Nativity Fast

Entrance to the Grotto at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. Entrance to the Grotto at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.
We have now gone through almost three weeks of the Nativity Lent, my dear friends. This fast, beginning on November 28th, lasts for six weeks - almost as long as the Great Lent. However, the Nativity Lent has a different and entirely unique character. Lent in our minds is usually associated with penitence, sorrow, weeping over one’s sins, cleansing the soul in preparation for the forthcoming great event or sacrament. In Christmas Lent, all concepts concerning lent - except for the last one, that is, purification of the soul, - are eclipsed by two dominant characteristics. These are - humbleness and internal joy.

Why does the Church urge us to use this lenten period to bring our souls into a state of complete humility? Because the coming holiday, although so joyous and so great, is completely enveloped in the spirit of humility. The Apostle Paul explains to us that in this holiday “God on high descended upon earth, in order to elevate us into heaven.” But in order to achieve this, the Lord “diminished Himself, taking on the image of a servant, and was likened to man.” We are all servants of God, that is, we have all been created, and in order to become like man, the Lord had to diminish, lessen, exhaust, in other words - humble His Divinity. And all of this the Lord did for us, in order to save us from death and the power of the devil, so that man - the crown of God’s creation - would not perish. In like manner we, too, should honor and thank our Creator and Saviour. We should diminish our pride, lessen our self-extolment, exhaust our selfishness, and only then - through total humility - will we find that ascending road into heaven, into the Heavenly Realm, which the Lord has opened for us in His descent to earth.

In the Holy Land, in the town of Bethlehem, where the Lord was born in a humble manger 2,000 years ago, a majestic church now stands over the site of His birth. This church is distinguished by its entrance doors, which were made so low, that an average adult has to stoop in order to go in. This was done deliberately, to constantly remind us of the need for spiritual humility before the greatness of the event that took place here.

At the same time, Christmas Lent is also a time for joy. During Great Lent, for example, the Church so gives itself over to penitence, that with the exception of two major feasts - the Annunciation of the Holy Virgin and the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem - which are both directly linked to paschal events, there is hardly any commemoration of the feasts of major saints, since a holiday spirit would interfere with the purpose of this lent. The entire Christmas Lent, on the other hand, is studded with the feasts of major saints like glittering jewels: holy great-martyr Catherine, Saint Apostle Andrew, holy great-martyr Barbara, the great Saint Nicholas, Saint Herman of Alaska, and many others, as though indicating to us that the presence of all these saints and all this rejoicing has become possible only because the Lord has come down to earth and has opened the way to heaven. Thus throughout this entire period the Church strongly urges us to prepare for the coming joy with the words of the Christmas canon: “Christ is born - glorify Him! Christ cometh from heaven - meet ye Him! Christ is on earth - be ye exalted!” Amen.

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