Today is the first day of our Nativity Fast as Orthodox Christians, a fast that many in our contemporary society have forgotten. It is forty days of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and spiritual preparation to greet the Newborn King at Christmas. It is definitely counter-culture in today’s society, since most of our friends, neighbors and co-workers will spend the next six weeks celebrating the “Christmas Season” rather than preparing for it. By the time Christmas arrives in forty days, many of our friends will be sick and tired of Christmas. We Orthodox will be just getting started, but for now, we fast.
Over the past few months, the Church has remined us of the things that matter in our life. We began the new year in September with the Feasts of the Nativity of the Theotokos and the Holy Cross. One feast prepares us for another, as we know Christ would never have been able to offer Himself on the Holy Cross unless first the Holy Theotokos has been born. In the past weeks, the Church has reminded us of the first leaders of the Church and their strong faith to spread the Gospel and prepare the world to greet Christ. Now it is our turn to prepare to greet Him using the ‘tried and tested’ tools of the Church.
A lot of attention is given to the fast, but the Church has more tools than just fasting. In many places, the tradition of Forty Liturgies for Christmas begins today to give us strength in our preparation. Fasting without prayer and Communion is just a diet, so look at your schedule and plan to attend Church services more as part of your preparation for Christmas. If your local parish doesn’t have extra services, check the nearby parishes. At the very least, attend more of the services your parish schedules, and you will be better prepared for Christmas.
Our society is obsessed with Christmas shopping, and this year, despite the shortage of certain products, shopping will remain a preoccupation we must fight in our hearts. It isn’t that we shouldn’t shop for Christmas. I enjoy the art of picking out the perfect gift as much as the next guy, but I invite you to avoid the trap of believing Christmas can be ruined by not finding just the right gift. The gifts we give at Christmas are an act of love that no amount of shopping can convey. Keep your focus this year and try shopping better rather than more. Why not consider how the gifts you give this year can help your friends experience Christ more, rather than the most popular video game?
Ok, let’s talk fasting. The Nativity Fast is not as intense as the Great Fast for Pascha. As always, speak with your spiritual father so he can help you with a beneficial fast, not just a technical fast. The Nativity Fast is many times referred to as a “White Fast” meaning we only fast from meat and dairy for most of the time, but you should still consult your spiritual father on what works best for you this year. If you allow the Church to guide you, you will then notice something changes in December, but I’m not going to ruin the surprise quite yet.
As always, remember to do a little more this year than you did last year, so you are always growing in Christ. After all, you aren’t the same person you were a year ago, and the world most definitely is not the same world it was a year ago, so neither should your preparation for Christmas be the same.