Nativity Fast: Preparations begin for Orthodox Christians

Crowd standing, of men, women and children, candles in front

An Orthodox Christian Christmas (Nativity) service in Russia. Photo courtesy of President of Russia

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15: The season of preparation for Christ’s birth begins for Orthodox Christians today, as the faithful enter a 40-day abstinence period known as the Nativity Fast.

Observed annually from November 15 until December 24, Orthodox Christians are encouraged to regard this fast as a joyous time. 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.

Woman with baby, surrounded by other figures, in iconic ilustration

An Eastern Orthodox Christian depiction of the Nativity. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

NATIVITY FAST: PROPHETS & 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. The fast is joyously broken, and while many head to the 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.

NEWS: RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH SPLITS FROM CONSTANTINOPLE, IN RESPONSE TO PATRIARCHATE’S DECISION

Headlines around the world have been reporting what is commonly being called “quite possibly the greatest divide in Eastern Orthodoxy in recent history”: Russian Orthodox Church leaders have announced that the church is cutting ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the historical seat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. (ABC News has the story.) In response to the Constantinople Patriarchate’s decision to allow Ukraine to establish an independent church with self-governance and without the need for authority from the Patriarchate, Russian Orthodox representatives are relaying the opinion that, by overturning a centuries-old agreement and allowing Ukrain’s church, the Constantinople Patriarche destroyed its authority and its role as the center of the Eastern Orthodox Church. (The Economist reports on the split and the 17th-century agreement.) Various voices are speaking out, as countries with populations of Orthodox Christian followers are affected by the rift.

 

 

 

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Categories: Christian

Nativity Fast: Orthodox Christians begin joyous fasting period for Jesus’s birth

Candles lit interior of Orthodox Christian church

Photo by Mr.TinDC, courtesy of Flickr

Nativity Orthodox iconWEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Even before the American Thanksgiving, millions of Orthodox Christians around the world are looking toward Jesus’s birth, which they refer to formally as the Nativity. Of course, in Western Christian culture, we know this as the period leading up to Christmas. For many centuries, Eastern Christians have prepared with a 40-day Nativity Fast.

By Western standards, this is a daunting spiritual and physical challenge. Traditional Orthodox fasting means giving up meat and dairy in addition to fish, wine and oil; fish, wine and oil are, however, permitted on specific days. (Learn more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.) Throughout the Nativity Fast, several other holidays take place, such as St. Andrew’s Day, St. Nicholas Day and recognition of those prophets regarded by Eastern Christians as having prepared the way for the Incarnation: Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths.

Two periods comprise the Nativity Fast: Nov. 15-Dec. 19, and Dec. 20-24. December 20 launches the Forefeast of the Nativity, with chanting of Nativity hymns each day through the Dec. 24 (Paramony). On Paramony, no solid food is consumed until the first star is observed in the evening sky, and afterward, the fast is joyously broken.

Orthodox teaching instructs that fasting be undertaken with gladness and in a sense of earnest anticipation—in the promise that these devout preparations will deepen reflections on the moment when God became human. (OCA.org has more.) Fasting for Orthodox Christians includes abstinence from foods, negative emotions and greed; prayer and almsgiving complement the fasting period.

Note: The Nativity Fast is observed November 15-December 24 in the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox follow other traditional calendars. For example, many Armenian Christians begin their fast later and focus on January 6 as the Feast of the Nativity.

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Categories: Christian

September, October and November: Warm up as the season cools down

Autumn_in_Dresden

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SEPTEMBER and OCTOBER and NOVEMBER 2015—The crunch of autumn leaves, the sharp scents of cinnamon and clove and the comfort of steaming soups and drinks usher in the chill of autumn.

Fall officially begins in September with the Autumnal Equinox, when those in the Northern Hemisphere prepare for the darker half of the year and Pagans embrace Mabon, a holiday celebrating the harvest. (You’ll find links to all of our holiday coverage, including a story about the Equinox and Mabon, by visiting www.InterfaithHolidays.com)

Both Jews and Orthodox Christians welcome a New Year in September, with Jews marking Rosh Hashanah and often consuming plenty of honey. But, honey isn’t reserved for Jewish families as September is also National Honey Month.

October brings cooler weather and kicks off with the International Day of Older Persons, perhaps foreshadowing November’s National Family Caregivers Month. The astrological events of equinox are intensified with the end of Daylight Savings Time, in November, as a season of winter holidays approaches—often filled with warm candlelight and abundant feasts. Squashes, pumpkins, cranberries and root vegetables fill tables for Thanksgiving in November (or, for Canadians, in October). November brings Native American Heritage Month in the U.S., and across much of the world, German heritage is highlighted through Oktoberfest, one month earlier.

Box of pumpkins from above

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Get scared silly—or just indulge in treats—on Halloween, an international holiday of spooks and gooks. Many traditions of Halloween are ancient in nature and can be tied to pagan customs, and today, modern Pagans and Wiccans practice Samhain at this time of year. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead honors deceased ancestors in a colorful way, and Christians recall the spirits of saints on All Saints’ Day.

Celebrate friends and bonds with International Women’s Friendship Month in September, and start seeing pink with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October. Take the opportunity to attend a play or a musical performance in October, too, as it is National Arts and Humanities Month. Recognize the struggles and successes of gays and lesbians with LGBTQ Month, in October. Hosts for the holidays keep in mind the needs of their guests, and October raises awareness of Celiac Disease. Those who don’t eat meat are remembered during October—Vegetarian Month—and November, Vegan Month.

As the days of November become colder and darker, the winter holiday season begins, with Diwali—the Festival of Lights—in India. Orthodox Christians begin the Nativity Fast in anticipation of Christmas, and for Western Christians, Advent brings the light of the season.

Check out these month-long highlights …

OCTOBER: ST. FRANCIS PET BLESSINGS AND HALLOWEEN

Black cat lying down on white background

Photo by Michele M.F., courtesy of Flickr

Pope Francis visited the U.S. to much acclaim in late September, but it’s his namesake—St. Francis of Assisi—who is recognized as October begins. October 4 brings the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a saint renowned for his love of animals, ecology and the poor. Pet blessings in Francis’s name have become commonplace at churches worldwide, and as environmental concerns grow deeper, Christians look to him as a Patron Saint of Ecology. Later in the month, Wiccans observe Samhain while Halloween reigns strong in many countries. Whether honoring deceased ancestors or donning costumes, there exists an undeniable link between the ancient pagan customs and today’s Halloween traditions. In Mexico and parts of Latin America, Dia de los Muertos falls during or immediately after Halloween, and is a day to celebrate the dead with food and drinks, parties and joyous remembrances.

NOVEMBER:  THE HOLIDAYS OF LIGHT

As the days become darker and colder in the Northern Hemisphere, a holiday season begins that commemorates light, warmth and goodness. In India, Diwali is one of the largest festivals of the year, also known as the Festival of Lights. Homes are extensively cleaned in preparation for the festival, and lighted lamps (diyas) are lit inside and outside the home. Gifts are exchanged and sweets consumed across India. For Jains, Diwali remembers the attainment of moksha by Mahavira, a Tirthankar, or spiritual exemplar. Across Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Nativity Fast begins, preparing the faithful for Christ’s birth. In Western Christianity, Advent commences. Candles, lamps and lights are common across several spectrums of holidays, bringing to mind the victory of goodness over evil and light in the darkness.

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Nativity Fast: Eastern Christians prepare for birth of Jesus Christ

Cathedral building of light browns and beige colors, ornate with dome tops and Orthodox crosses, on sunny day

Nativity of Christ (Orthodox) Cathedral in Riga, Latvia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Preparations for Jesus’s birth begin in the Orthodox Christian Church as adherents begin the 40-day Nativity Fast.

The faithful are supposed to undertake this challenging tradition with joy and in a spirit of earnest anticipation. By fasting, Orthodox Christians embrace their own humanity and, at the same time, the moment at which God became human, according to Orthodox teaching.

The Nativity Fast is divided into two periods: November 15-December 19, and December 20-24. Both fasting periods follow the traditional fasting discipline (without meat, dairy, fish, wine or oil), but each also allows for fish, wine and oil on specific days. Several other holidays will fall within the Nativity Fast, such as St. Andrew’s Day, St. Nicholas Day, the Sunday of the Forefathers and the Sunday of the Fathers. (Wikipedia has details.)

Orthodox theology holds that bodily fasting ultimately influences the soul. During the Nativity Fast, the faithful turn away from worldly desires and toward God. The fasting includes not only bodily abstinence, but also fasting from negative emotions, hatred and greed. Prayer and almsgiving are a major part of the spiritual discipline. (Learn more from Orthodox Church in America.)

Note: The Nativity Fast is observed November 15-December 24 in the Gregorian calendar and the Revised Julian calendar. Followers of the Julian calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian, will begin the fast on November 28 of the Gregorian calendar.

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Categories: Christian

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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