Dear Christian Friends,
About this time of year we post messages of all sorts showing our disapproval of the continuing secularization of the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior.
KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS
JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON
I agree that there is way too much focus on the decorating, materialism, and non-religious attitudes that are condemning this time of year to being the “Winter Holiday.” But, I think that striving to keep Christ and remember Jesus without some sort of inward spiritual process isn’t doing anyone any good. In fact, the more we proclaim such slogans aloud without the inward spiritual process, we are probably turning more people off to the Christian faith than we are leading people to salvation, which is our purpose as believers in Jesus Christ. If all nominal and secular Christians and non-believers hear from us are slogans and they don’t see us striving to better ourselves in preparation for this great holy day, we are (as St. Paul described) clanging brass and tinkling cymbals. People are justified and right to ignore annoying noises.
For a couple of thousand years, the original expression of Christianity, the Orthodox Church has observed the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ (later “Christ Mass” by the Roman Catholics) with a 40 day fast in preparation for the feast. We do not consume meats, dairy products, olive oil, and alcoholic beverages. According to what jurisdiction we are under (Ethiopian, Greek, Russian, etc), we begin the fast on different days and with different rules concerning fish with backbones (some permit fish on certain days with shellfish throughout the fast). Except for the elderly, young children, pregnant or nursing women, and those under medical supervision; all Orthodox believers are expected to maintain this dietary rule. Along with the fasting, we have special prayers that we add to our individual disciplines and a special prayer service at the church during the week to help us focus on the meaning of this great and holy feast day. As the Nativity of our Lord is of great importance, we continue to eat as we wish for 12 days and observe Theophany, the Baptism of our Lord. Thus, we have 40 days of preparation and over a week of celebration of Jesus Christ coming into the world and the revelation of the Holy Trinity that is the focus of our Christian faith.
I am sure that some of you scoff at the idea of such fasting and the use of ancient written prayers as a “tradition of men” and that no such fast is defined in the Bible. Yet, there is no scripture that tells us that Jesus was born on December 25th (or January 6th for our “old calendar jurisdictions like Ethiopia and Russia). So, if we trust the “tradition” of early Christians to give us the date to observe the holy day, why not trust the tradition of prayer and fasting as well?
When one buys a pizza, who scrapes off the cheese, sauce, and toppings just to eat the crust? Nobody, we eat and enjoy the whole thing. The same can be said for this season we are entering and the Christian faith. Protestant reformers and modern Christianity has scraped off the spiritual nutrition of prayer and fasting in preparation for the holy feast and left us with the empty crust of one single Christmas Day. While many of us Orthodox Christians are guilty of the consumerism and materialism of the age, at least we have the fullness of the tradition of our seasonal fast and prayers to return to. We have the whole pizza of the Nativity Fast and Feast. The empty crust of Protestantism has invited Satan to pile on his toppings of covetousness, greed, lack of concern, selfishness, and other elements of our consumerist and materialistic society. No matter how much good Parmesan, red pepper, and Italian seasonings we sprinkle on in the form of charity; the bad toppings on the empty crust has caused society to ignore the day of giving thanks to God for what we have so that we can go out and spend more money. No amount of empty slogans will change the toxicity of the once scraped off pizza crust of American Protestant Christmas. Thankfully, we Christians can start with ourselves and get a whole pizza.
Talk to an Orthodox priest or knowledgeable layperson about what this season means to us. Look up information about the prayers and fast online or in the library. Make the time to attend our weekday and Sunday worship whenever possible. Take small steps by increasing time in personal prayer and use some of our prayers in conjunction with your own. Also, as it is physically possible, cut back on meat and dairy consumption if but for no other reason but to reward yourself later. Use this season not to shout mere slogans. Do something constructive for your spiritual journey as we anticipate the celebration of our Lord’s birth and the revelation of the Holy Trinity.