To the Reverend Clergy, Monastic Communities, Parish Councils, Philoptochos Societies, Choirs and Youth Organizations of the Faithful of the Holy Metropolis of San Francisco,

"Let us observe a fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord."

Dearly Beloved,

I am filled with joy whenever I have the occasion to communicate with you. This time I am afforded the opportunity by the Church which invites us with maternal exhortation to begin the Great Fast in a way which is pleasing to God. That is, to do it for the salvation of our soul, something which God desires above all else for us.

What does salvation of the soul mean? How do we understand it? Unfortunately these times we have neither been concerned about it, nor do we talk about it and certainly, do not fully understand the phrase “salvation of the soul.” The reason for this is simple. We have focused all of our attention on other concerns relating to our physical state, our economic situation or social status. For sure, we should be concerned about these things, but we would not be overwhelmed by them if we give consideration to and show concern for the salvation of our soul. We should realize that we are not created only of flesh and emotions such as pride, be it personal, community, religious or ethnic, but we also possess a spirit, that is a soul, without which the body is soulless and dead.

It is the soul which gives enlightenment to our mind, beauty to our body, depth to our personality, love to our heart, meaning to our acts and decency and dignity to our lives. Through these things the existence of our soul becomes real and visible. For these reasons, let us do everything we can to protect our soul from every evil and from every danger which could harm it.

What saves the soul? They are enumerated upon by the same hymnography of the opening verse. First, there is the renouncement of evil-which is the distancing of ourselves from everything evil; controlling one’s tongue-which is to suppress oneself from saying evil things; refraining from anger-to avoid ever becoming angry; abstaining from lust-to subdue our carnal passions to the point that they no longer control us; and finally, avoiding slander, lying and perjury which fatally can injure our ethos and our soul.

Only a fast which is observed in such a manner so as to lead us to abstain or distance ourselves from all of these evils is pleasing and acceptable to God and He will strengthen us in our journey along this good road which is His road. Any other interpretation or observance of the fast which, unfortunately, we have become accustomed to practicing would be offensive to God since “God cannot be mocked.” And it would lead to anything but the salvation of our soul.

I wish to emphasize this issue of the salvation of our soul because it is the soul which gives inner peace to our conscience, purity to our thoughts and value and meaning to our lives. Therefore, let the fast this time be a true and meaningful fast. A commitment to self-control and self-respect because this is what fasting is…it is a spiritual regiment which can give us the power to avoid those things which please the body but which harm the soul.

Great Lent is an invitation to work to achieve certain goals which are: first, to restore prayer to its rightful place in our lives; second, to approach God with deliberate watchfulness; third, to distance ourselves from those things which lead us to spiritually live a double life; fourth, to cleanse our conscience; and fifth, to foster integrity and honor in our thoughts. Such a fast, not the usual one in which we simply abstain from certain foods, but rather one concerned for the salvation of our soul, I hope God will make you worthy to observe this year.

With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco