The Holy Nativity Fast According to the Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition

St. Gregory the Wonderworker of Neocaesarea

St. Gregory the Wonderworker of Neocaesarea

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.

THE PRAYER OF SAINT EPHRAIM

[Especially during the period of Lent, this prayer is used both at the Hours and during any extra devotions. Normally it is accompanied by prostrations, to help bring the body to a feeling of penitence and humility.]

O Lord and Master of my life, do not given me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Your servant.

Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed are You unto ages of ages. Amen.

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HOW TO FAST ACCORDING TO OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.

"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, (not if you fast), anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (Saint Matthew 6:16-18)

Please note the following: "Keeping a 'sad countenance' while fasting, so that everyone can see how one is suffering, is mere external display. Jesus rejects such hypocrisy. For the one who fasts, the compassion of God outshines physical discomfort: joy overshadows sorrow. Thus, during seasons of fasting, the hymns of the Orthodox Church call the faithful to wash and anoint their faces...

And fasting is not merely abstaining from eating. Physical fasting works together with spiritual fasting, or self-denial: it is a liberation of the spirit from its voluntary enslavement to sinful passions. Fasting is for the glory of God, not to impress people around us." [Orthodox Study Bible, page 19]

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"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward he was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.' But He answered and said, 'It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God..." (Saint Matthew 4:1-4)

Please note the following commentary: "By rejecting temptation, Jesus rejects a kingdom based on materialism, earthly well-being, the 'bread which perishes" (see St. John 6:1-40). He teaches us not to love ease and comfort, to accept willingly the struggle necessary to purify us from evil. While Adam and Eve disregarded the divine word given them, subordinating their souls to the passions of the body (Gen. 3), the New Adam (Christ) conquers all temptations, that He might give our nature power to conquer the Adversary (devil)." (Orthodox Study Bible, page 10)

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THE HOLY NATIVITY FAST ACCORDING TO THE HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH

"The head or chief of the virtues is prayer; their foundation is fasting. Fasting is constant moderation in food with prudent discernment in its use. Proud man! You think so much and so highly of your mind, while all the time it is in complete and constant dependence on your stomach. The law of fasting, though outwardly a law for the stomach, is essentially a law for the mind. The mind, that sovereign ruler in man, if it wishes to enter into its rights of autocracy and retain them, must first submit to the law of fasting. Only then will it be constantly alert and bright; only then can it rule over the desires of the heart and body. Only with constant vigilance and temperance can the mind learn the Commandments of the Gospel and follow them. The foundation of the virtues is fasting."

"If you control your stomach, you will mount to Paradise; but if you do not control it, you will be a victim of death." --Saint Basil the Great

Fasting is an important practice in the Holy Orthodox Christian Church that can be traced back to the time of Moses. It is found in both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. It is considered to be an ascetic discipline (a spiritual exercise). As such it has not redemptive value of its own. It is not a virtue, but is a discipline. When combined with other actions, it can help liberate the soul from its domination by the passions of the body. It is seen by Our Holy Fathers of the Church as a necessary discipline for us to attain the perfection to which God has called us. At the time of our creation He made us in His image (Genesis 1:26 "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.") and Jesus tells us "You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (St. Matthew 45:48). In the Lord's Prayer He asks us to pray that His "will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (St. Matthew 6:10). We fast to help us carry out these directives from God so we can become perfected and join in union with Him to become capable of doing His will.

Consider the nature of our creation in the first part of the Book of Genesis (Genesis 2:15-17 "Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.) When Adam and Eve were created they were totally focused on God. Their soul was united with Him and the body was subservient to the soul. But they were influenced by the snake (devil) to disregard God's Commandment not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil. Instead they let bodily desire for the tasty fruit become more important than God's direction to them. (Genesis 3:6 "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.") As a result they became self-conscious, separated themselves from God, were expelled from paradise, and suffered the consequence of death and suffering. (Genesis 4:19 "God said to Adam: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return")  Genesis 3:22 "Then the Lord God said, "Behold the man has become like one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"--23 "therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 "So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life." This condition has been passed down to us from generation to generation in what is known as ancestral sin (in non-Orthodox Christian traditions is referred to as 'original sin'.) God sent Jesus to show us through His Life, Crucifixion and Resurrection how to restore this union and to enter paradise with eternal life with God. To return to our original condition of being in union with God, we must, with God's help, struggle with our tendency to sin for our personal salvation. The practice of fasting is essential discipline that helps us in this struggle. It is part of the effort we must undertake to allow God's will to work through us.

An Ascetic Discipline

Fasting is one of several ascetic spiritual disciplines. The word askesis comes from a Greek word askesis (άσκησι) that originally referred in classical Greek to training, practice, exercise or discipline. It was commonly used regarding the quest for athletic excellence, but was also applied to training for a profession, art or way of life. Later the Greek philosophers used it in regards to moral perfection to describe the act of refraining from vice and practicing virtue. Saint Paul used the image of a boxer when referring to his own efforts for self-discipline. "I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest" (1 Corinthians 6:11-13). Askesis can be translated as "spiritual discipline," "spiritual striving" or "spiritual training." The concept of asceticism acknowledges that there is a state of constant warfare going on between good and evil. Saint Paul writes, "Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil...take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:11-13). Fasting is one of the disciplines that give us the armor needed in this battle. It is just like the physical exercises athletes undergo to become tops in their sport.

(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