On 28 November, we enter the Nativity Fast in which we prepare ourselves for the great feast of the Nativity of our Lord by focusing on abstinence, prayer and almsgiving. The fast lasts for 40 days and ends with the joyous feast of Nativity of Our Lord on January 07. The Orthodox fast coincides with the great secular holidays of the Winter season and its preeminent joys – shopping, parties, the winter holiday season, entertainment and good food. As most people are embracing these worldly joys, does it make sense for a Christian to shun them by fasting?
While it is not wrong for a Christian to enjoy worldly pleasures and comforts, there is always the danger of these turning into passions and commanding our whole lives. We are reminded of this at the beginning to recognize and the danger of becoming slaves на to recognize and avoid the danger of becoming slaves when we see crowds of people gathering at the storefronts to be there first. To fast means to go against the grain. It is an opportunity to recognize and the danger of becoming slaves to the passions of the flesh. It is a time of spiritual growth, an occasion to assess our lives as men and women, as children, as people who are the sons of God.
We are called to limit ourselves in food. In this way, we practice being in control of things that often control us, and for many people, food is one of them.
Almsgiving is another element of the fast. We often complain that we have too little time and money for almsgiving. But when we fast, we cut back on entertainments and free up the resources to do the works of mercy for those who need it.
At the Convent, the Nativity Fast is a special period of concentration on the disciplines of self-limitation, prayer and almsgiving. Our online Christmas fair is a prominent example of our charitable work and your opportunity to join in. However, we also remember not to treat these disciplines as ends in themselves, but only as a means towards a greater goal. The point of the fast is not to follow the rule, but to grow and become the people God has called us to be. As we read in the book of Isaiah (58: 9 – 10):
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."
May this be a season when we fast according to the rule when that rule extends deep into our hearts. Let us pray that we might know that we are not slaves to the things that we give up, and that we are servants only to God. May God help us to use this fast so we may be able to hear His voice clearly and shine more radiantly with the light of His kingdom.
The Sisters of Saint Elisabeth Convent have now entered the Christmas season with the Nativity Fast. They are also preparing for some joyous December feast days, such as December 10th which is a very special day for the Convent.