The Beginning of the Holy Nativity Fast

Holy Apostle Matthew

Holy Apostle Matthew

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

A CONTRITE AND SINCERE PRAYER TO OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

At all times and at every hour, in heaven and on earth, O Christ Our God, You are worshipped and glorified; You are long-suffering, Most Merciful, Most compassionate, You love the righteous and have mercy upon the sinners; You call everyone to salvation through the promise of future blessings; Receive, O Lord, our prayers at this hour and direct our life toward Your Commandments. Sanctify our souls; make our bodies chaste; correct our thoughts; purify our intentions; and deliver us from every grief and pain that comes from evil. Encompass us by Your holy Angels, so that guarded and guided by them we may attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Your inapproachable glory, for You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):

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 of every righteous soul made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew; Holy Virgin-Martryr Ifegenia; Saint Fulvian, Prince of Ethiopia, who in holy Baptism was renamed Matthew; and his disciples; Saint Eucherius, Bishop of Lyons; Holy New Hieromartyr Matthew of Perm, the hieromonk, who was slain by the atheists in the year 1918.

+ By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Hieromartyrs, Holy Hieromonks, Holy Bishops, Holy Princes, Holy Apostles, Holy Evangelists, Holy Virgin-Martyrs, O Christ Our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

THE HOLY AND GLORIOIUS APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST MATTHEW. This Holy Apostle, who was also called Levi, was the son of Alphaeus and had Galilee as his homeland. A publican before being called by Christ, he became one of the Twelve Holy Apostles, and an Evangelist. While still in Palestine, he wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew, being also the first of all to write the Gospel. When he is depicted in holy icons, there is portrayed next to him the likeness of a man, one of the symbolic living creatures mentioned by Ezekiel (1:10), which, as Saint Irenaeus writes, is a symbol of our Savior's Incarnation.

SAINT EPHIGENIA OF ETHIOPIA. The Holy Apostle Saint Matthew evangelized Ethiopia, where he disclosed as agents of the Devil the various magicians who misled the king and the people. He resurrected the son of the king, and the admiring people wanted to adore him as a god. But Saint Matthew did not permit it, and used the gold and silver they brought in his homage to build a great church. He resided there under the protection of the sovereign for 33 years. The king's daughter, Saint Ephigenia, consecrated herself to God and founded a Women's Monastery where she was the Egoumenissa (Abbess) of more than 200 virgins.

After the king died, his successor, Hirtacus, wanted to marry Saint Ephigenia since he considered her the only women worthy of him. The new king asked Saint Matthew to convince her to marry and promised him half of his kingdom. The Holy Apostle told him to come to church on Sunday, and that there he would find a response to his request. The king thought that the Apostle would persuade Ephigenia to marry him. With the virgins and whole populace present, Saint Matthew preached at great length on the excellence of the sacrament of marriage.

Hirtacus was pleased believing that the sermon would make Ephigenia consent to marriage with him. However, at a certain moment, Saint Matthew said, "Since marriage is good as long as the union is kept inviolate, all of you here present know that if a servant dared to usurp the king's spouse, he would deserve not only the king's anger, but death as a penalty." Then he turned to the king and addressed him, "So it is with you, O king! You know that Ephegenia has become the spouse of the Eternal King and is consecrated with the sacred veil. How can you take the spouse of One Who is more powerful than you and make her your wife?"

Filled with rage and hatred, the king left the church. When the liturgy was concluded, he sent a swordsman with orders to kill Saint Matthew. Finding Saint Matthew standing before the altar with his hands raised to Heaven in prayer, he stabbed the Holy Apostle in the back, killing him and making him a martyr.

Learning this, the indignant people ran to the royal palace to take revenge, but the priests restrained them and advised them to follow the funeral procession of Saint Matthew instead. Hirtacus then had a huge fire ignited around the Monastery of Saint Ephigenia to kill her and the virgins. But Saint Matthew appeared to them and turned the fire away from the Monastery and towards the royal palace, which was completely consumed along with all in it. Only the king and his son managed to escape.

The Prince immediately ran to the tomb of Saint Matthew confessing his father's crimes and asking forgiveness. The king was stricken with leprosy and took his life with his own sword. The people chose as king the brother of Saint Ephegenia. He reigned for 70 years spreading the word of Christ and building churches throughout Ethiopia.

TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:

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

INSPIRING WORDS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:

"Fasting is the mother of health; the friend of chastity; the partner of humblemindedness" (Illnesses are frequently born in many from a disorderly and irregular diet).

Apolytikion (Dimisssal) Hym. Third Tone

O Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.

Kontakion Hymn. Fourth Tone

When thou didst cast away the publican's balance and wast united to the yoke of uprightness, then didst thou prove a merchant of great excellence, one that gathered in the wealth of the wisdom of Heaven; for this cause, the word of truth thou didst herald, O Matthew, and didst arouse the soul of sluggish men by signifying the dread day of reckoning.

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THE BEGINNING OF THE HOLY NATIVITY FAST (November 15th)

"Do you fast? Then feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, do not forget the imprisoned, have pity on the tortured, comfort those who grieve and who weep, be merciful, humble, kind, calm, patient, sympathetic, forgiving, reverent, truthful, and pious, so that God might accept your fasting and might plentifully grant you the fruits of repentance." --Saint Basil the Great

Among Western Christians the Advent season begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas eve. The four candles of the Advent wreath represent the four Sundays of Advent. The Nativity Fast begins in the Holy Orthodox Church on the day following the Feast-Day of the Holy Apostle Philip, November 15th and ends on December 24th (Christmas Eve).

But what is fasting? In the Holy Orthodox Christian Church, we fast regularly. Every week of the year, with few exceptions, have days dedicated to this spiritual ascesis. Certain seasons throughout the year are designated specifically as fasting periods. Most obviously: Holy and Great Lent, but also this Holy Nativity Fast, the Fast of the Holy Dormition, the Fast of the Holy Apostles, and the fasts before various feasts. It is therefore important to ask the question, what is this fasting and why do we do it? And here, the Holy Fathers of the Church, the Saints and Great Teachers of the Church, have much to teach us and continually remind us.

Saint John Chrysostom in one of his sayings, simply states, "Fasting of the body is food for the soul." And this short statement puts everything in the correct perspective. Fasting, in some sense, is a bodily, spiritual ascesis (exercise). We refrain from certain foods. We keep longer vigils. We dedicate more time to prayer. We alter our diet. We perhaps take less sleep. We may avoid certain social activities and devote the time instead to prayer, charity, or to other such spiritual activities. But in all these cases, we utilize by the direction of our Holy Orthodox Church, our physical body, our material nature as something holy, some which, when focused upon, when cleansed and purified through the Mystery of Repentance and Confession, has the power to transfigure (change) our spirit, our soul, our heart.

So, fasting is for the Orthodox Christian believer a basic affirmation that our physical nature is indeed a blessing, is a precious gift, it is something good given to us by our Loving and Merciful Lord. And this is significant in a secular and materialistic world which for all its hedonism (pleasure) and its emphasis on seeking pleasure and instant gratification of the body, nonetheless in spiritual terms, is all too eager to dismiss the body, the material as something base, defiled, lesser than the spiritual. However, in the Holy Orthodox Church, through our fasting we affirm what is written in the Holy Bible, that the body is sacred. Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians says, "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

(To be continued)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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

+Father George