On November 15th every year, we begin the 40-day fixed Nativity Fast, concluding on the December 24th, which is the 4th major feast of the new calendar year. As one of the four main fast periods throughout the ecclesiastical year, the Nativity Fast gives individuals the opportunity to prepare for the Feast of the Divine Incarnation and Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour in the Flesh on December 25. With special preparatory days announcing the approaching birth of the Saviour. Such as on Saint Andrew’s Day (November 30) and Saint Nicholas Day (December 6) songs are sung to announce the coming birth of our Lord.
During this period, we are called upon to intensify our spiritual lives through prayer, fasting and alms giving. Abstaining from certain food and drink, particularly from meat and dairy products (fish is permitted most days), with our primary aim to deepen our consciousness on our dependence upon God and purpose of our life. So that we may know God in truth, participate in His life and achieve union with Him through humility, prayer, love of enemy and repentance.
Fasting implies restraint, and restraint is not only about the types of food and drink that we consume but is part of an over-all discipline that seeks to free us from the constraints and demands of the world and its passions.
We are called to abstain for the 40 days, with up until the 11th of December, the church in its wisdom allowing its faithful to consume fish (except most Wednesdays and Fridays), though from the 12th of December, up until the 24th of December, a strict fast is observed without fish.
Recalling that it is God Who took the initiative and granted us the first and greatest gift with the incarnation of His only begotten Son, who became man for our sake that, through him, we might ourselves become divine, sons of God the Father by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit in us and continues to grant us the gifts of His pure Body and precious Blood through the Divine Mysteries of the Church.
It can seem challenging to make these types of alterations and adjustments in our lives during these 40 days, especially with a lot of Christmas related festivities taking place. However, we can also appreciate this sense of waiting and longing by re-living the experience of Israel, as we await the advent of our Lord in this specially designated period. Waiting implies expectation, a certain sense of excitement but it also implies patience, stabilised and strengthened by trust and faith in God, especially when we encounter obstacles, temptations, doubts, diversions and distractions. Renewing our sense of fulfillment of the prophecies of old and to again “greet” the newborn Christ with great joy and thanksgiving.
The world today has made the feast of the Nativity and the weeks preceding, a season focused on consumerism, filled with multiple work functions and events and with a heavy emphasis on the exchange of materialistic gifts, with less of an emphasis on Christ. As Orthodox Christians, we cannot join the world in its indifference to Christ and descend to the level of commercialisation of Christmas, as we approach the feast, let us challenge ourselves to not only hold the dietary guidelines prescribed but also to deepen our prayer and use our talents to give back without any expectations, whether it be through charity, alms giving or donating our time.
We must take the opportunity to prepare ourselves for Christ to be born in us.