Sunday, 3 November 2013

Why the Nativity Fast Has Been Established

(From the blog of John Sanidopoulos)

The Orthodox Church prepares its faithful to welcome the Nativity of Christ in a worthy manner by
means of a 40-day Nativity fast, which lasts from November 15th to December 25.
Besides generally known reasons, the Nativity fast is also undertaken by Orthodox Christians in
order to venerate the suffering and sorrow undergone by the Holy Mother of God at the hands of
the scribes and the Pharisees just prior to the sacred event of Christ’s Nativity.

Holy Tradition tells us that shortly
before the righteous Joseph and the
Holy Virgin set off for Bethlehem,
they were subjected to the following
tribulation. A certain scribe by the
name of Ananias, entering their home
and seeing the Virgin pregnant, was
severely distressed and went to the
High Priest and the entire Jewish
council, saying: “Joseph the
carpenter, who has been regarded as
a righteous man, has committed an
iniquity. He has secretly violated the
Virgin Who was given to him from the
temple of God for safekeeping. And
now She is with child.” Then the High Priest’s servants went to Joseph’s house, took Mary and
Joseph, and brought them to the High Priest, who began to denounce and shame the Most-blessed
Virgin Mary.

But the Holy Virgin, crying in deep
sorrow, replied: “The Lord God is My
witness that I am innocent and have
known no man.” Then the High Priest
accused the righteous Joseph, but the
latter swore on oath that he was not
guilty of this sin. Yet the High Priest did
not believe them and subjected them
to the trial that was customary in those
times, (when a woman suspected of
violation was given to drink bitter
water that had been cursed by the
High Priest). However, the trial just
served to confirm the innocence of the
Holy Virgin and the righteous Joseph.
All those present were amazed at this,
unable to understand how a Virgin
could simultaneously be with child and yet remain inviolate.

After that the High Priest allowed the holy
couple to go home in peace. The righteous
Joseph took the Virgin Mary and went to his
house, joyously glorifying God. But this was not
the end of the Holy Theotokos’ trials. It is well
known that afterwards she shared with Joseph
the toil of a three-day journey from Nazareth to
Bethlehem. And in Bethlehem there was no
place for the Holy Virgin either in an inn, or in
some home, and since night was already
approaching, She was forced to seek shelter in a
cave which served as a resting place for cattle. In
this humblest of shelters the Most-blessed Virgin
remained in prayer and divine contemplation. It
is here that She gave birth to our Lord Jesus
Christ, Saviour of the world.

We can see from all of the above that the days immediately preceding the Nativity were not days
of rest and comfort for the Holy Mother of God. In those days She suffered various sorrows and
trials, but did not leave off her prayers and contemplation. The Holy Church appeals to the faithful
to participate, at least to some small degree, in the Holy Theotokos’ spiritual labour, constraining
one’s flesh during the Nativity fast and nourishing one’s soul with prayer. However, the Church
warns us that external fasting only is not enough. We must also apply ourselves to internal fasting,
which consists of shunning malice, deceit, wrath, worldly bustle, and other vices. During this fast,
as at all times, we must show works of love and mercy to our fellow beings, doing all we can to
help those in need and in sorrow. Only then will our fasting be genuine and not hypocritical, only
then will it be God-pleasing, and only then will we know the true joy of the bright feast of Christ’s