Nativity Fast (Advent): Decorating the Soul

It’s not uncommon to see Christmas paraphernalia for sale as early as late September. With the recent scares in the economy and national supply chain issues, we are being advised to begin shopping early for electronic and other specific gifts as they may not be available during the regular holiday buying period. I haven’t seen anyone go as far as putting up lights yet around town. For most people, decorating is still not to be done until after Thanksgiving.

Ethiopian Nativity Icon

We Orthodox Christians (new calendar jurisdictions) are about to start decorating our souls to celebrate our Lord’s birth. November 15th is the beginning of the Nativity Fast. Typically, we refrain from consuming meats, dairy products, oils, and alcohol. Fish is permitted to some degree or another (check with your priest, or the diocese website of your choice). Some parishes with also have additional services during the week. Prayer books and websites also have prayers that can be done at home especially written for the season.

That time of year again

Fasting and prayer together can give us spiritual strength and victories that one alone cannot. Fasting without prayer is merely dieting. Eating more veggies and whole grains does have health benefits. But, Satan can easily lure us into other bad habits, increase the ones we already have, and still lure us into gluttony with these fasting foods. Prayer without fasting is still a means of having oneness with God. But, cutting back (or away entirely) from rich foods for certain periods is an effort put our desire for the Holy One above seeking pleasure for our taste buds and bellies. Monastic writers all agree that control of the stomach with prayer helps us overcome lust, pride, and other temptations.

Byzantine Nativity Icon

Anglicans, Catholics, and other churches usually observe the Advent season later. Old Calendar Orthodox as well as they celebrate the Nativity in January. And many people who are spiritual, but not religious may have different ways to approach the holidays. In all things, it is best to talk to one’s priest or spiritual guide when making changes to a personal prayer rule. Here are a few suggestions that may help you decorate your soul with blessed virtues as we approach the Lord’s Nativity:

  • Establish a prayer rule – Make a regular time to seek union with the Lord when arising from and approaching sleep.
  • Strengthen the weakest part of an existing rule – I am not a night person. So, I push myself to pray a simple compline and reading.
  • Use a brief prayer every now and then – Sometimes God does great things with a few words.
  • Avoid gluttony – Even if you don’t fast, be careful of how much you eat.
  • Do something good for someone else – But don’t let anyone know about it.

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