The Nativity Fast sanctifies the last part of the year and is established so that by the day of the Nativity of Christ we will purify ourselves by repentance, prayer and abstinence. As a result, we could piously meet the Son of God who came to this world and, in addition to the usual gifts and sacrifices, bring Him a pure soul and a passionate intention to follow His commandments and teachings.
Saint Simeon of Thessalonica described this autumn fast this way, "The fast of the Nativity depicts the fast of Moses, who, after fasting for forty days and nights, received the inscription of the words of God on stone tablets. We, fasting for forty days, contemplate and accept the living word from the Virgin, inscribed not on stone, but incarnate and born, and partake of His Divine Body and Blood”.
St. Leo the Great says about fasting that "the very keeping of abstinence is sealed by four times, so that during the year we know that we constantly need purification and that when life is scattered, we should always try to destroy sin by fasting and alms." He calls this time of fasting “a sacrifice to God for the fruits gathered… As the Lord has given us the fruits of the earth, so we should be generous to the poor during the fast."
The establishment of the Nativity Fast has a long history and begins in early Christian times. Like the feast of the Nativity of Christ, it appeared earlier in the West, and then was adopted by the Eastern Churches. Initially, in the II-III centuries, there was one syncretic holiday - Epiphany, which at that time was understood as "a whole series of events related to the Incarnation of God, including the birth of Jesus from a Virgin and His Baptism in the waters of the Jordan." In the IV century. there is a separation of two holidays - Nativity and Epiphany. In the West, the separation period can be set "with perfect accuracy - 354 years. To the East it penetrates slowly and probably not without a struggle. In the East , the first homilies at Nativity belong to the Cappadocian fathers . In Antioch, Chrysostom introduces the celebration of Nativity separately from Epiphany, and it is on December 25 in 386 or 387."
The fact is that the date of the Nativity of Christ is not exactly known. Different churches defined it differently. In the Church of Alexandria it was April 18, the African tradition adhered to March 28, the Eastern one – January 6, and Rome - December 25. As we can see, the Roman tradition prevailed everywhere. The exception is the Armenian Church, where Nativity is celebrated in accordance with the ancient Eastern tradition on January 6/19. In the Church of Constantinople, the feast of Nativity was established in the late 370s. This is evidenced by the separate words pronounced by Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople, "two words: December 25, 380 - for Nativity and January 6, 381 - for Epiphany." In the Church of Antioch, this happened, as already mentioned, in 386-387, and possibly earlier - around 370, then "in the Churches of Asia Minor and later - in Alexandria (in the early 430s)."
The Jerusalem Church has long resisted the separation of Nativity and Epiphany. Festive syncretism persisted until Emperor Justinian wrote around 560/561 a message "On holidays: Annunciation and Nativity, Candlemas and Baptism" addressed to the Church of Jerusalem under Patriarch Eustochius (552-563/564). The Emperor complained, "that the dates of the holidays of the Annunciation (March 25) and Candlemas (February 2) are violated there. Referring to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1, 26-56), Justinian also cited a number of authoritative opinions of the fathers: Saints Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom, as well as a text under the name of Blessed Augustine of Hippo, trying to convince his addressees to accept a separate holiday of Nativity." These recommendations were implemented, but after the death of Justinian (565).
The first reference of the Nativity Fast is in the writings of the holy fathers of the IV century: Ambrose of Milan, Blessed Augustine and Philastrius. In the IV-V centuries, "fasts of the four seasons" appeared in the West. Pope Leo I (440-461) mentions them: "Fasts are distributed throughout the year, so that the law of abstinence is prescribed for all seasons: it is the spring fast that is performed on Lent, summer on Pentecost, autumn in the 7th month, winter in the 10th." As the basis for these fasts, St. Leo indicates gratitude to God for the fruits gathered. In parallel with these western fasts, there must be annual fasts in the East brought up to the number of four."
The Orthodox Russian Church observes the Nativity Fast in 2023 from 28 November 2023 to 6 January 2024.
Until February 1918, Russia, like most Orthodox countries, had Nativity Fast according to the Julian calendar. Meanwhile, in Europe, starting in 1582, the reformed calendar, introduced by order of Pope Gregory XIII, gradually spread. In the year of the introduction of the new calendar, 10 days were skipped (instead of October 5, October 15 was counted). In the future, the "Gregorian" calendar skipped leap years in years ending in "00", except when the first two digits of such a year form a multiple of "4". That is why 1600 and 2000 did not cause any "progress" in the usual system of translation from the "old style" to the "new". However, in 1700, 1800 and 1900 leap years were skipped, and the difference between styles increased, respectively, to 11, 12 and 13 days. In 2100, the difference will increase to 14 days.
In Soviet Russia, the "European" calendar was introduced by Lenin's government on February 1, 1918, which became considered February 14 "according to the new style". However, no changes have taken place in church life: the Russian Orthodox Church continues to live according to the same Julian calendar according to which the apostles and holy fathers lived. The Orthodox Nativity Fast 2023 begins by our calendar on November 28 (November 15) and lasts for forty days, until January 7 (December 25). The beginning of fasting takes place on the feast day of the Apostle Philip on November 14/27, therefore it is sometimes called Phillip’s Fast.
According to the rules of abstinence, the Nativity Fast is close to the Peter (Apostolic) fast. During the Holy Nativity Fast, church guidelines are excluding meat, dairy products and eggs on all days, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, if it is not a Great or Patronal holiday, fish is excluded. From January 2 (December 20), fasting is stricter and fish is not consumed until Nativity. The strictest abstinence is on January 6 (December 24), on Nativity Eve - Nativity Eve. According to pious tradition for Nativity Fast in Russian Orthodox Church on this day they do not eat until the first star, which marks the star of Bethlehem, which led the tree Wise Men to the Infant Christ.
Those are specific Nativity Fast Orthodox rules and adhered by parishioners in Russian Church.
It is not necessary to turn this important time for self-development into weeks of a heavy and meaningless diet. It's more important to think about the heart, not the stomach. If you observe the fast, you do not need to strive for unreasonable records. Fasting is a means, not an end. If the means turns into an end, then the true goal will not be achieved. Measure the result that you undertake with your own strength. When a person fasting finds himself not in a temple, but in a hospital with an exacerbation of an ulcer— this is an incorrect observance of fasting. If you have chronic diseases (and who does not have them!), it is very important to consult with a confessor, the priest will surely give you relief so as not to harm your health. For example, to eat dairy products, eggs.
There are some guidelines to help us to stick to the Nativity Fast meal plan:
Frequent meals calm the body when changing the diet. In order not to feel hungry, it is advisable to eat 4-5 times a day. Do not forget to drink at least 1.5-2 liters of liquid a day. Fresh juices, non-carbonated mineral water and green tea are useful.
Observe the balance: during fasting, the consumption of carbohydrates increases, the excess of which increases the body's sensitivity to allergens and susceptibility to infectious diseases. Shrimp, soy, buckwheat, and legumes are suitable for replenishing the diet with proteins. Fats are available in nuts, fish, seeds.
There are many good Nativity Fast receipts on the Internet and in our monastic recipes section to try and have a tasty and nutritious meal.
We wish everyone a bright and soul-saving fast.