nativity season: fasting, almsgiving and prayer

    1. Come, O ye faithful, inspired by God let us arise and behold the divine condescension from on high that is made manifest to us in Bethlehem. Cleansing our minds, let us offer through our lives virtues instead of myrrh, preparing with faith our entry into the feast of the Nativity, storing up treasure in our souls and crying: Glory in the highest to God in Trinity, whose good pleasure is now revealed to men, that in His love for mankind He may set Adam free from the ancestral curse.
      (Sticheron of the Sixth Hour, Christmas Eve)

    1. Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord as we tell of this present mystery. The middle wall of partition has been destroyed; the flaming sword turns back, the cherubim withdraw from the tree of life, and I partake of the delight of Paradise from which I was cast out through disobedience. For the express Image of the Father, the Imprint of His eternity, takes the form of a servant, and without undergoing change He comes forth from a Mother who knew not wedlock. For what He was, He has remained, true God: and what He was not, He has taken upon himself, becoming man through love for mankind. Unto Him let us cry aloud: God born of a Virgin, have mercy upon us!
      (Sticheron of Vespers of the Nativity)
  1. On November 15, the Orthodox Church universally embarks on a 40 day fast in preparation for the Birth of Christ. As we approach the Nativity and the increased demands on us spiritually and socially in this holiday season, we need to keep an important concept to keep before us, and that is: We see the light of God according to the measure we have removed the things that blind us to His light. Our goal through fasting, prayer and almsgiving during the Nativity season is to subdue our passions for our fleshly desires in fasting, to fast from our lusts for worldly goods and selfishness through almsgiving, and from our busyness and attachment to our “life by the dayplanner” by increased time with God in prayer. Through these things we can come to the Birth of Christ like the Magi, who spent many days journeying across the desert on a long and hard journey. They voluntarily gave up the daily comforts and security of their homes to lay their gifts at His feet praising God for His great Gift to mankind. We are called to the same journey. Let us not look on the services of the church, the rules of prayer and fasting as inconveniences and increased demands on us, but as preparation, and a foretaste and opportunity to experience what lies ahead for us in His glorious and eternal kingdom.
  2. The Fast of the Nativity is the Church’s prescription to heal our human infirmity. God, by the Holy Spirit has guided the Church to put before us a discipline that will keep us in spiritual health and remembrance of the One who came with “healing on His wings”. We are called to draw near to God, to contemplate His coming in human flesh to assume our human nature and restore it to its former glory by His grace.
  3. The Nativity fast is a journey. ‘Come, O ye faithful, and let us behold where Christ is born. Let us join the Magi, kings from the east, and follow the guiding star’. We are called like so many other Biblical faithful to enter a journey toward God. Abraham, Moses, the Twelve were all called, but the step toward a new life in God was by their own free will, ‘Abram went, as the Lord had told him’ (Gen 12.4).
  4. A journey is not “normal life”, it calls on us to pare down our existence to bare essentials, to “travel light”. We cannot take all of our possessions on a journey. The best planned journey has an element of us being “out of control”. We cannot forsee all the detours, the mechanical breakdowns, the things that distract us along the way either by their beauty or their unfamiliarity. We move to a new place, and though we may return to our former home, we see our old place through different eyes. We are transformed by a journey. This is the spirit to which the fast calls us.
  5. Here the importance of the fast and alms. We are reminded by the Church that ALL creation rejoices at the coming of its Creator to redeem it from corruption. The Incarnation is a COSMIC event, rooted in eternity. The fast and our spiritual disciplines ask us: Do I rejoice? Why? Fasting, alms and prayer remind us we are part of the creation, we stand as the undeserving poor, the lowly shepherds, the alienated Magi, Mary choosing obedience and humility, Joseph bearing the scandal, as Simeon and Anna who lived in anticipation. We are touched in so many places of our lives by the story of the Incarnation of God. We sing: Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away; born of a Virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve, and they call out: ‘Thy good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind’.
  6. Adam and Eve, indeed ALL of humankind, are renewed and made alive in the Incarnation of God in Christ, who ‘appeared on earth to save our kind’. Our bodies that are bound to death, are taken into the body of Christ and through His flesh are made truly alive. It has been said truly that humankind drew its first full breath at the infant Christ’s first cry.
  7. We are called to see that the Nativity is not only about God’s coming down to us, but about our rising up to Him We are called to arise during the fast and walk the journey into Christmas. ‘O blessed Lord who seest all, raise us up far above sin, and establish Thy singers firm and unshaken upon the foundation of the faith’. We abandon those things which bind us, weigh us down and hinder our walk, in order that a focus on God as ‘all in all’ might become ever more real and central to daily life. This is the purpose of fasting. Meals are different, less complex, so that a constant, lingering hunger may remind us of the great need we each have for spiritual food that goes beyond our daily bread. The number of Church services and prayers are increased, that we might know “the bread which comes from heaven”. We focus on alms and give away that which we would normally spend on our selves. Parties may be avoided or reduced, that we might realise that the joy of this world does not fulfill. We voluntarily lay aside anything which holds the slightest power over us that we might bring ourselves to be obedient to God and not our flesh. This is the seed of virtue, to willfully lay aside the passions of the flesh to make clear a path to God.
  8. The Church journeys toward the birth of Christ God by prayer, alms and fasting. It is a journey few if any, keep perfectly, and in fact it is fully intended to bring us to humility and face to face with the death we live within. Unless we grasp the desperate state we live in we cannot come to the Manger and the Virgin with Child bearing joyful gifts from the heart. We cannot understand what was overcome by God in our flesh if we do not understand the corruption of our flesh that needs God’s hand to overcome. God assumed in His flesh all of our diseases, the sickness unto death, and in His flesh overcame it on behalf of all mankind.
  9. The transformation of the cosmos took place in a manger. The transformation of us as human beings takes place when Christ is formed in us as He was being formed in Mary by her humble obedience. Let us fast and pray and give to the poor of pocket and spirit that we may glorify Him with the angelic hosts and humble shepherds when He appears on earth to reunite creation and Creator.
  10. Today the Virgin comes to the cave to give birth in a manner indescribable to the pre-eternal Word. Rejoice, O universe, and glorify with the angels and shepherds, Him who chose to appear as a young Child, the pre-eternal God.
    (Kontakion of the Forefeast)
  11. from “Our Life In Christ”

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