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 Nativity Fast



Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show it's welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away...
On November 15th we begin the forty day period where we proclaim the miracle of God becoming man. This is the time in the Orthodox Church where our attention is drawn to the great mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We await his coming in anticipation of the great joy of His birth on Christmas Day. For our preparation the wisdom of our Church asks us to participate in a fast, with all the inconvenience and discomfort it may bring. If this is a season of such great joy, why is this the practice of Orthodox Christians around the world? Why are we asked to fast when we hear daily the hymn "Hark, the herald angels sing!" almost every pace we go?
By our fasting we are reminded that this is not simply the birth of a baby, but God being united with man.  It is the moment when the unchangeable is joined with the changeable, eternal life with mortal life, He who holds the universe in His hand and who created all comes in the flesh for our salvation.
Thou who has adorned the vault of heaven with stars has been well pleased to be born as a babe; and Thou. Who holds all the ends of the earth in the hallow of Thy hand art laid in a manger of dumb beasts... (Sticheron of  Third Hour, Eve of the Nativity)
This is an event that should make us tremble with awe and wonder, bring us to humility and desiring to offer thanksgiving. But are we not engulfed in the secular traditions of this holiday season with its focus on gifts and parties, where the significance of this great event is often less than an afterthought? Do we take time to think about why God was incarnated and became man? Do we reflect on the truth that it is through His becoming one with us that we can now become one with Him? Do we remember that before this event man was not able to overcome the fear of death, held in bondage to sin? The reality is that the Virgin birth of Jesus is the greatest miracle in the history of mankind. Now man can become like God and be united with Him in Paradise with eternal life. With a fast we are preparing for celebration of the beginning of the transformative journey He prepared for our salvation.
November 15 is the starting point for a spiritual journey to the day of this great joy.  This journey is one one that requires our development of greater humility so we can fully appreciate what God have given to us.  This is by nature an ascetic journey. Like our journey to be united with God, it is not one where we can make use of our social relationships or our material possessions.  This is a journey where we must learn to surrender our souls to the will of God, relinquish our control over the journey to Him whose birth we are about to celebrate. This is the spirit we must embrace as we enter into this fast. It is a period of preparation just as the manger was prepared for Christ.
Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show it's welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away; born of a Virgin, God has appeared to men, formed as we are and making godlike the garment He has put on. Therefore Adam is renewed with Eve, and they call out: 'Thy good pleasure has appeared on earth to save our kind.' 
Christmas Day is about the great mystery of God's becoming like us, we who are bound to death, so He can transform us to become like Him, overcoming our mortality and becoming fully alive in Him. The Canon of Matins for the Nativity says, "He establishes a path for us, whereby we may mount up to heaven." This coming event is not just about God coming to us, but all of humanity being lifted up into He who is born on Christmas Day in the form of man, Christ the Incarnation of God.
This Nativity fast is to help us lift ourselves above all those things which bind us to our worldly life, freeing ourselves to be united in Him. As we fast we are reminded that we depend on Him for our food and have also are in need for spiritual food that is much more than our daily bread. We learn this by forgoing the extra sweets, the pleasurable drinks, the abundant foods so we will not be fully satisfied by the earthly pleasures but seek instead the treasures that are beyond this life and world. In this process of fasting we are lifting our thoughts to things that are of the heavenly realm that bring us true joy and unbounded pleasures. The fast is a time to break our attachments to those things which have power over us, learning to set them aside so we can be freely governed by God's will alone.
By engaging in this period of fasting where we can work towards our purification with the help of God's grace, we cooperate with God in our spiritual growth and the all important journey to become one with Him.  after all, this is the aim of our Orthodox way of life. In this way we are able to approach Him on Christmas Day with joy, just as did the Magi and the shepherds of Bethlehem.
Cleansing our minds through fasting, let us offer through our lives virtues instead of myrrh, preparing with faith our entry into the feast of the Nativity, storing up treasure in our souls and crying: Glory in the highest to God in Trinity, whose good pleasure is not
revealed to men, that in His love for mankind He may set Adam free from the ancestral curse (death). Christmas Day is truly the day of our Salvation. This is the joy we should celebrate when this day comes.
The Nativity Fast is like the fast of Lent, but not quite as strict. Let us not rebel against such self-imposed constraints on our desires, but embrace this practice which Christ Himself practiced and called us to do likewise when He said, "When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites." Note he did not say IF you fast, but WHEN you fast.  Why do we resist this important practice? It seems odd that we are willing to pay large sums of money to enter into special diet programs like Jenny Craig, while, when the Church asked us to engage inn such rates for our spiritual well being, we resist and even think it something impossible to do.  Unfortunately fasting is not practiced in much of the Christian world the days. Our Protestant friends do not fast and even the Catholics no longer give much importance to fasting. It is a Tradition given to us through Christ Himself and passed on to us by the Apostles that many have lost.  But the Orthodox Church still teaches at his important practice. If you do choose to follow our Lord and do as He asks of us and enter into a fast in preparation of this most special day, you will be rewarded when that day comes.
 
 
 
Teaching of the Fathers...

...all things that are accomplished in the world, even by those who are aliens from the Church, are accomplished by faith. 
St Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 5 no. 3)

...faith is that which completes our argument. 
St. Gregory Nazianzen (Third theological Oration no. 21)

...there is one kind of faith, the dogmatic, involving an assent of the soul on some particular point...But there is a second kind of faith which is bestowed by Christ as a gift of grace...The faith then which is given of grace from the Spirit is not merely doctrinal, but also works things above man's power. 
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 5 nos. 10-11)

...though remission of sins is given equally to all, the communion of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in proportion to each man's faith. If you have labored little, you receive little; but if you have wrought much, the reward is great. You are running for yourself, see to your own interest. 
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 1)

...while the Lord's victory is certainly an accomplished fact, my personal participation in that victory is as yet far from complete...My trust is, therefore in Christ, not in myself, and I am confident that Christ is faithful and stands firm. 
Bishop Kallistos Ware (How are We Saved? pg. 4)

2. For the method of godliness consists of these two things, pious doctrines, and virtuous practice: and neither are the doctrines acceptable to God apart from good works, nor does God accept the works which are not perfected with pious doctrines. 
Catechetical Lectures Of Our Holy Father, Cyril, Archbishop Of Jerusalem - Lecture Iv: On The Ten[1] Points Of Doctrine.

A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying, "Give me a word." And he said to him, "The fathers put compunction as the beginning of every action." The brother said again, "Give me another word." The old man replied, "As far as you can, do some manual work so as to be able to give alms, for it is written that alms and faith purify from sin." The brother said, "What is faith?" The old man said, "Faith is to live humbly and to give alms." 
From the Desert Fathers

A fiery dart of desire of base indulgence is often cast forth from the devil: but faith, suggesting a picture of the judgment, cools down the mind, and quenches the dart. 
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 5 no. 4)

A man advises his neighbor in accordance with what his neighbor knows. Correspondingly, God acts on one who hears Him according to the degree of his faith. 
Abba Mark, The Evergetinos

An old man and a brother led their life together. Now the old man was charitable. It happened that there was a famine and the people came to his door seeking alms, and in charity the old man gave to all who came. Seeing what was happening, the brother said to the old man, "Give me my share of the loaves, and do what you like with yours." The old man divided the loaves and gave alms from his share. 
Now many people hastened to the old man, learning that he supplied everyone, and God -- seeing that he supplied everyone -- blessed these loaves. But when the brother had consumed his own food he said to the old man, "Since I have only a little food left, Abba, take me back into the common life again." The old man said, "I will do as you wish." So they began to again to live in common. 
When scarcity came again, the needy came back seeking alms. Now one day the brother came in and saw they were short of loaves. A poor man came, and the old man told the brother to give him alms. He said, "It is no longer possible, father." The old man said to him, "Go in and look." The brother went inside and found the bin full of loaves. When he saw that, he was filled with fear, and taking some he gave to the poor. In this way he learned the faith and virtue of the old man, and he gave glory to God. 
"The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers," by Benedicta Ward, (Oxford: SLG Press, 1985), p. 42

And just as tools without the workmen and the workmen without tools are unable to do anything, just so neither is faith without the fulfillment of the commandments, nor the fulfillment of the commandments without faith able to renew and re-create us, nor make us new men from the old. But, whenever we do possess both within a heart free of doubt, then we shall become the Master's vessels, be made fit for the reception of the spiritual myrrh. Then, too, will He Who makes darkness His hiding-place renew us by the gift of the Holy Spirit and raise us up new instead of old, and part the veil of His darkness and carry our mind away and allow it to peek as through some narrow opening, and grant it to see Him, still somehow dimly, and one might look on the disk of the sun or moon. It is then that the mind is taught -- or, put better -- knows and is initiated, and is assumed that that truly in no other way does one arrive at even partial participation in the ineffable good things of God except by way of the heart's humility, unwavering faith, and the resolve of the whole soul to renounce all the world and everything in it, together with one's own will, in order to keep all of God's commandments. 
St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life, Vol. I.

As the memory of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not bring about the illumination of knowledge in the soul. 
Maximus Confessor

Before anything else one must believe in God, "that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). 
St Seraphim of Sarov - Spiritual Instructions

Belief is a matter of dying for Christ and His commandments. It is believing that such a death is life-giving. It is to count poverty as riches, and to consider the lowest humiliation as true honor and nobility. Faith is believing that when one has nothing, one has everything. More than this, it is to possess the incomprehensible riches of the knowledge of Christ and to look upon all visible things as but clay and smoke. 
St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters

Citizens fear enemy invasions so long as they have no help from the king. When the news comes that a military commander has entered their town, they cease to worry in the knowledge that the authorities will take care of them. Even if they hear that the enemy approaches, they are not afraid since they have a protector. In the same way, if we believe in God, we do not fear the demons, for God sends us His help. 
St. Barsanuphius and St. John, from Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart.

Complete salvation depends not on the faith of the heart alone, but also upon confessing it, for the Lord said, `Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in Heaven' (Mt. 10:33). Also, the divine Apostle teaches: `For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation' (Rom. 10:10). If, then, God and the divine Prophets and Apostles command that the mystery of faith be confessed in words and with the tongue, and this mystery of faith brings salvation to the whole world, then people must not be forced to keep silence with regard to confession, lest the salvation of people be hindered. 
St. Maximus the Confessor (in the Life).

Faith and love which are gifts of the Holy Spirit are such great and powerful means that a person who has them can easily, and with joy and consolation, go the way Jesus Christ went. Besides this, the Holy Spirit gives man the power to resist the delusions of the world so that although he makes use of earthly good, yet he uses them as a temporary visitor, without attaching his heart to them. But a man who has not got the Holy Spirit, despite all his learning and prudence, is always more or less a slave and worshipper of the world. 
St. Innocent of Irkutsk, Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Faith consists not only of being baptized in Christ, but also in fulfilling His commandments. Holy Baptism is perfect and gives us perfection, but does not make perfect those who do not follow the commandments. 
St. Mark the Ascetic

Faith consists not only of being baptized in Christ, but also in fulfilling His commandments. Holy Baptism is perfect and gives us perfection, but does not make perfect those who do not follow the commandments. 
St. Mark the Ascetic

Faith gives wings to prayer, and without it we cannot fly up to Heaven. 
St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step28: On Holy and Blessed Prayer, the Mother of Virtues, and on the Attitude of Mind and Body in Prayer

Faith is a comprehensive knowledge of the essentials, and knowledge is the strong and sure demonstration of what is received by faith, built upon faith by the Lord's teaching, conveying the soul on to infallibility, science, and comprehension. And, in my view, the first saving change is that from heathenism to faith, and the second, that from faith to knowledge. And the latter terminating in love, thereafter gives the loving to the loved, that which knows to that which is known. 
St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata.

Faith is the beginning of love; the end of love is knowledge of God. 
"Instructions to Cenobites and Others", Abba Evagrius, "Early Fathers From the Philokalia," translated from the Russian text, "Dobrotolubiye," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, eighth edition, (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1981), pp. 115 - 116.

Faith, according to the teaching of St. Antioch, is the beginning of our union with God. One who truly believes is a stone in the temple of God; he is prepared for the edifice of God the Father, raised to the heights by the power of Jesus Christ, that is, of the Cross, with the aid of ropes, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit. 
St Seraphim of Sarov - Spiritual Instructions

Faith, like active prayer, is a grace. For prayer, when activated by love through the power of the Spirit, renders true faith manifest - the faith that reveals the life of Jesus. If, then, you are aware that such faith is not at work within you, that means your faith is dead and lifeless. In fact you should not even speak of yourself as one of the 'faithful' if your faith is merely theoretical and not actualized by the practice of the commandments or by the Spirit. Thus faith must be evidenced by progress in keeping the commandments, or it must be actualized and translucent in what we do. This is confirmed by St. James when he says, 'Show me your faith through your works and I will show you the works that I do through my faith" (cf. Jas. 2:18.) 
St. Gregory of Sinai, The Philokalia, Vol. 4.

For the man who believes, all things are possible because:`Faith is counted as righteousness,' and `Christ is the end of the Law.' Belief in Him justifies and perfects the believer, for belief in Christ is considered to correspond to the works of the law. It is confirmed and witnessed by the evangelic precepts and so earns for the faithful a participation in eternal life, in Christ Himself. 
St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters.

Have faith Have faith that is as unshakeable as a rock, so that nothing frightens you...The person who has deep faith within himself, and fixes his attention on the good path, and seeks to improve the condition of his soul and to adapt his thought to the good is happy... The happiness of man consists in faith in God and in good acts which are done with love. We cure those who believe in us and come to us with faith. 
Modern Orthodox Saints Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene of Lesvos., by Constantine Cavarnos., INSTITUTE FOR BYZANTINE AND MODERN STUDIES., Belmont, Massachusetts., 1990., pp. 145-155.

If a man resolves to treat and heal his soul, he must first apply himself to a careful examination of his whole being. He must learn to distinguish good from evil, the things of God from those of the devil, for `discernment is the greatest of the virtues.' The acquisition of the virtues is a progressive and organic process: one virtue follows another. One depends on the other, one is born of the other: `Every virtue is the mother of the next.' Among the virtues there is not only an ontological order, but also a chronological one. The first among them is faith. 
St. Justin Popovich, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ

If any here is a slave of sin, let him promptly prepare himself through faith for the new birth into freedom and adoption; and having put off the miserable bondage of his sins, and taken on him the most blessed bondage of the Lord, so may he be counted worthy to inherit the kingdom of heaven. 
St. Cyril of Jerusalem(Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 1)

If we desire to acquire faith the foundation of all blessings, the door to God's mysteries, unflagging defeat of our enemies, the most necessary of all the virtues, the wings of prayer and the dwelling of God within the soul--we must endure every trial imposed by our enemies and by our many and various thoughts....if we forcibly triumph over the trials and temptations that befall us, it will not be we who are victorious, but Christ, Who is present in us through faith. 
St. Peter of Damaskos

If you have faith in the Lord you will fear punishment, and this fear will lead you to control the passions. Once you control the passions you will accept affliction patiently, and through such acceptance you will acquire hope in God. Hope in God separates the intellect from every worldly attachment, and when the intellect is detached in this way it will acquire love for God. 
St. Maximos the Confessor(First Century on Love no. 3)

If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say:In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is. To let in fresh air we have to open a window; to get tanned we must go out into the sunshine. Achieving faith is no different; we never reach a goal by just sitting in comfort and waiting, say the Holy Fathers. Let the Prodigal Son be our example. He "arose and came" (Luke 15:20). 
Tito Colliander The Way of the Ascetics.

It is by faith that all things, both human and spiritual are sustained. For without faith neither does the farmer cut his furrow, nor does the merchant commit his life to the raging waves of the sea on a small piece of wood, nor are marriages contracted, nor any other step in life taken. 
St. John Damascene

It is true that God, in His unbounded mercy, often does good to men without their faith; but in seeking faith from men, God lays emphasis on the dignity of men as free and rational beings. How is man free and rational if he, on his part, is not ready to contribute to his own salvation? God seeks of men the least that it is possible to seek: faith in the living God, in His love for men and His constant readiness to give to man, and do for him, all that works towards his good. 
Bp. (St.) Nikolai Velimirovic, Homilies, Vol. 2

Let us contemplate with faith the mystery of the divine incarnation and in all simplicity let us simply praise Him who in His great generosity became man for us. For who, relying on the power of rational demonstration, can explain how the conception of the divine Logos took place? How was flesh generated without seed? How was there an engendering without loss of maidenhood? How did a mother after giving birth remain a virgin? How did He who was supremely perfect develop as He grew up (cf. Luke 2:52)? How was He who was pure baptized? How did He who was hungry give sustenance (cf. Matt. 4:2; 14:14-21)? How did He who was weary impart strength (cf. John 4:6)? How did He who suffered dispense healing? How did He who was dying bestow life? And, to put the most important last, how did God become man?...Faith alone can embrace these mysteries, for it is faith that makes real for us things beyond intellect and reason (cf. Heb. 11:1). 
St. Maximos the Confessor (First Century of Various Texts no. 13, The Philokalia Vol. 2 edited by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware; Faber and Faber pgs. 167-168)

Let us, then, cling to His blessing, and study the ways and means of securing this blessing. Let us unroll the records of antiquity. For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not that he did what was right and lived up to the truth, enabled by faith? With confidence because he knew the future, Isaac cheerfully let himself be led to the altar. Jacob was humble enough to leave his country because of his brother, and went to Laban and lived in servitude, and the twelve tribes were given to him. Whoever considers these details without bias will appreciate the splendor of the gifts conferred by Him. 
St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians.

My soul measured the mighty workings of God, wrought on the scale of His eternal omnipotence, not by its own powers of perception but by a boundless faith; and therefore refused to disbelieve, because it could not understand, that God was in the beginning with God, and that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but bore in mind the truth that with the will to believe would come the power to understand 
St. Hilary of Poitiers

Remember that while you pray, God expects from you a positive answer to His question: "Do you believe that I can fulfill your prayer?" You must be able to answer from the bottom of your heart: "Yes, I believe, O God," and then you will be answered according to your faith. 
St. John of Kronstadt

Stand therefore firm in your hearts, that no one overthrow you, that no one be able to make you fall. The Apostle has taught us what it is "to stand," that is what was said to Moses: "The place whereon thou standest is holy ground;" for no one stands unless he stand by faith, unless he stands fixed in the determination of his own heart. 
Letters of St. Ambrose of Milan

The eternal dogmatic truths, the divine dogmas, are the subject of the faith, and the faith is an exercise of man, and therefore, the human mind. All of the evangelical virtues of the exercise and of the grace, with faith first, are the heavenly bread of the eternal life, with which man nourishes, makes worthy, sanctifies, perfects himself, and is restored in his God-likeness. Life within the Church, through grace, inevitably becomes the source of knowledge, through grace, of the eternal dogmatic truths. Living them as the content of his life, man comes nearer to the authority, the Truth, and the saving power. Just as the Lord has said: "If any man will do his will", (namely, of God the Father, "he shall know the doctrine", for the dogmas, if they are derived "from God." (John 7:17) 
St. Justin Popovich, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ.

The first and unique effect of the divine gift of genuine spiritual knowledge is to produce within us by faith the resurrection of God. Faith needs to be accompanied by the right ordering of our will and purpose - that is to say, by discrimination - which makes it possible for us bravely to withstand the spate of trials and temptations, sought or unsought. Thus faith, rightfully expressing itself through the fulfillment of the commandments, is the first resurrection within us of the God whom we have slain through our ignorance. 
St. Maximos the Confessor(Second Century of Various Texts no. 70)

There is a knowledge that precedes faith, and there is a knowledge born of faith. Knowledge that precedes faith is natural knowledge; and that which is born of faith is spiritual knowledge. What is natural knowledge? Knowledge is natural that discerns good from evil, and this is also called natural discernment, by which we know to discern good from evil naturally, without being taught. God has implanted this in rational nature, and with teaching it receives growth and assistance; there is no one who does not have it. 
Spiritual Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian

There is nothing impossible unto those who believe; lively and unshaken faith can accomplish great miracles in the twinkling of an eye. Besides, even without our sincere and firm faith, miracles are accomplished, such as the miracles of the sacraments; for God's Mystery is always accomplished, even though we were incredulous or unbelieving at the time of this celebration. 
St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

Through faith man apprehends all that is invisible and apprehensible by the mind. Faith is a free conviction of the soul as to the truth of what is proclaimed from God. 
St. Antony the Great(170 Texts on Saintly Life no. 141)

To have faith in Christ means more than simply despising the delights of this life. It means we should bear all our daily trials that may bring us sorrow, distress, or unhappiness, and bear them patiently for as long as God wishes and until He comes to visit us. For it is said: `I waited on the Lord and He came to me.' 
St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters.