Why do We Fast before Nativity?

Tomorrow (November 14th) we begin the Nativity Fast.

We fast before the Great Feast of the Nativity in order to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Our Lord’s birth. As in the case of Great Lent, the Nativity Fast is one of preparation, during which we focus on the coming of the Savior by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

By fasting, we “shift our focus” from ourselves to others, spending less time worrying about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and so on in order to use our time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. We learn through fasting that we can gain control over things which we sometimes allow to control us—and for many people, food is a controlling factor. We live in the only society in which an entire TV network is devoted to food! While fasting from food, however, we are also challenged to abstain from sin, from gossip, from jealousy, from anger, and from those other things which, while well within our control, we all too often allow to control us.

Just as we would refrain from eating a lot before going to an expensive restaurant for dinner—if we “ruin our appetite” we will enjoy the restaurant less—so too we fast before the Nativity in order to more fully feast and celebrate on the Nativity itself.

During the Nativity Fast, we are called upon to refrain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and olive oil. There are exceptions to this rule; please consult your Church calendar. At the same time, we are challenged, within the given framework, to fast to the best of our ability, and to do so consistently. If we must modify the extent to which we fast within this framework, it is of course possible, but in every instance our fasting should be consistent and regular, for Christ does not present fasting as an option, but as a “must.” In Matthew Christ says, “WHEN you fast, do not be like the hypocrites,” not “IF you fast” or “IF YOU CHOOSE to fast.” It is simply part of the Orthodox Christian life!

Finally, however, it is important to remember that we do not fast in order to loose weight or to feel better physically (although these are very nice side-effects of our fasting). We fast for our own spiritual benefit, and for the sake of our inner life. If we decide not to participate in the fast, we are the ones that will miss out on the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. In the fast we empty ourselves, so that God’s grace will have a space in our hearts to heal and form us. Let us not reject this great gift and opportunity!

2 Responses to “Why do We Fast before Nativity?”

  1. Anna South | November 16, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

    I often notice that the sense of hunger that the stomach feels from abstaining from heavier foods or just eating less, can coincide with my hunger to draw closer to Christ. If we are not always thinking about filling our stomachs, we can begin to think about filling our hearts with the Love of Christ. If we are not always thinking out what we will eat, perhaps we can think about our own faults and foibles and begin to correct our thoughts and intentions. Fasting is a vital link for me in striving to gain humility. It is not easy and in my weakness requires me to frequently call upon the Lord.

    • Fr. Andreas | November 19, 2012 at 9:20 am #

      It is so true. It is in our weakness that we are reminded that all we truly need in our lives is the Grace of God. Fasting makes us weak in the flesh, but strengthens our spirit. People that are already weak due to sickness are of course already humbled by their condition, and therefore the canonical regulations of the fast are not applied as strictly. We see this in in Canon 8, where St. Timothy says regarding fasting: “Fasting was devised in order to humble the body. If, therefore, the body is already in a state of humbleness and illness or weakness, the person ought to partake of as much as he or she may will and be able to get along with food and drink.”

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