…when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. VerilyI say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto Thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
– The words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:16-18
We have recently begun the Nativity Fast, and perhaps already it is getting us a little down. A lot of Orthodox Christians who sincerely try to keep this fast (which all too many neglect) find that it is more difficult to stay motivated and cheerful during this season than during the Great Fast before Holy Week and Pascha.
This is probably for several reasons. There are the short days and long nights of December with their cold and gray weather. There is the distraction of the secular “holiday season,” which seems to make people a little nutty as they become obsessed with buying tons of presents they cannot afford for people whom they fear will not like them, all the while trying to have good cheer at an exhausting round of obligatory and superficial social gatherings.
Lately, we also have the political and social tension created by anti-Christian power elites who claim that Christmas decorations, greetings, school events, and TV programs actually related to the Birth of Christ are “unfair” to non-Christians and should be eradicated from public life, while non-Christian symbols must be imposed on everyone, especially the Christians, in order to “celebrate diversity,” which is code for worshipping the rapidly spreading reign of the Antichrist global government, under which, of course, there is no real diversity, but only the mind-numbing uniformity of materialism, sensuality, and the ever-despairing power struggle for the “survival of the fittest” in a merciless, endless, and impersonal universe.
Being Orthodox Christians, we choose not to get steamrolled by all of this. We know what this season is for: to prepare to celebrate the Birth of Christ. And we know how to keep it, though because of our weakness in the face of our circumstances we often fail. Let us remind ourselves, however, how to keep it, and, when we fail, get up again and keep trying, trying to…
Fast for the forty days. (When obliged to go to parties, stick with the veggie tray!)
Prepare for Holy Communion.
Go to more services.
Force ourselves to be cheerful and kind to everyone (especially tired retail clerks!)
Say “Merry Christmas” and don’t get intimidated by the propaganda into that “Happy Holiday” nonsense.
Keep thanking God for everything we have and not get caught up in consumerism.
Keep our shopping and present giving simple, in order to focus on the Birth of our Savior, and on sincere love for our family and friends, which is the real purpose of the gifts, anyway.
A blessed Nativity Fast to all!
“…and on earth, peace…”
Since God is peace surpassing every mind, it is necessary that the heart which desires to receive Him be peaceful and undisturbed. As David has said: “His place has been established in peace” (Ps. 75:2). Hence you ought in the first place to establish your heart in a peaceful state.
Before everything else, have that peace and staidness in your five senses. That is, do not look or talk or move your hands or walk disturbedly, but in a peaceful and orderly manner. For when you become accustomed to preserve that peace in your outer movements, you shall easily and effortlessly be led to a peaceful inner state. For according to the Fathers, the inner man conforms to the outer man. Accustom yourself to love all men and be at peace with all, if this is possible, as Paul says: “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Guard your conscience so that it does not accuse you with regard to anything, but rests at peace in relation to God, yourself, your neighbor, and external things, and especially does not accuse you that you have neglected some commandment of God. For the guarding of the conscience begets peace of heart. Accustom yourself to bear insults without being disturbed.
– from Unseen Warfare, edited by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Theophan the Recluse