The Orthodox Celebration of the Feast of the Nativity
As with Pascha, or Easter, the Feast of the Nativity begins with a period of preparation. It is proceeded by a fast corresponding to Lent and lasting for forty days. The fast begins on November 15.
On the Sundays immediately before December 25, special commemorations emphasize the link between the Old Covenant and the New. On December 20 the Forefeast of the Nativity is commemorated, and the daily liturgical texts are directed toward the Feast itself. On Christmas Eve, services include the Great or Royal Hours, the Great Vespers, and the Liturgy of Saint Basil.
On Christmas Day the service commemorates the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, the adoration of the Shepherds, and the arrival of the Wise Men with their gifts. The service held on this day is the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.
The days following Christmas are associated with the Theotokos and Joseph. December 26 is the Synaxis of the Mother of God, and the first Sunday after the Feast commemorates “Joseph the Betrothed.” December 29 commemorates the Massacre of the Innocents, and January 1 the Circumcision of our Lord. The Nativity season concludes on December 31, but the spirit of the festival extends to the celebration of Theophany (Epiphany), the feast commemorating the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River.
Preparing for Christmas
“A Paternal Expression of Love and Concern”
I thus write the reflection, as Orthodox Advent has now started (Nov. 15), as a “paternal expression of love and concern” that more of us (let’s try for all of us) may plan ahead rightly for this most important event that changed the world.
In our Orthodox tradition, we have a 40-day preparation season which begins every year on Nov. 15 (Advent - The Nativity Lent). This preparation process is intensified from Dec. 13th on. This season of preparation stresses fasting and alms giving, but it also should be used as a time to shop and wrap and not wait to the last couple of days which exhaust us and make us miss church.
As concerns the commercialism of Christmas, it is not bad to give gifts, for after all, Christ’s Birth was a gift to us. We also have the wise men's gifts to Him. The problem comes when we only stress the gifts and in particular we only think about the gifts that we will receive. Even the concept of “exchanging gifts” is a bit weird when you think of our Lord’s teachings…. “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” We should not give a gift expecting to receive one back. Add to this the thought that some people never even give a "Christmas Gift” to the Church…. You would think the Church should be on our “Gift List” if we are rightly living Christmas.
Another aspect that we should give careful attention to is the pre-celebrating of Christmas. Our tradition is that you prepare for a feast, first through fasting. Fasting includes not just the foods we eat, but also our social activities.
I urge each of you to prepare for and to live Christmas in the true Orthodox spirit… fast first, avoid parties this year (due to COVID-19), attend Christmas Liturgy, either online or in person, and prepare for Communion, then CELEBRATE consistent with the current COVID-19 restrictions, celebrating joyfully and thankfully, that Christ came to us and is with us, with His abundant and gracious love!
Fr. Andrew George
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES OF THE BIRTH OF CHRIST
Briefly, but accurately, the Old Testament writers foretold the birth of Jesus, centuries before it happened, giving details, which were totally fulfilled and recorded in the New Testament. The following prophecies illustrate the authenticity of God’s word.
The Uniqueness of Christ’s Birth:
Isaiah 7:14 –
“Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call His name Emmanuel.”
His Family Ancestry is Defined:
Ezekiel 34:23 –
“I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd and he
will take care of them.”
Isaiah 11:1 –
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
The Place of Christ’s Birth:
Micah 5:2 –
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of
Judah, yet out of thou shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.”
He Shall Also be from Egypt:
Hosea 11:1 – “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son.”
There will be Great Weeping at His Birth:
Jeremiah 31:15 – “The Lord say, a sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children, they are gone, and she refuses to be comforted.” (Matt 2:16-17 when Herod killed the male children.)
Advent Prayer for The Lord to Come
Prayer is a wonderful way to help cut away from distractions of the season and open your heart to prepare for the joy and hope of Christ's birth. Here is a sample prayer to use during the Christmas Lent to focus your heart and mind for the birth of Jesus Christ.
This Advent, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Fill me with Your presence from the very start.
As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
Remind me of the gift You gave when You sent Your Son from Heaven.
The first Christmas gift, it was the greatest gift ever.
You came as a baby born in a manger.
Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.
Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus' birth,
When He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
And angels announced, "Into your darkness, God brings His Light."
"Do not be afraid," they said, to shepherds in the field.
Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to Your call.
Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.
Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear Your voice.
Clear my mind of countless concerns and all the holiday noise.
Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.
This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.
Keep me close to You, Lord. It's in Your wonderful Name I pray.
Advent Fasting Guidelines
The Nativity Fast is one of four main fast periods throughout the ecclesiastical year. Beginning on November 15 and concluding on December 24, the Nativity Fast gives individuals the opportunity to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior in the Flesh on December 25. By abstaining from certain food and drink, particularly from meat, fish, dairy products, olive oil, and wine, as well as focusing more deeply on prayer and almsgiving, we can find that the primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.
The Advent Food Fast is broken into two distinct periods.
NOV 15—DEC 12: Sun, Mon, Tues, Thurs & Sat. are a “light fast”.
Weds. & Fri. are a “strict fast”.
Dec. 13—Dec 24: All days are a strict fast with oil & wine permitted on Sat. & Sun.
As with all fasting seasons,
fasting is to be done in accordance with peoples age and health.