Nativity Fast Reflection - Introduction to Nativity

Reflections provided by Mr. Tenny Thomas

 

Introduction to Nativity Fast - Part 1 of 2 - Video

 

 Introduction to Nativity Fast - Part 2 of 2 -Video

 

 Transcript

“Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem today! Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again today! Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state! Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs! Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!” 

'Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away... ' 

From today for twenty five days, the Church begins to prepare herself for the mystery to come, waiting in expectation, for the great joy that will arrive on Christmas day. But before that great joy we must fast, pray and prostrate - steps, which, for Orthodox Christians throughout the world, lead to the radiant wonder of the Nativity of Christ.

The fast seems awkward because so often we see Christmas as joy alone and do not appreciate fully the deep and profound mystery that is at the heart of our rejoicing. We are eager to recall, but quietly we forget the universal significance of the event that is the cause of their singing. It is not just that a babe is born: He who is without birth is born. He who created all comes to us as a child. He, who holds the universe in the palm of His hand, is held in the hands of a tender mother.

“Before Thy birth, O Lord, the angelic hosts looked with trembling on this mystery and were struck with wonder: for Thou who hast adorned the vault of heaven with stars hast been well pleased to be born as a babe; and Thou who holds all the ends of the earth in the hollow of Thy hand art laid in a manger of dumb beasts. For by such a dispensation has Thy compassion been made known, O Christ, and Thy great mercy: glory to Thee.” 

Through the fast that precedes the great Feast of the Incarnation -- which itself is the heart and substance of our calling -- the Church helps draw us into the full mystery of what that call entails. Like Great Lent, the fast of the Nativity is a journey. “Come, O ye faithful, and let us behold where Christ is born. Let us join the Magi, kings from the east, and follow the guiding star.”  The fast of the Nativity is our journey into the new and marvelous life of the Holy Trinity, which is offered by God but which we must approach of our own will. 

A journey is, by its nature, naturally ascetic. We need to humble ourselves, let go of our possessions, not be too influenced by our social or be too reliant on the plans we have made for our lives. A journey is, by its nature, an act of movement, of transportation, of growth. What is old is left behind, newness is perceived and embraced and growth of understanding takes place. 

“Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome.” 

The Nativity Fast establishes a path for us, whereby we may mount up to heaven'. The Nativity is not only about God’s coming down to us, but about our rising up to Him, just as sinful humanity was lifted up into the person of Christ in the Incarnation itself. We are called to arise, then, during the fast that is the journey into this Feast.

The fast is an ascetic time, designed by the Church to strip away common stumbling blocks into sin, to provide us with the means of self-perception that we lack in our typical indulgence, and to begin to grow the seeds of virtue. The fast is a holy and blessed tool that brings us closer to such self awareness. It reveals to us who we are, perhaps more importantly who we are not, and makes us more consciously aware of that for which we stand in need.

“When the Creator beheld man, whom He had made with His hands, about to perish, He bowed the heavens and came down; and He was endued with man’s nature in very truth, becoming incarnate of a Virgin divinely pure: for He has glorified Himself.” 

“The middle wall of partition between God and man has been destroyed; the flaming sword turns back, the cherubim withdraw from the tree of life, and we partake of the delight of Paradise from which we were cast out through disobedience. Unto Him let us cry aloud: God born of a Virgin, have mercy upon us!”  

“Make us worthy, O Lord God, to hallow You with the holy seraphim without investigation; to bless You with the blessed cherubim without hesitation; to glorify You with the exalted powers without hindrance; to adore You with the heavenly hosts without any blame; to exalt You with the innocent shepherds unceasingly; to worship You with the discerning wise men steadfastly; and to rejoice in You, with Mary who bore You; eternally; now and always forever and ever.” 

References

[1] Ephrem’s Hymn on the Nativity, Kathleen E. McVey edited and translated, Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns (New York, 1989), pp. 484.

[2] Sticheron from the First Hour of the Royal Hours of Christmas, William Mills, Prepare O Bethlehem: Reflections on the Scripture Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season, (Orthodox Research Institute, 2005), pp. 31.

[3] Canon of the Nativity, Ode 3, Sticheron 4, Bogdan Gabriel Buchar, “One of Us, Praising Christ with Hymns of the Nativity,” in The Word Volume 52 no. 10, (December 2008), pp. 12 – 16.

[4] Sticheron of the Sixth Hour, Christmas Eve, Fr. Irenii (Dr. Matthew Steenberg), “On the Nativity Fast – The Preparation of the Soul” in http://www.monachos.net/content/home/nativity.

[5] Sticheron from the First Hour of the Royal Hours of Christmas, William Mills, Prepare O Bethlehem: Reflections on the Scripture Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season, (Orthodox Research Institute, 2005), pp. 31.

[6] Troparion from Canticle 1 of the Matins Canon for the Nativity, Fr. Irenii (Dr. Matthew Steenberg), “He Bowed the Heavens and Came Down: Reflections on the Nativity of Christ” in http://www.monachos.net/content/home/nativity.

[7] Sticheron in tone 2, from Vespers on the eve of the Nativity, Ibid. Also refer to St. John Chrysostom’s Homily 5 on Ephesians in the NPNF Series, Volumes 1 – 13. 

[8] Opening Prayer of Nativity Service after the Procession, Ma’de’dono – the Book of the Church Festivals: The Syrian Orthodox Church, (New Jersey, 1984), pp. 13. 

 

Tags: Lent


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