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Nativity Fast: Orthodox Christians begin the 40-day fast for Christ’s birth

Depiction of Nativty, Orthodox Christian

Portion of an Orthodox Christian icon of the Nativity. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Christmas preparations may not be in full swing everywhere, but Orthodox Christians are beginning the Nativity Fast.

Observed annually from November 15 until December 24, Orthodox Christians are encouraged to regard this fast as a joyous period. By placing emphasis on the spiritual, adherents are encouraged to release worldly desires and dependence on material possessions.  The most successful fasting includes prayer and almsgiving, and is performed by those who are physically able. Observant families give up meat, dairy, fish, wine and oil—all in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. (Occasional permissions are granted for wine, oil and fish throughout the fasting period. The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America has guidelines for the fast.)

NATIVITY FAST: FEAST DAYS AND PARAMONY

Throughout the Nativity Fast, several key figures are highlighted with feast days—in particular, the prophets who Eastern Christians believe laid the groundwork for the Incarnation: Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths. Sundays leading up to Nativity also bring attention to ancestors of the Church and righteous men and women who pleased God.

The Forefeast of the Nativity begins December 20, with the chanting of Nativity hymns every day until the Eve of the Nativity—or, Paramony. On Paramony—called Christmas Eve in the Western Christian Church—no solid food is partaken until the first star is seen in the evening sky. (Wikipedia has details.) The fast is joyously broken, and while many head to a traditional All-Night Vigil, others attend the Divine Liturgy for the Nativity of Christ on Christmas morning.

On December 25, the Feast of the Nativity, fasting is forbidden; a fast-free period, or Afterfeast, lasts through January 4.

Pope Francis, dressed in white, smiles

Diplomats express hope that Pope Francis will improve relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church. Photo courtesy of Flickr

IN THE NEWS:
POPE FRANCIS REVIVES EAST-WEST HOPES

Pope Francis is set to receive Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 25 for a meeting that many hope will lead to a smoothing over of relations between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin reached out, as well, to Francis’s two predecessors as pontiff.

Reuters is the main wire service covering the news, reporting in part:

Russian-Vatican relations have been fraught since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, with Moscow accusing the Roman Catholic Church of trying to poach believers from the Russian Orthodox Church, a charge the Vatican denies. But Putin is the first Kremlin leader since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution to publicly profess religious faith—to the Orthodox church—and has several times advocated ending the long feud between the two major Christian churches.

And: “There have been signs of a general warming between the western and eastern branches of Christianity. On March 20, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew became the first worldwide spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians to attend a papal inaugural Mass since the Great Schism split western and eastern Christianity in 1054.”

Note: Orthodox churches that follow the Julian calendar will begin the Nativity Fast on the Gregorian November 28.

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