We wish you a blessed and spiritually rewarding Advent Season
Nativity Fast – Our Journey to Bethlehem
November 28th – January 07th
“Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away…”
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 a few weeks 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 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’, beginning on November 28th, the Church will be setting herself in readiness, drawing her attention to the mystery to come, waiting in expectation. In order to partake in the great joy that will arrive on Christmas day, The Church invites us to take up the task considered by so many as opposite to joy: fasting, with all its rigor, 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.
Whence the spirit of this fast, which each year ‘stands in the way’ of our arrival at Christmas rejoicing? The question itself helps guide the way to an answer: the fast seems awkward because so often we see Christmas as joy alone and do not appreciate fully the deep and profound mystery that is at the heart of our rejoicing. ‘Hark, the herald angels sing!’ we are eager to recall, but quietly we forget the universal significance of the event that is the cause of their singing. It is not just that a babe is born: He who is without birth is born. We do not tremble when we think of Christmas, we are not always struck with the wonder of the Nativity. Instead, we buy gifts and plan parties, catching a glimpse of the joy of the Feast, but without a heart immersed in its wonder. Thus the fast becomes that which we must ‘get through’ in order to reach that joyful day. When we arrive there, however, if this has been our attitude, we are caught askance by the hymns the Church feeds into our hearts. We find ourselves joined to a celebration of triumphal release from bondage, but we little understand what that bondage means. We sing songs of joy for deliverance, but we do not truly comprehend how we are enslaved. We find ourselves suddenly transported to the mountaintop, but without having climbed there from the valley far below, the scene we see is only another beautiful picture casually set before our eyes, and not the vision for which we have worked and struggled and longed with all our being. 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.
A journey is, by its nature, naturally ascetic. A journey is also, by its nature, an act of movement, of transportation, of growth. What is old is left behind, newness is perceived and embraced, growth of understanding takes place. And even if the journey comes to a close in the same physical location from which it began, that place is transformed for us by the journey through which we have re-approached it.
The Church journeys toward the birth of Christ God, steered by the ship that is the Nativity fast. The fast is a holy and blessed tool that brings us closer to such self-awareness. It reveals to us who we are, perhaps more importantly who we are not, and makes us more consciously aware of that for which we stand in need. Then and only then, with eyes opened — even only partially — by the ascetic endeavor, we will truly know the life-giving light of the Nativity of Christ.
We will never fully comprehend this ineffable mystery; some knowledge is properly God’s alone. But by His grace through the ascetic effort, we will come to understand — perhaps, most of us, only to the slightest degree — how this mystery is our own mystery, how His life is our own life, and how the salvation of Christmas Day is, indeed, our own salvation. And with this realization, joy: joy far greater than a mere entrance into the temple on Christmas Day could ever bring us. This is the joy of the age-old journey of man, our own journey, come to its fulfillment in the awe-inspiring mystery of God Himself become a man. With this joy in our hearts, we shall embrace the hymnographer’s words as our own:
“Today the Virgin comes to the cave to give birth ineffably to the pre-eternal Word. Hearing this, be of good cheer, O inhabited the earth, and with the angels and the shepherds glorify Him whose will it was to be made manifest a young Child, the pre-eternal God.” (Kontakion of the Forefeast)
БОЖИЋНИ ПОСТ – У СУСРЕТ БОГОМЛАДЕНЦУ