Nativity Fast

Keep the Nativity Fast for the Nativity Feast

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.

An Ethiopian icon of the Nativity of Our Lord

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.

The Nativity of Our Lord

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.

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Chronicle of Conversion: Day Six In Prayer

I could have written something between work and the Paraklesis yesterday evening.  I needed a good laugh and found this website of fashions from the 1970′ and posted one of those horrid leisure suits on my Facebook page.  What was once impressive and sophisticated in clothing is now the object of ridicule and scorn.  (Okay, that was a loaded sentence that I am nor even prepared to continue to expound on)

Advent Paraklesis/Parakesis prayers are probably one of the least most popular services in Orthodoxy.  Worshipers are to stand through the whole service.  It is held on Friday (start of the weekend, favorite TV shows, kid’s high school sports) night.  There is no meal or repasts after the service.  Going to a Christmas party seems far more fun, especially if there is food that fits the Nativity Fast.  After all, we have prayer books, the priest is neither serving the Eucharist nor giving a sermon.

In this time of Christmas being degenerated into the Winter Festival, I find that being in the presence of God at these prayers a welcome refreshment.  The sight of the icons and smell of incense transforms me from tacky outdoor decorations to the place of holiness.  The chants and prayers explicitly focus on the birth of our Lord and Savior without reindeer, snowmen, and the false perpetration of one of the favorite saints of the Church.  At this prayer service, the connection to Orthodox doctrine is strengthened  ( this is also a good time to recommit to the Nativity Fast that is so easily broken).

For the non-Orthodox, I invite you to come and see for yourself. Because there are relatively few worshipers, you may even have time to talk to the priest and learn about the ancient faith.  But, if you refuse, do take a portion of your week away from the Santa dominated decor and focus on your prayer life.  To the Orthodoxy, go to your icon corner and worship if you cannot make it to your church.  But, make every effort to maintain this wonderful tradition of prayer.

Chronicle of Conversion: Day Two Dizzy With a Direction

2 December

We had a wildlife management hunt at the park this morning.  So, I hit the woods about 4 am, assisted the hunters to the stands, and painted the men’s restroom at the Visitor’s Center.  The whole morning I replayed all that went on inside and outside of me yesterday.  This is kinda the “Morning After.”  And in my small town of West Point and rural King William County, I am sure the news is spreading quickly.  Thus far, I haven’t received any “nasty-grams” by e-mail, Facebook, or phone.  A co-worker at another park wanted to assist me at Trinity with some sort of plan for evangelism.  She does have some good ideas.  I referred her to our chairman of the deacon board.

My co-workers were interested and surprised that I made such a bold choice.  I am still in shock a bit that I made such a choice.  Who steps down from a 16 year pastorate with no other church in the waiting offering more money?  I never did anything that would cause a scandal nor shame my good name and reputation.  Plus, I have some very energetic young adults that are ready to work.  Leaving at a time when all is going well seems foolhardy.

I am foolhardy enough to believe that African-Americans should have exposure to the Orthodox Church.  This is the faith that our ancestors helped to establish.  Eastern Europeans know the names Athanaisus, Cyprian, Catherine, Moses of Ethiopia, and pray the prayers of Anthony and Macarius.  For us continue not to want to know who these brothers and sisters are while some white kid in Kiev kisses their icons is shameful.

I have a problem with the idea that unless people are shouting and waving their hands that they aren’t really worshiping “in the Spirit.”  Orthodoxy is a tried and proven alternative to this pervasive “holy peer pressure” that is happening too often among Baptist as well as its usual Pentecostal circles.

I got other issues too.  I will finish later.

Okay, it is later.  About 7 pm Eastern.  Keeping the Nativity Fast has proven to be extremely difficult.  Thanksgiving leftovers, staff hunt breakfast, and today my wife and her aide cooked a turkey; Great Lent is an easier fast to keep.  I will have to run from Christmas parties from now until the 25th.  

Oh, and a major piece of good news.  I may be getting Chrismated on Sunday, January 5th, 2014.  The Eve of Theophany will start a new chapter in my life.  I already have ideas for the new blog for the new Virginia Chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black.  I am seeing a lot of possibilities on the other side of this time of confusion and sorrow.  

Dear Santa, please grow up and become St. Nicholas!

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

I Corinthians 13:11 (emphasis mine)

Not Santa Claus.  St. Nicholas

Not Santa Claus. St. Nicholas

Don’t get me wrong.  I think it is cool for toddlers and pre-school kids to learn about Santa Claus.  It is neat to have them write up their Christmas list and expect to see flying reindeer and all that.  The legend is useful to encourage good behavior (if not but temporary) and can be a stepping stone to teach children about virtues such as kindness, humility, charity, and hope.  Consider Santa, Rudolph, and others as training wheels on a bike.  Every child needs training wheels on a bike as they learn to ride.

Now, imagine how foolish a healthy teenager looks on a top class mountain bike with training wheels.  Or, how about an adult athlete high tech racing bicycle with such supports.  Except for those who have severe problems with balance or some other health issues, it is foolish older people to rely on training wheels.  And this is the problem with teens an adults who continue with a Santa Claus spirituality with no desire to grow up to one of St. Nicholas.

http://www.piousfabrications.com/2010/12/st-nicholas-of-myra.html

http://oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=103484

Who was St. Nicholas?  Read and listen to the links.  He was a Bishop (who could trace his ordination back to the Twelve Apostles) who served at the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.   Here are a few highlights of lessons we can all learn from this great saint:

  • protect the honor of women
  • aid the poor
  • humbly avoid recognition for good deeds
  • do not act violently, even against falsehood
  • Christ and the Theotokos restores those who are faithful

Now, perhaps three and four year olds are better off not hearing about how a kind bishop kept three daughters of a poor man from becoming prostitutes.  But, why shouldn’t our 13 and 14 year olds hear this story?  Why is there a problem to recognize that the first “Secret Santa” helped to form Christian doctrine?  Is it that embarrassing to admit that even kind people have occasional anger management issues?  And why is it ungodly to talk about his story of redemp… .  Oh yeah.  We Protestants can’t quite seem to accept that “mother of God” thing.

We get upset when our little kids act like spoiled brats as their minds are so stuck on Santa Claus.  But, they will grow out of it.  Or will they?  Not if they aren’t taught to have a St. Nicholas spiritual outlook.  By constantly recycling an immature fantasy image of this good man that really did exist, we are producing 15 to 95 year old spoiled brats who still want stuff from an elf who lives in the North Pole.  “Keep Christ in Christmas?”  How can we when we make a mockery of one of his devout early followers and refuse to grow up in faith?

Let your kid send a letter to the fat guy in the red suit.  Be sure to leave some cookies and eggnog on a little table near the tree.  But, we who are of age need to ditch the training wheels of childhood fantasy.  This season (feast day is Thursday, December 6th), it would be a good idea for those of us of age to measure our lives to that of the real man of God.

 

Nativity Fast: My Baptist Foundations

The Lord has given us this day for repentance.  Do not waste it on vain pursuits.

St. Isaac the Syrian

Fasting is not a part of the Baptist faith.  Although some of us are willing to give up a couple of foods for Lent, getting us to observe the Nativity Fast of the Orthodox Church is like expecting the Chicago Cubs to win the FIFA World Cup of Football.  Thanksgiving is here and we will be attending Christmas parties, feast, and dinners until New Year’s Day.  There are way too many food temptations around to swear off deserts or red meat, to say the least about going vegan.  Yet in my upbringing, I find a foundation to observe the fast.

Deacon and Deaconess John R. Gresham, Sr. (© John Gresham)

Deacon John R. Gresham, Sr., who loves Christmas more than any other holiday, deeply believes in selflessness.  Daddy does not buy anything for himself from Thanksgiving Day until Christmas.  If his rain coat were to tear on December 12th, he’d patch it up the best he could.  Or if his axe handle was broken on November 30th, he would borrow his neighbor’s if need be.  Other than gas for his vehicle, and perhaps a small sandwich, it was selfish to give to one’s self.  God gave his Son to us.  So, this season, we must focus on giving to others.

Deaconess Mickey Gresham is committed to sharing the special meal.  Each year, mom will buy inexpensive, little gifts and have them on our breakfast plates on Christmas morning.  Presents under a tree from Santa are nice.  But, the first meal of the day is symbolized with a present.  Among the breakfast items, she serves chitterlings (chittlins).  They are a reminder of the humble origins of African-Americans and, some of us, still consider them a seasonal delicacy (I think they are delicious).

During this fast, I will make the effort to following the example of my parents.  Chances are they will not convert to Orthodoxy (daddy was curious, yet unimpressed with my living room icon corner).  But, they have prepared me to follow the practices of Orthodox spirituality.  If and when I do convert, these practices of my Baptist parents will be a part of me.