Sermon on Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent

Delivered March 1, 2023, in Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow


In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

We have entered the grace-filled time of the Holy Forty Days, Great Lent. The goal of the fast consists in helping a person rise above mundane life to feel the presence of divine grace, to feel that each of us, regardless of our human weakness, has the opportunity in prayer and through prayer to enter into real contact with God.

Someone might say: What does food have to do with that? Perhaps it’s possible to attain all this without restrictions on food—through books, or contemplation? Well, the two-thousand-year experience of the Church (and this experience is based on the example of our Lord and Savior) testifies to the necessity of restrictions on food, and self-restrictions in general. After all, the fast requires us to restrict ourselves not only in food, but also in various activities that can harm a person’s spiritual state.

For example, we need to restrict our participation in entertainment events, perhaps from excessive watching of television programs, especially those that are oriented toward fun, laughter, or pleasure. Again, the worldly man will say, “Why is all this necessary?” And the answer is: Without self-restriction, a person can have no spiritual or even intellectual growth.

Speaking of intellectual growth, we need to look at the biographies of many scholars—how much they remind us of the biographies of spiritual ascetics! These people renounced everything and immersed themselves entirely in the sciences, becoming ascetics of their work. It is such people who “light the spark”, and attain to things that others cannot. Therefore, only through enormous strength of will, through very strict abstinence, does a person truly reach the heights.

Well, and what about sports? Can anyone become a champion if he doesn’t limit himself in anything? Can you win a competition if you eat, party, rest, and sleep? Never! Any victory in sports demands enormous self-restraint.

Then what can we say about a person’s spiritual victory over himself? About the possibility of getting closer to God, of feeling His grace? Can this movement be made without physical podvig? Of course not! Because man is not only spiritual; he also possesses a physical body. Therefore, self-restriction in food, entertainment, and the way he spends his time is a way and means for exalting the human soul.

This is not some sort of self-flagellation, as unbelievers sometimes say. “Well, why are you torturing yourselves? Why not eat a little sausage at breakfast? Or drink a little milk? What stupidity!” But in fact, the path to the heights lies through these trifles. After all, when a person restricts himself in the small, he gains the ability and opportunity to limit himself in the great.

And what could be greater for a person than salvation of the soul? What could be more excellent than a meeting with God? A meeting not only beyond the grave, but also in our lifetime—through the joyful experience of Divine Liturgy, through tears of compunction when grace touches the heart, through Paschal joy. It is not possible to attain this grace and joy without effort. And that means that efforts are necessary, including restricting ourselves in food, drink, and our manner of life in general.

For this reason, we have Great Lent, so that through self-restriction, we might discover the opportunity to see the Lord, to have contact with sanctity, and to feel His grace. This means that the fast is not a time of sadness, not a time of great psychological stress, or simply for the sake of overcoming the desire to eat non-fasting foods. The fast should reveal to us what it means for us to strive towards the Lord.

And if during this movement toward God we limit ourselves so insignificantly, by foregoing one type of food, then what kind of podvig is that? The minimum! But it is amazing how not everyone is capable of even this minimal asceticism. The Church therefore calls each of the faithful to relate very seriously to the time of holy Great Lent.

Truly, we should refrain from foods, but not only from foods. We should likewise refrain from passing time idly, from everything that can distract us from the most important thing and bring a certain dissonance into the general state of our soul.

We should arrange our days so that prayer would occupy more time in them than usual. It is very important to immerse ourselves in the reading of Holy Scripture. Unfortunately, few Orthodox Christians read Holy Scripture every day. But this is so very important, first of all in order to enable us to grow in the faith, to familiarize ourselves as much as possible with God. But on the other hand, the words of Holy Scripture carry grace, and they do not only teach us, but also create a special inner state of the soul, which enables us to assimilate everything that the Scripture brings to those who read it. In other words, the time of the fast is a time of spiritual concentration, prayer, reading Holy Scripture, and of course, it is a time of abstinence. But all of this must be done with joy; I would even say, with a smile.

We are walking towards the Lord, to meet the Bright Resurrection of Christ, and we bring such a small, microscopic sacrifice in the form of not drinking milk or eating meat. So let us make an effort to bring this small, microscopic sacrifice to the Lord, and spend this fast in abstinence and prayer, going more often to church than usual, confessing our sins, and receiving the Holy Mysteries of Christ.

And may the Lord help us precisely this way—in peace of soul, in joy, as God’s word teaches us, and not in sorrow, or furrowed brow—to dedicate the Holy Forty Days to prayer and glorifying the Lord. And we believe that in response to our modest gift, and our modest efforts, the Lord will give us His grace, peace of soul, and health to those who especially need it. I congratulate all of you, my dear ones, on entering upon the time of the Holy Forty Days! Amen!

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill
Translation by


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