Nativity Fast (Advent): The Challenge of Self-Examination

One of the Desert Fathers and a few of his disciples went to Alexandria to speak with the Patriarch. Along the way, they walked past an actress bargaining for a fancy outfit. Seeing her, the great monk started to cry. “Abba, why are you weeping,” asked his disciples. “Because she may be more devoted to her pursuit of attention from men than I am to seeking God.”

There is no shortage of people who live in ways that are not Christ-like. Even among the faithful, we can easily find and denounce one another for worldly ways and habits. As we are in the second day of the Orthodox Nativity Fast, there is a tendency of some to pay attention to what a brother or sister is eating or if they are attending mid-week services. All believers are invited to refrain from eating meats, dairy products, and consuming alcohol and oils during the Church’s fasting periods. However, those with medical conditions can receive a blessing from a priest. Others people may offer us foods that we are trying to refrain from. Accepting hospitality from others is not a sin (Thanksgiving turkey and ham are just around the corner). Avoid gluttony, and don’t go seeking out opportunities to break the fast. Talking to a priest or spiritual father or mother is a good way to walk through the minefields of long fasting periods.

Patriarch St. Athanasius the Great

It is far better for us to look at our own hearts and minds than our neighbor’s plate. No matter how righteous we may appear to be, there are attitudes, habits, and issues that need to be addressed. Please forgive me for forgetting the name of the particular saint. But, here is a man who lived in an Egyptian desert and he chose to weep over his own sins rather than accuse the entertainer. “Was she a wicked woman?” “Did he do something dirty in secret?” These questions aren’t important. Instead, the man saw something about himself that revealed that he was slacking in his commitment to “being perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Sure, I see the way other people act and live. But, I have to examine myself in this world because I will have to give an account of myself in the world to come. There are adulterers among us. But, do I lust? Liars; am I always honest? Thieves; do I have something that belongs to someone else? The reputation that I may have may be a good one. But, the Lord knows my heart and mind. This is why the Father cried. I need to do likewise.

Bishop John and Father Maximos at a Vespers (evening) service

Let’s be sure to keep repentance as a part of our prayers in this Nativity season. As we clean and decorate our homes, don’t bring in the clutter of comparison to our inner selves. Be cautious to examine the inner self and clear out the sins that hold us back from effectively running the race of holiness (Hebrews 12:1, 2). Let’s look always to Christ as we look forward to celebrating His birth.

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