Saturday, November 16, 2013

My Office has a Christmas Party

The most common way to prepare for Christmas, according to the secular world, seems to be limited to shopping, decorating, more shopping, more decorating, a few “holiday” parties with friends, a bit more decorating and shopping, a few more “holiday” parties, and FINALLY, exhausted, we open our presents with family on Christmas day. WHEW….It tires me out just writing it. It’s no wonder most people can’t wait for Christmas to be over. Some even have already placed their Christmas Tree in the trash December 26th.

But THAT isn’t the Orthodox Christian way to prepare for Christmas. WE Orthodox prepare by setting aside 40 days for prayer, fasting, reading scripture, and attending Church services. AND we still have time for shopping for a few gifts for family and friends. This preparation is about as counter-culture in America as one can get. While the “world” is party hopping, Orthodox Christians are asked to fast.

Of course, I’m not naïve. Many Orthodox Christians have stopped the practice of fasting as preparation for Christmas. I’ve heard many excuses from people, but the most popular is connected with trying to fit in to the secular world rather than seeming like an anti-social coworker and neighbor. It seems EVERY office has a Christmas party. Within the GREEK Orthodox community, which I am the most familiar, there has been a long tradition of trying to blend into the American way of life. In fact, in the early 20th Century, there were many instances where Greeks were discriminated against, even violently by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. I’m not at all surprised that the community worked hard to blend in to their surroundings.

But it’s the 21st Century now and discrimination against Greeks and other traditionally Orthodox people from Russia, Romania, etc. has all but ended. There is STILL discrimination in our society, but it isn’t because Orthodox Christians are not attending “holiday” parties. Discrimination is mostly limited to ethnic and racial differences. So why not embrace the practice of fasting? (The sin of discrimination is for another blog post)

But why fast? Why not attend the office holiday party? Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline, not unique to Christianity, for the purpose of training ourselves to place greater focus on spiritual issues than physical ones. As Christians, we are called to deny ourselves and follow Christ. We are called to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, body and soul. When we fast, we literally practice placing God and our spiritual life ahead of the worldly life. During heightened seasons in the Church calendar, such as Christmas and Pascha, we dedicate extra time to spiritual disciplines.

The Church isn’t without celebration. Christmas is celebrated more than just Christmas day. In fact, we celebrate Christmas BEGINNING December 25th THROUGH January 5th. Maybe you didn’t know the 12 Days of Christmas begin with Christmas, rather than end with Christmas….

Whether you choose to fast or not for Christmas, consider this; don’t wear yourself out so you can’t celebrate the Feast of the Nativity in the Flesh of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The feast deserves more than shopping, decoration and parties as preparation. It deserves your heart. Take time this year to “do a little extra” spiritual exercise and, take it from personal experience, EVERY part of Christmas will be more enjoyable.

This post is part of a series of posts for the 40 Days of Blogging Challenge sponsored by the Preachers Institute. You may find other blogs participating in this challenge. I hope you enjoy this year’s Advent journey.


Scott said...

You might want to clarify what you mean by "fasting" just in case you have any Protestant readers. In many of the lower Protestant churches, like Baptists and Assembly of God, the idea of "fasting" means a total abstinence from all food for a period of time. These folks will fast for a day or three or even 40 days with only water. So the Orthodox concept of fasting is radically different (and refreshing) since nearly everyone can do it, not just the spiritual elite (or nut jobs)

Fr. Athanasios C Haros said...

Scott, what if I told that Orthodox Fasting WAS a complete fast? What if I told you that fasting from just certain foods was a pastoral adjustment for the needs of people? In the ancient Church, fasting was total what we might call a medical fast today. It was later was the fast developed into seasons that the "limited diet" version of fasting came about. Here are some other posts I have on the question of fasting.