CONSTANTINOPLE – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued his ‘Catechetical Homily for the Opening of Great Lent’, in which among other things he said that “in the life of the Church, all matters have a solid theological foundation and soteriological reference. Orthodox Christians share the ‘common struggle of ascesis and fasting “giving thanks in everything” (Thess. 5.18).
His All-Holiness also said:
“The Church invites its children to run the race of ascetic exercises as a journey toward Holy Pascha. It is a central experience of the life in Christ that genuine asceticism is never despondent, since it is imbued with the expectation of resurrectional delight. Our hymnology speaks of the ‘spring of fasting.’
In this sense, far from the trappings of Neoplatonist dualism and the alienating efforts to ‘mortify the body’, genuine asceticism cannot conceivably aim at the eradication of an ‘evil body’ for the sake of the spirit or the liberation of the soul from the torment of its shackles.
“In its authentic expression, ascesis is not directed against the body but against the passions, whose root is spiritual because the intellect is the first to fall to passion. Thus, the body is hardly the great opponent of the ascetic.”
The Patriarch emphasized that, “the ascetic endeavor pursues the transcendence of egocentrism, for the sake of love that ‘does not seek its own’ and without which we remain enslaved within ourselves, in the ‘insatiable ego’ and its unquenchable desires. Being self-centred, we shrink and lose our creativity, as has been said: ‘Whatever we give is multiplied; and whatever we retain for ourselves is lost.’ For this reason, the wisdom of the Fathers and the experience of the Church associate the period of fasting with the ‘showering of mercy,’ with good deeds and philanthropy, which are the evidence of surpassing self-love and acquiring existential fullness.”
He continued: “Such wholeness is at all times the characteristic of life in the Church. The liturgical life, ascesis and spirituality, pastoral care and good witness in the world, are expressions of the truth of our faith, interconnected and mutually complementary elements of our Christian identity, which share the eschatological Kingdom as a point of reference and orientation, as well as the completeness and fulfilment of the divine Economy. While church life in all its expressions reflects and depicts the coming Kingdom of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is the mystery of the Divine Eucharist that above all, as underlined by the late Metropolitan John of Pergamon, recently of blessed memory, ‘expresses the Church in its fullness’ (The Image of the Heavenly Kingdom, Megara 2013, p. 59).”