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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Christmas fast from Orthodox perspective

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The Christmas fast began on November 15 and ends on December 24.

The forty-day Christmas fast is the last fast of the calendar year, which precedes the feast of the Nativity of Christ, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ from the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fasting has been established since the time of the apostles, but over the centuries, as can be traced in history, both the number of fasting days and the way of fasting have changed. Initially, the fast lasted seven days for some Christians, for others – a little more.

As Christians now fast during the Christmas fast, the Church established to fast as early as 1166, at a council during the time of the Constantinople Patriarch Luke. Then it was decreed for all Christians to fast forty days before the Nativity of Christ. For this reason, it is, like Great Lent, called Christmas Lent, but it is distinguished by the fact that it is not so strict, because during this fast it is allowed to eat fish.

Why was the Christmas fast established?

The Christmas fast, like any other fast, was established by the Church to help believers in the works of their salvation. As St. Leo the Great says, “through abstinence let us realize that we need purification, and through fasting and almsgiving let us exterminate sin in ourselves.” He also says that the Christmas fast is a kind of sacrifice to God for the harvested fruits.

“Just as the Lord,” says the saint, “has generously given us the fruits of the earth, so we must be generous to the poor during this fast.”

What is sin and what should we be saved from?

Sin is not a simple and fleeting transgression of the law or of some moral norm or commandment. It is a deep wound that arises as a result of our moving away from love for God and neighbor. A wound that burns us from the inside and is very painful.

Called to love God with all our soul and with all our mind, we hardly believe in Him. Called to love our neighbor as ourselves, we in our selfishness are indifferent and often disinterested even to the people who surround us every day.

What does it feel like to break the love commandment? Is it a simple realization that we have not followed the order or a deep disappointment in ourselves? Or a pain that makes us feel stiff and unable to be sincere in joy, to be merciful, to give priority to the other, to humble our pride, to tame the impulses of envy and anger in ourselves?

When we ask ourselves “what should we be saved from and why should we be cleansed from sin”, we can simply and honestly at least to ourselves admit our weakness. Yes, precisely a weakness that we often cleverly hide, either out of shame or out of a sense of self-preservation – it’s not important. It is important what we do when we honestly realize and feel the pain of our spiritual weakness and see in ourselves an unloving and unbelieving person. And then, holding our breath in the frantic desire for at least a little relief, we will seek help.

How to fast during Christmas Lent?

Lent is a time during which we can at least help ourselves a little for our spiritual healing. The Church advises us during Lent to abstain from blessed foods, to do works of charity and to pray.

In the words of St. Simeon of Thessaloniki, “The Christmas fast depicts the fast of Moses, who, having fasted for forty days and nights, received the word of God on stone tablets. And we, fasting for forty days, contemplate and receive the living Word from the Virgin”.

The main work during the Christmas fast should be our desire to understand more about the born Christ and, having more knowledge, to strengthen our faith, because faith, according to the words of St. Apostle Paul, comes from hearing, and hearing – from the word of God (Rom. 10:17). During this fast we can diligently study the word of God. Let us read from the Gospel every day and thus come closer to the knowledge of our Savior, to see the truth in Him and so that He softens our heart.

In the troparion of the Nativity of Christ, it is sung: “Thy Nativity, Christ our God, enlightened the world with the light of knowledge.” Our life cannot be true if we do not know ourselves, God, the world and life. How can we live if we don’t know who the person is? With His birth, Christ, assuming human flesh, fully and definitively answers this question. In Christ, as a person, the whole teaching about man and freedom is concentrated.

Repentance and confession

Fasting is knowledge that can be sanctified by God, not ordinary knowledge, but acceptance of God himself.

Only before the realized greatness of God can a person understand and realize his fall, his distance from God’s love and fullness. Some say that happy is that person who has realized that he has fallen and has no love. This is not paradoxical. Only he who has realized and felt the pain of his sinful fall, only he can ask and stand up, desire to regain his true dignity by healing his sinful and mortifying wounds.

The Church calls us not to give up we come when we see or realize how much we have sinned and our conscience gives us no rest. Because we can confess our sins in the sacrament of Confession. During Lent, Christians often resort to confession, taking care to use the time that the Church has set aside for fasting, to collect their thoughts and feelings and with a clear conscience to confess. In sincere confession, God forgives the sins of those who repent with a desire to change in love.

The Sacrament of Confession is performed voluntarily before God in the presence of a priest who, in the name of God, can forgive the sins of those who repent (John 20:22-23). During confession or at any other time, one can seek advice or instruction from the priest.

How to eat during Christmas Lent?

The statutes of our church recommend that Christians during the Christmas fast should not eat animal foods, including dairy foods and eggs. During the Christmas fast, it is allowed to eat fish on all days except: 1) the first week of the fast; 2) from the day of St. Ignatius the God-bearer to the eve of the Nativity of Christ – December 20-24; 3) on Wednesday and Friday. In some traditions, fish is not eaten on Mondays either. During major feasts such as the Introduction of the Virgin or of some great saint or a temple feast, fish is allowed to be eaten regardless of the day of the week. Christians must also abstain from alcohol, except on the days of major holidays, as well as on Saturdays and Sundays.

While fasting physically, it is necessary for Christians to fast spiritually as well, abstaining by mutual consent from conjugal relations, from various empty pleasures, passions, vices, vanity, they must forgive offenses and avoid everything that would distract their attention and frustrate the work of their salvation.

Pregnant women and people who, due to old infirmity, health or other reasons, cannot abstain from blessed foods, it is good to turn to a priest and receive a blessing and instruction on what foods to abstain from during their fast. We must not neglect fasting in the work of our salvation, in the work of acquiring love for God and for our neighbor.

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