DIOCESE OF THE EASTERN UNITED STATES
Bishop William Bower's Lenten Letter
9 February 2024
Peace be with you!
Beloved, the season of Lent is upon us once again leaving behind Christmastide and
Epiphanytide as a sweet memory. In Lent we draw closer to God through increased prayer and
fasting/abstinence in the imitation of Christ in the wilderness.
Jesus was not unique in His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness as it is a pattern seen clearly in
the Old Testament. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain as he awaited the Ten
Commandments from God (Exodus 24:18). Noah spent 40 days and 40 nights in the ark until the
rain subsided (Genesis 7:12). Elijah spent 40 days on his journey to Mount Sinai. And the
Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness on their way to Canaan (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). These
are but a few examples. That number 40 is significant in that 40 days always indicates a time of
testing, probation, trial, and ultimately triumph. In fact, there are 40 days between Jesus’
resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:3).
As Christians, we are called to be imitators of Christ and of those who are in Christ. This is so
important that more than 53 verses in the New Testament call us to do so both directly and
indirectly. Lent gives us that opportunity to examine ourselves, make those corrections needed,
and to become closer to God.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and continues until Maundy Thursday whenever we enter the
Sacred Triduum (the three most holy days wherein we journey from darkness to light, from the
crucifixion to the resurrection of our Lord). And during this period of reflection, it is good for us
to make the Lenten observances of increased prayer and fasting/abstinence.
I recall whenever I was first in the Eastern Orthodox Church that fasting, and abstinence was
somewhat extreme and severe. Sabrina and I looked for guidance and bought a Lenten cookbook which said that we needed to go to the “Lenten market” to buy what we needed. The “Lenten market”? That doesn’t quite fit in our modern American society. And our medical understanding for fasting is substantially different than what the Church means whenever directing us to fast (see the requirement of priests to tell their congregations of Holy Days and Fasting Days on page 71 of the Book of Common Prayer).
So, I will take a moment to break down these concepts as to what the Church means with these
terms. There is no “you must” in these directions but rather finding that combination that will
help you reflect on your spiritual life and draw closer to God. As the old Anglican saying goes,
“All may, some do, none must.” If you need help with this, please reach out to your priest or
spiritual director and they can help guide you.
Fasting – This refers to how much we eat. During Lent it is a good practice to reduce our
consumption of food and other distractions. This means simple meals and lower portions of
food. It can also mean cutting out entertainment, and distractions from prayer.
Abstinence – This refers to what we eat. It is the general practice of many Christians to abstain
from flesh (bloody) meat during Lent or at least on Fridays in Lent. This is where the practice of
“fish on Friday” comes into play. As we abstain from red meat, we recall the bloody sacrifice of
our Lord in His scourging and on the Cross and that helps us to realize that what we are giving
up in our love for God, is very minimal compared to what He went through for the love of us.
Increased Prayer – Fasting and abstinence are good, but they are nothing without prayer. During
Lent we should extend our daily prayers and to pray additionally whenever we recognize our sins that God will help us to correct our lives. Correction is only seen as judgment to those who love their sin more than they love God. Many parishes offer added services such as Stations of the Cross, and other devotions, to assist us in increasing our prayer life. If you don’t feel like
praying or going to these added services, force yourself to do so anyway. Because something is
also forcing you not to pray. You will be glad that you spent that time with the Lord!
40 days – Anyone with a calendar knows that there are more than 40 days betwixt Ash
Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. The 40 days of additional prayer, fasting and abstinence
excludes Sundays as Sunday is the day of the resurrection. Each Sunday is a mini-Easter
wherein we celebrate the risen Lord and call to mind that we too shall rise from the dead. On
Sundays it is not appropriate to abstain or fast.
Lastly, working to eradicate sin from our life is not just a Lenten practice. Please do not simply
give up sin for Lent, give it up permanently! Give up something good for Lent for the
mortification of your flesh so that you may resume that good thing at Easter with a clear
Beloved, I pray that we all have a spiritually fruitful Great and Holy Lent. The more that we put
into Lent, the greater our joy will be at Easter. May your joy be full.
God bless you!
The Right Reverend William Bower, SSC
Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the Eastern United States (DEUS)
Bishop, Vicar General - US Military Chaplain
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