Monday, November 16, 2015

On the Nativity Fast - the preparation of the soul

A reflection on the role of the Nativity Fast, which might seem the opposite of Christmas joy, in preparing the human heart for the true joy of encountering Christ's incarnation.

The herald of the pending miracle begins. It is the Eve of the Nativity as these words are sung. The transformation of the world, the birth of God, is but hours away, and it is through such words that the faithful are called into attentiveness and anticipation. 'Make ready, O Bethlehem!' We can see the radiant lights of of the feast just beyond the horizon, we can taste the sweetness of the miracle that took place beneath a star; and through the words sung around and within us in the Church, the great eve of the birth of God is made a reality in our present experience. We make ready, and we wait.

But this is not the first moment of preparation for the Feast. For 'forty days', with the usual adjustments to that length for Sabbaths and Sundays causing it to begin on 15 November,{Footnote}According to the Church Calendar; 28th November on the civil calendar.{/footnote} the Church has been setting herself in readiness, drawing her attention to the mystery to come, waiting in expectation. She has made use of the great joy that will arrive on Christmas day as occasion to take up the task considered by so many as opposite to joy: fasting, with all its rigour, its harshness, its discomfort. These are the steps which, for Orthodox Christians throughout the world, lead to the radiant wonder of the Nativity of Christ.

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