Monday, November 22, 2010

Nativity Fast (Just the Facts)

So, I just reread what I wrote below and it is super boring, but they are the "just the facts" of the Nativity fast. Apologies. After this we discuss the whys and benefits of fasting.

To help you make it through this post I have added the option to hear some orthodox chanting from Ancient Faith Radio below.

Or to go the other way and just completely embrace the pain, I have added an mp3 of the infamous "Hamster Dance" song.

Choose wisely.

The Nativity fast starts November 15th and ends December 25th on the day of the Nativity. It is sometimes called the advent fast, winter Pascha, or St. Phillip's fast by those in Russian Orthodoxy (the fast starts the day after St. Phillip is commemorated, November 14th). The apostle Phillip is the apostle who said to Nathanial, "Come and see", and we also are invited to do so as we anticipate Nativity.

The Origin of the Fast

The Nativity fast has been prescribed by the church to help us prepare for the Birth of Christ. The first known examples of churches observing a fast in preparation of Nativity begin sometime before the year 367. The Lenten season (40 plus days of fasting before Pascha or Easter) had already been well established and much of the structure and services are mirrored after the Lenten services. The birth of Jesus has always been closely tied with Theophany (the baptism of Jesus) but over the centuries was split into two separate feast days. Nativity is the beginning of His life and Theophany is the beginning of His ministry.

Bishop and St. Hilary of Poitiers sometime before his death in 367 attests to a 3 week preparation before Theophany.
The council of Saragossa remind the laity to attend church daily from December 17 to January 6th (Theophany).
Monks in Gall were prescribed a fast from 4 to 6 weeks before Nativity.
The synod of Macon decreed that every Christian should fast three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) from November 11th till December 24th.
The Council of Constantinople decrees the fast as we know it now. A 40 day fast from November 15th to December 25th.

Important Dates During the Fast

November 21st - Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos to the Temple
The Virgin Mary is presented by her parents Joachim and Anna into the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem as a young girl, where she lived and served as a Temple virgin.

November 30th - Feast of Saint Andrew
St. Andrew is also known an the "First-called" and in the hymnology declares, "Come, for we have found the One whom the world desires!"

December 6th - Feast of Saint Nicholas of Mira
Yes, this same man who slapped Arius in the face for heresy is where our modern interpretations of Santa Claus originate.

Second and First Sunday Before Nativity - Feast of the Forefathers and Feast of the Fathers
These services have a lot of hymns honoring Old Testament saints looking forward to the Incarnation.

December 20 to 24
During this period there are services every day. They are patterned after Lenten services especially Christmas Eve which is very similar to Lent's Holy Saturday.

Fasting Guidelines

The fast is split into two sections. The first section is from November 15th to December 19th and the second section is from December 20th to 24th.

November 15th to December 19th (No meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil)
  • Exception: wine and oil on Tuesday and Thursday.
  • Exception: wine, oil, and fish on Saturday and Sunday.
December 20th to 24th (No meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil)
  • Exception: wine and oil on Saturday and Sunday.
December 24th is typically a day where no food is eaten till the evening. There are also exceptions throughout the whole fasting season for fish, wine, and oil whenever a feast day is celebrated.

As you can see, it gets pretty complicated, and within different Church traditions there are slight variances as well. So, when you really get down to it, the best thing to do is talk it over with your priest, and do what he suggests.

And now you know.

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