very difficult. It represents a self-imposed ban without receiving anything in return.’
‘When renouncing the material food without replacing it with a spiritual nourishment, the person who fasts becomes annoyed, agitated, disturbed, because they renounced something and received nothing in return,’ the Romanian Patriarch cautioned. He went on to reflect on the lives of the great venerable hermits who fasted and proved that ‘prayer gives energy – power from Christ’s power.’
‘This is the true understanding of fasting: the conversion of the hunger of material things into a hunger for spiritual things,’ the patriarch said closing his sermon.
Patriarch Daniel encouraged all to read the Holy Bible and other spiritual books, to attend the divine services officiated during Great Lent, and to offer prayers, especially the Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian by which we ask to be freed from four main passions: the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. We also ask for the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love.
‘This Lenten Prayer is also called a seal of the whole repentance school during the Holy and Great Lent,’ Patriarch Daniel said.
Ending his speech, the Patriarch of Romania prayed to our Lord Jesus Christ, who fasted for forty days, and to the all great saints who fasted ‘to help us understand this period as a school of repentance and an ascent towards resurrection.’
Photography courtesy of Robert Nicolae/Basilica.ro