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.
THE NATIVITY FAST CONTINUES
The Nativity Fast as all Orthodox Christians know is a period of abstinence and penance in preparation for Christmas. Sometimes the fast is called St. Philip's Fast (or the Philippian Fast), as it traditionally begins on the day following the Feast of Saint Philip the Apostle (November 14th).
During the course of the fast, a number of feast days celebrate those Old Testament Prophets who prophesied the Incarnation; for instance: Obadiah (November 19), Nahum (December 1), Habbakuk (December 2), Zephaniah (December 3), Haggai (December 16), Daniel and the Three Holy Youths (December 17). These last are significant not only because of their perseverance in fasting, but also because their preservation unharmed in the midst of the fiery furnace is interpreted as being symbolic of the Incarnation--the Ever-Virgin Mary conceived God the Logos/Word in her womb without consumed by the fire of the Godhead.
As is true of all of the four Orthodox fasts, a Great Feast falls during the course of the fast; in this case, the Entry of the Theotokos (November 21st). After the Apodosis (leave-taking) of that feast, hymns of the Nativity are chanted on Sunday and higher-ranking feast days.
The liturgical Forefeast of the Nativity begins December 20th, and concludes with the Paramony (Eve of the feast) on December 24th.
Sunday of the Forefathers
Two Sundays before the Holy Nativity (hence, between 11 and 17 December of each year), the Church calls to remembrance the ancestors of the Church, both before the giving of the Law of Moses and after, like Adam, "and on through Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, and other" biblical righteous. Seth, son of Adam, started the descendance of the Son of God.
The Menaion (liturgical book) contains a full set of hymns for this day which are chanted in conjunction with the regular Sunday hymns from the Octoechos. These hymns commemorate various biblical persons, as well as the Prophet Daniel and the Three Young Men. There are also a special Epistle (Colossians 3:4-11), and Gospel (St. Luke 14:16-24) readings appointed for the Divine Liturgy on this day.
Sunday of the Holy Fathers
The Sunday before Nativity is even broader in its scope of commemoration than the previous Sunday, in that it commemorates all of the righteous men and women who please God from the creation of the world up to Saint Joseph the Betrothed. The Menaion book provides an even fuller service for this day than the previous Sunday. At the Vespers portion of the All-Night Vigil three Old Testament "parables" (paroemiai) are read: Genesis 14:14-20, Deuteronomy 1:8-17 and Deuteronomy 10:14-21. The Epistle which is read at the Divine Liturgy is a selection from Hebrews 11:9-40; the Gospel is the Genealogy is of Christ from the Gospel of Saint Matthew (1:1-25).
Paramony (Christmas Eve)
Christmas Eve is traditionally called Paramony (Greek: παραμονή). Paramony is observed as a strict fast day, on which those faithful who are physically able to, refrain from food until the first star is observed in the evening or after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great, when a meal with wine and oil may be taken. On this day the Royal Hours are celebrated in the morning. Some of the hymns are similar to those of Theophany (Epiphany) and Great and Holy Friday, thus trying the symbolism of Christ's Nativity to his death on the Cross. The Royal Hours are followed by the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil which combines Vespers with the Divine Liturgy.
During the Vespers, eight Old Testament lections ("parables") which prefigure or prophesy the Incarnation of Christ are read, and special antiphons are chanted. If the Feast of the Nativity falls on a Sunday or Monday, the Royal Hours are chanted on the previous Friday, and other Paramony the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chyrsostom is celebrated in the morning, with its reading and antiphons, and the fasting is lessened to some degree--a meal with wine and oil being served after the Liturgy.
Fasting During the Afterfeast
On December 25, the Afterfeast of the Nativity of Christ begins. From this day to January 4 (the day before Theophany Eve) is a fast-free Period. The Eve of the Theophany (January 5th) is another strict fast day (Paaomony).
A Time of Preparation
The Fast of the Nativity is the Church's wise solace and aid to human infirmity. We are a forgetful people, but our forgetfulness is not unknown in God, and our hearts with all their misconceptions and weakened understanding are not unfamiliar to the Holy Spirit our God Who guides and sustains this Church. We who fall far from God through the magnitude of our sin, are called nonetheless to be close to Him. We who run afar off are called to return. Through the fast that precedes the great Feast of the Incarnation -- which itself is the heart and substance of our calling -- the Church helps draw us into the full mystery of what that call entails.
Like Great Lent, the Fast of the Nativity is a journey. "Come, O ye faithful, and let us behold where Christ is born. Let us join the Magi, kings from the east, and follow the guiding star'. Let us "join the Magi", let us 'follow' and 'behold.' The One Who will crush the head of the serpent, of sin and the devil and all that is counter to the life God offers, is Him to Whom the star leads us. The fast of the Nativity is our journey into the new and marvelous life of the Holy Trinity, which is offered by God but which we must approach of our own volition. In this act, we are joined to the story of our fathers. The gift of a new land and great blessings was freely given by God to Abraham, but in order to obtain it, 'Abram went, as the Lord had told him' (Genesis 12:4).
A journey is, by its nature, naturally ascetic. Unless my life is already very humble, I cannot take the whole of my possessions on a journey. I cannot transport social and political ties along a journey's path. I can never be too reliant on the plans I have made for my journey: a control lying beyond the self must be admitted and accepted. This is the spirit to which the fast calls us. (Referances: Orthodox Church in America, Pravmir Com.)
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God