My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE HOLY NATIVITY FAST – NOVEMBER 15TH – DECEMBER 24TH
As we Orthodox Christians prepare to commence the Holy Nativity Fast (Nov. 15 to Dec. 24), we are reminded by Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ how should fast: "Moreover; when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But YOU, WHEN YOU FAST, ANOINT YOUR HEAD AND WASH YOUR FACE, SO THAT YOU DO NOT APPEAR TO MEN TO BE FASTING, BUT TO YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN THE SECRET PLACE; AND YOUR FATHER WHO SEES IN SECRET WILL REWARD YOU OPENLY" (Matthew 6:16-18).
Saint Paul writes about fasting: "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. LET NOT HIM WHO EATS DESPISE HIM WHO DOES NOT EAT, AND LET NOT HIM WHO DOES NOT EAT JUDGE HIM WHO EATS; FOR GOD HAS RECEIVED HIM. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another, another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He WHO EATS, EATS TO THE LORD, FOR HE GIVES GOD THANKS, AND HE WHO DOES NOT EAT, TO THE LORD HE DOES NOT EAT, AND GIVES GOD THANKS" (Romans 14:1-6).
Saint Theophylactos comments on Matthew 6:17-18: "Men (people) of all would anoint themselves with oil after bathing as a mark of their joy and well-being. So you also, O reader, should appear joyful when you fast. The oil used to anoint we also understand TO MEAN ALMSGIVING (CHARITY). Our Head is Christ, Which we should anoint with DEEDS OF MERCY; and our face, that is, OUR SENSES, WE SHOULD WASH WITH TEARS OF REPENTANCE."
Saint Paul exhorts us: "Be anxious for nothing, but IN EVERYTHING BY PRAYER AND SUPPLICATION, WITH THANKSGIVING, LET YOUR REQUESTS BE MADE KNOW TO GOD; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7).
Fasting, philanthropy (charity), and prayer are important and necessary tools that we, as believers, use, to strengthen our spiritual life in Christ. The life of the Christian is a life that revolves around Christ our Savior, He is the center of our life. The Divinely Inspired Scripture is the foundation of the whole of Orthodox spirituality. "Sanctify them through Thy Truth: Thy Word (Logos) is Truth" (John 17:17). Saint John Chrysostom interprets this verse: "Make them holy through the gift of the Spirit and by correct doctrine." In Orthodox Christian churches the Book of the Gospels always lies on the middle of the holy Altar Table, and, while no mark of worship is paid to the reserved Eucharistic elements (when, as is not necessarily the case, they are reserved} each priest approaching the Holy Table kisses (venerates) the Holy Gospel first. The Holy Scripture is the very substance of the dogmas and liturgies of the Orthodox Church and, through them, infuses the piety of Orthodox Christian souls.
The reading and studying of the Holy Bible for Orthodox Christians is the heart of their life in Christ. Saint John Chrysostom was the champion of diligent Bible reading even among the laity. The Holy Scripture is vital in understanding the Lord’s Gospel message and necessary for following Christ, on charity towards the poor and the suffering.
Our Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition teaches that fasting was instituted by God Himself. It goes back to the very beginning of the human race, when our Divine Creator and Fashioner gave the commandment of fasting to Adam and Eve, asking them NOT to eat the forbidden fruit. They instead chose to disobey God, and this lead to their expulsion from Paradise. If the Christian believer desires to attain the Kingdom of God, he or she must first demonstrate his or her obedience to all of God’s Commandments; so he should also respect and abide by the commandment of fasting.
Those believers who are familiar with the Divine Scripture know that Moses fasted for forty days on Mount Sinai in order to be worthy of meeting God and receiving the Ten Commandments from Him (Exodus 34:28). In the New Testament, we witness Jesus Christ fasting for forty days in the desert immediately after His Baptism in the River Jordan (Luke 4:2; Matthew 4:2). Our Savior, even though He Himself is without sin, decided to fast voluntarily in order to reveal that it is through fasting and prayer that we can overcome our sins (Matthew 9:29). Furthermore, the Holy Apostles knew by the Lord Himself and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, that fasting is an inviolable command of God and therefore they officially established the Apostoclk rule of fasting.
We, of course, are taught, above and beyond material fasting, there is SPIRITUAL FASTING which is even more significant. Spiritual fasting means abstaining from non-food-related passions: the Christian should be careful about what one sees (e.g. violent, obscene or sexually explicit images or programs) and what one says (e.g. lying, slender, blame, gossip, false witness, stealing). Therefore, in order to completely enjoy the benefits of fasting, the Orthodox Christian should continue both material and spiritual fasting, together with prayer and spiritual struggle towards the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
Another important point is making shure that the Orthodox Christian has a spiritual father ( a priest, or a monk priest, always the same one, to whom one goes for the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Repentance/Confession and who guides his spiritual child/ren) on matter of faith) and who in the case of fasting offers advice and guidance. It is his/her spiritual father who will give advice on matters of fasting and if there is a logitimate health issue to give his blessing to deviate from the formal or traditional fast discipline.
Fasting should be done: a) in secret, without revealing to others what one is doing. "That when you do a charitable deed, do not let your heand know wht your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret" (Matthew 6:3-4). That it must be done joyfully, because our aim lies in giving rather than receiving. Saint Paul writes: "And these things we write to you that your joy may be full" (1 John 1:4).
We, the Kat’ oikon Ecclesia ("Domestic church") act always together, parents and children. We pray together, we fast together, we pray together, we read the Holy Scripture together, we worship together, we receive Holy Communion together. United as we are, makes the experience by all the family members more edifying, because the Christian family continues to grow in Christ together.
Fasting that is not accompanied by intensified prayer and acts of philanthropy inevitably becomes a source of pride. Saint Timothy writes: "…lest being puffedup with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil" (1 Timothy 3:6). According to Saint John Climacus, "Pride IS A DENIAL OF GOD, AN INVENTION OF THE DEVIL, CONTEMPT FOR MEN. IT IS THE MOTHER OF CONDEMNATION, THE OFFSPRING OF PRAISE, A SIGN OF BARRENNESS… IT IS THE CAUSE OF DIABOLICAL POSSESSION, THE SOURCE OF ANGER, THE GATEWAY OF HYPOCRACY…PRIDE BEGINS WHERE VAINGLORY LEAVES OFF…"
For those who may not be familiar from what to obstain from during the period of the Holy Nativity fast: Wednesdays and Fridays remain strict fast. However, fish, wine, and olive oil are permitted, except for Wednesdays and Fridays until December 17th.
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God