The Holy Nativity Fast

St. Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


We pray and beseech You, O Most compassionate and benevolent Lord, to release us from the passions of selfishness, egotism and pride, of envy and hatred, of condemnation and reproach, of greed and covetousness, of cruelty and unmercifulness, of laziness and negligence, of vainglory and flattery, of injustice and malice, of deceit and of every evil desire and inclination toward sin. We pray and beseech You, Lord, to cleanse and purify our souls and our bodies for every stain and defilement of sin. We pray that You will indwell in our souls and that Your Holy Spirit will guide us into the fullness of the truth. Bless and sanctify also our thoughts, our words, our desires, our will, our judgment and our deeds. Grant us also, Lord, the gift of attention and vigilance so that we may never be to others the cause of sorrow or scandal.

We pray for the knowledge and awareness of the moral and spiritual condition of our souls, so that we may demonstrate a healthy humility and a mature discretion in not judging or condemning our brothers and sisters. Protect us also from every inclination toward and attachment to the temporal and vain things of this world. Deliver us from the evil one and from every temptation, from every deception and every evil. Grant us also the spirit of fervor and zealous readiness to pray effectively and to know what to pray for. Amen.


On November 16th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Matthew the Holy Apostle and Evangelist; Saint Fulvianos, Prince of Ethiopia; Saint Lubuinus, missionary to Friesland; Saint Sergios of Malopinega.

THE HOLY APOSTLE MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST. Saint Matthew the son of Alphaeus was at first a tax-collector, and it was as such that the Lord saw him in Capernaum and said to him: "'Follow Me!' Leaving everything, he followed Him" (St. Matthew 9:9). After that, St. Matthew prepared a feast in his house, and there provided an opportunity for the Lord to voice some great truths about His coming to earth. After receiving the Holy Spirit, Saint Matthew preached the Gospel among the Parthians and Medes and in Ethiopia, the land of the Negroes. In Ethiopia, he consecrated as bishop one Plato, a follower of his, and himself withdrew to prayerful solitude on a mountain, where the Lord appeared to him. Saint Matthew baptized the wife and son of the prince of that land, at which the prince was greatly enraged and sent a guard to bring Saint Matthew before him for trial. The soldiers went off, but returned to the prince, saying that they had heard St. Matthew's voice, but had been unable to set eyes on him. The prince then sent a second guard. When this guard drew near to the Apostle, he shone with a heavenly radiance so brilliant that the soldiers were unable to look at him, but threw down their weapons in terror and returned home. The prince then went himself. When he approached Saint Matthew, such radiance shone forth from the Saint that the prince was blinded on the instant. But the Apostle had a kind heart: he prayed to God and the prince's sight was restored--unfortunately, only on the physical plane, his spiritual eyes remaining closed. He seized Saint Matthew and put him to harsh torture, twice lighting a fire on his chest, but the power of God kept him alive and unharmed. Then the Holy Apostle prayed to God, and gave his spirit into His hands. The prince commanded that the martyr's body be put into a leaden coffin and cast into the sea. The Saint appeared to Bishop Plato and told him where to find his body in its coffin, and the bishop went and brought them back. Seeing this new marvel, the prince was baptized and received the name Matthew. He then set aside all earthly vanity and became a priest, serving the Church in a manner pleasing to God. When Bishop Plato died, the Apostle Matthew appeared to this Matthew and counseled him to accept the episcopate. So he became a bishop, and was a good shepherd for many years, until God took him to His immortal Kingdom. Saint Matthew the Apostle wrote his Evaggelion (Gospel) in Aramaic, and it was very soon translated into Greek. It has come down to us in Greek, the Aramaic original being lost. Of this Evangelist, it is said he never ate meat, but fed only on vegetables and fruit.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints and Holy Apostles and Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: Romans 10:11-21, 11:1-2
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 9:9-13


"Which Psalms should you memorize? Memorize the ones that strike your heart as you read them. Each person will find different Psalms to be more effective for himself. Begin with "Have mercy on me, O God" (Psalm 50[51]; then "Bless the Lord, O my soul" (Psalm 102[103]; and "Praise the Lord, O my Soul" (Psalm 145[146]; These latter two are the antiphon hymns in the Divine Liturgy. There are also the psalms in the Canon for Divine Communion: "The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 22[23]; "I believed, wherefore I spake (Psalm 115[116]; and the first psalm of the evening vigil, "O God, be attentive unto helping me" (Psalm 69[70]. There are the psalms of the Hours, and the like. Read the Psalter and select. After you have memorize all of these, you will always be fully armed with prayer. When some disturbing thought occurs, rush to fall down before the Lord with either a short prayer or one of the Psalms, especially "O God, be attentive unto helping me", and the disturbing cloud will immediately disperse." [Saint Theophan the Recluse]


From the 15th November of every year, the Orthodox Church commences the "The Holy Nativity Fast" or "Christmas Fast". This fast is also known as the "fast of Saint Philip" because it is immediately preceded by the feast day of this Holy Apostle. This time of preparation also corresponds to the Roman Advent. We do not know precisely at what date the celebration of Advent was introduced into the Church. However, early Christian documents testify to the fact that only towards the end of the 4th century was the Holy Nativity of Christ celebrated on the 25th December and only by some since others celebrated Christmas on the 6th January.

The first sign of a Christmas celebration comes from Egypt. Saint Clement of Alexandria (200 A.D.) mentions that certain Egyptians commemorated the Birth of Christ on 20th May. In the first part of the 4th century, the constitutions of the Church of Alexandria laid down that the 6th January was both the feast of the Nativity and the Epiphany of Christ. Therefore we know for certain that in the early Christian centuries Christmas and Theophany (which is celebrated today on the 6th January and marks the Baptism of Jesus) were celebrated together. For this reason, liturgically speaking, the Christmas to Theophany is considered to be one continuous day of celebration marking the Coming of Christ into the world.

From the sermons of Saint Gregory of Nyssa we know that in 380 A.D. the faithful in Cappadocia celebrated Christmas on the 25th December. It is also known that, contrary to this practice, the Church of Jerusalem did not adhere to the date of the 25th December even up to the 6th century. We know for certain that in 385 A.D., when Etheria had visited the city of Jerusalem, the festival of Christmas had not yet been accepted into its liturgical calendar. In Antioch the celebration of Christmas was introduced by Saint John Chrysostom around 386 A.D. Modern scholarship also contends that Christmas was introduced to Constantinople between 398-402 A.D.

According to legend, Saint Philip the Apostle called down the wrath of God upon those were torturing him to death. As a penance for presuming on the vengeance of God, it was revealed to him by an Angel that he would not enter Paradise until 40 days after his death. Saint Philip the sent word to the other living Apostles and begged them to fast for forty days after his death. The Canons attributed to Saint John the Faster, the 6th century Patriarch of Constantinople, do in fact refer to this fast as the fast of Saint Philip.

While it is entirely possible that this fast began as a popular custom not necessarily associated with Christmas, it is more likely that the forty day fast grew out of an attempt to imitate the fast of Great Lent preceding Pascha. Although it was only in the 4th century that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ was celebrated on December 25th, from its inception it was seen as a feast only rivaled by the Resurrection. The celebration of the Incarnation of the Logos (Word) of God provided an excellent forum for the Churchmen of the late Fourth and early Fifth centuries to attack the then rampant heresies of Arianism (the denial that Jesus, as the "Word" of God, was of one essence with God the Father), and Monophysitism (the denial of the effective presence of the human nature in Christ).

The Christmas Fast, just as with the Great Lenten Fast, developed from popular piety reflecting on the Scriptural fasts. However, unlike the Lenten Fast, which was soon regulated by the Church in terms of its severity and duration, the Christmas fast's severity and duration were for many centuries governed by local custom and tradition. It was not until 1166 A.D. that a Church Council meeting in Constantinople fixed the length of the Fast at Forty Days. However, the famous Canonist and Patriarch, Theodore Balsamon of the Great Church of Constantinople (1185-1204 A.D.), noted in interpreting this council that only Monastics were obligated to keep the forty days and that lay people might shorten it to only seven days.

Besides singing the Christmas Canon at Orthros (Matins), the Kontakion of the Preparation for the Nativity is to be chanted on the Sunday after the Feast of the Presentation of the Theotokos and to continue through the Christmas season until the Nativity.

The tremendous influence of Monasticism after the fall of Constantinople in 1204 A.D., certainly contributed to the observance of the Forty-Day Nativity Fast by all Orthodox Christians, whether they were monastics or not. In light of the gross materialism of the secular Advent-the Christmas shopping season-the season of Advent has a valuable place in our spiritual lives. Through this season's emphasis on prayer, fasting, and philanthropy, the spiritual reality of Christ's Incarnation is brought to bear on our daily lives, thereby preparing the coming of the Messiah into our hearts at this Holy Season.

Fasting is not optional in the Orthodox Church. Neither are repentance, prayer, alms-giving, preparation, asceticism, ministering to the least among us, wisely managing our time and talents and treasures, struggling to overcome our passions, and so on. They're all interconnected, essential and related. So fast we must--to the extent that we can--without comparing ourselves to others.

In our Holy Orthodox Church, we fast regularly. Every week of the year, with few exceptions, have days dedicated to this task. Certain seasons throughout the year are appointed as specifically fasting seasons. Most obviously: Great Lent, but also this Nativity Fast, the Fast of the Dormition, the Fast of the Holy Apostles, and the fasts before various feasts. It behooves us, then, to ask not just once or twice in our lives, but regularly, what is this fasting and why do we do it? And here, the holy Fathers, the Saints of the Church, have much to teach us and continually to remind us. Saint John Chrysostom in one of his pithy sayings, simply states, "fasting of the body is food for the soul." And this short saying puts everything in perspective.

Fasting is a tool by which our bodily natures are reclaimed and reunited to the spiritual. And for this reason, as we enter upon the Nativity Fast, we must take blessed attention towards our body as well as our soul, uniting them together in the ascetical project. And yet, we must not become conceited, focusing solely on ourselves. We fast in order to reclaim creation, to offer this world which we have disfigured through our sin back to God, and our holy Fathers teach us that we must begin this practice in our own heart.

Fasting is not very alive and well in the Christian world. Much of that world has long lost any living connection with the historical memory of Christian fasting. Without the guidance of Tradition, many modern Christians either do not fast, or constantly seek to re-invent the practice, sometimes with unintended consequences.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George