Rev. Father Alexander Lukashonok, M.Div.
There is a period of time before the feast of Christmas that is very important and very special; it is the 40-Day Fast, called by several names, St Philip’s Fast, the Christmas Fast, or Advent. It is a time of spiritual preparation and growth as we prepare to celebrate the greatest winter holiday, the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Flesh.
The Fast came to be called St. Philip’s Fast, because according to the calendar his day falls on the day before the Fast, but a more telling name is Advent. Advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning “the Coming” and reveals the liturgical action of the Fast: to prepare for the Lord’s Coming. God has come to His earth. A strange wonder has happened in World History, God who is uncontainable takes on flesh. He who is greater than all of creation becomes part of it. He who is transcendent and everywhere at all times visits the world in a particular way, making Himself known and seen, by sending His Son to be born of a Virgin. With the birth of His Son, the salvation of the world begins, reconciliation is extended, and truly Peace is on earth.
With such a great Mystery, that is, the Entrance into our world of Jesus the Christ, it is no wonder that we need some time to ponder and meditate upon the Mystery of our Salvation. As though we have been stunned, we need to set our course again, hopefully taking into account this new event. How will we respond to our Lord, collectively as the Church, and personally to our Savior? The Fast is a time when we eat less; yes, less! The feasting will commence after the holy day, with lamb, and ham, and cakes and sweets of all kinds, but for the time being, we will abstain from everything festive, no meats of any kind and no rich foods. Parties should be postponed until the Feast begins. Think of the song, “The 12 Days of Christmas”, there was a reason why there were 12 days of the feast. Christians celebrated Christmas and continued celebrating until Theophany (Epiphany), the 2nd feast of winter, the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan. If we fast during the Advent Season, then there will be plenty of time for social events afterwards, and they will be even more festive!
During the Fast, we should never pretend as if we do not know that Christmas is coming. We should never pretend anything in the Church, for we are not enacting, as in a drama, the life of our Lord, but rather, we are liturgically celebrating our faith. In fact, right at the beginning of Advent, there is a special holy day, the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple, which seems to begin the festivities and gives us direction. This Feast is the commemoration of the time when the Righteous Joachim and Anna fulfilled their promise and brought the fruits of their loins, the 3 year old Mary, to the Temple, in order to dedicate and offer her to God. It is at these services, that the Liturgical hymnography emphasizes the synergy of God and Man, and connects the Virgin Mary as the offering of humanity to God, in response to God’s plan for our salvation. The Liturgical hymnography is beautiful and proclaims the joy of our salvation. It is in the Matins Service, that we first hear the Christmas Canon, “Christ is Born; Glorify Him! Christ comes from Heaven; Go to meet Him! Christ is on earth; Be exalted! Sing to the Lord all the earth.”
As stated above, the theme of the Fast is the Coming of the Lord, and Christians would do well to wonder if their house is clean. Advent is most fruitful when one looks into his heart to rid and cleanse one’s self of sins, to check and see if one’s passions are being used for union with God and our neighbor, or for one’s own selfishness. In abstaining from social and personal concerns, we can add a time of silence, prayer, reading of Scriptures, and a greater participation in the life of our Church. If we can understand the magnitude of this event, and the innumerable blessings that await those who will come to worship Him, then we can start living a holy life, and be born anew. We can exchange our sins and bad habits for holiness and acts of mercy. We can break the cycle of a mundane life filled with so much foolishness and vanity, concerns that have no lasting value. Maybe gloom and hopelessness have seeped into our lives. With the Coming of Christ, we can be renewed and start out afresh, entering into the joy and peace which Jesus offers.
Advent also has a second connotation, that of the Second Coming, or Last Judgment. Advent is the Latin translation of the Greek parousia, the word used for the end time, when Christ will appear and all will give account before the Judge. Therefore, just as in Christmas, and all year long in the Church, one encounters God, so too also, there is a warning here concerning the end. In the Scriptures, our Lord told many stories concerning the need to be vigilant and ready for the Coming Judge. There is the parable in Matthew of the 10 Virgins with their oil lamps, 5 were wise and 5 were foolish. The wise prepared and the foolish were too busy to be bothered. Will you be wise? There is also the story in Luke, about the servant who fell asleep, when the master cam home. Will you be too lazy to become God’s servant?
Liturgically celebrating our faith gives a tangible witness to the world of our Savior Jesus Christ, and how mankind should respond to Him—to worship Him! An outsider can enter in and see the Scriptures unfold and come alive. The Church proclaims anew to the world in the Birth of Jesus Christ the Good News and invites all to come and worship the true God.