The epistle of Metropolitan Vitaly, the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, Bishop of Montreal and All Canada, delivered on Pascha 2001.
Remember, my dear ones, that as a bird is held up and flies through the air using two wings, so we can spiritually live and strive towards our eternal salvation with fasting and prayer. Prayer leads to fasting, while fasting purifies prayer, makes it more sincere, more heartfelt and genuine. These two virtues are inseperable: one strengthens the other. We are all people, and as human beings we consist of the body, in which, as in its house, lives the soul. Fasting together with prayer address the needs of the whole man – his soul and, of course, his body.
To fast in the soul means keeping silent more and praying more frequently by oneself saying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” At first this prayer will be only in our minds, then, because of the mind’s prayerful effort, suddenly, we know not how, this prayer passes into our hearts. It is possible that at this moment we may even weep and in this way we are baptized anew in the unseen font of our tears. There are all kinds of tears: tears of exaltation, tears of joy, tears of sadness, but the most precious are tears of compunction and repentance.
Sincere repentance is a gift of God such that, although we may not have committed any severe fall into sin or evil deed, we still se ourselves in our true light, see how weak we are, how much we sin in the mind, in our feelings, and especially in our imagination. Looking honestly at ourselves, we have nothing left to say except “Lord God have mercy on me, help me, and forgive, forgive, forgive me!” then forgiveness will come into our souls like Pascha, and we are as it were born anew. And if the lord should forgive, who will condemn us? Our sins are forgiven us at each confession, but we must remember that there is the “Great Forgiveness,” which consists in this, that by God’s mercy, we unconsciously stop committing certain specific sins, such as sinful acts, words, deeds and thoughts, but at the same time we continue to feel and be aware of our profound sinfulness. The most perfect man is the one who, precisely as he is a man, sincerely feels that he is a great sinner. An example of this was St. Seraphim of Sarov.
The Lord Almighty Himself came down upon earth, through the Ever-Virgin Mary, as an ordinary man but, being God, He was sinless and the most Holy. For our salvation He suffered, was crucified and wondrously rose from the dead, thereby showing us the path to our eternal salvation, which is the path of fasting, prayer and repentance. That is what we must strive towards and what we must ask of the lord. Amen.
First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia