The Nativity Fast in the Eastern Churches
The Nativity Fast – Preparing for Christ’s Birth in the Eastern Churches
In the weeks leading up to the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord in the Eastern Churches, the waiting and preparation period is also a time of fasting. This period is called the Nativity Fast, the Pre-Nativity Fast or even the Christmas Lent. It may also be referred to as Phillip’s Fast or the Philippian Fast, as it traditionally begins the day after the Feast of St. Phillip the Apostle, which falls on November 15 in the new calendar. In the Eastern churches, consequently, there is no reference to a season called Advent.
A Brief Explanation of the Nativity Fast
Like the Lenten fast before Easter, the Eastern Church’s Pre-Nativity Fast lasts for 40 days, traditionally. Beginning with the Feast of the Nativity there will then be a period of 40 days of celebration. Fasting before the Feast of the Nativity is an ancient practice; in earlier centuries both Eastern and Western rites practiced fasting in preparation for the Nativity, though presently it is the Eastern Catholic Churches that maintain the practice.
The period of fasting begins with Vespers on November 15th and ends just before Vespers on Dec 24th, the eve before the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Some churches have adapted a modern, shortened fasting period. The modern time period for the Nativity Fast begins at the beginning of Vespers December 10th and ends December 24th. There are many popular feast days between November 15th and December 9th, which is why some churches begin the fast on December 10th.
The Purpose of the Nativity Fast
The purpose of the Nativity Fast is to draw closer to God through denying the body by fasting with repentance and humility. Although fasting most apparently affects the body, however, what happens to the body has an effect on the soul and one’s consciousness of the spiritual. The fast is not solely based on refraining from eating certain foods. It is also based on fasting from sin, increasing one's prayer life, increasing the practice of almsgiving and good works.
The guidelines for the Nativity Fast are more detailed than those for fasts commonly practiced in the Western Churches. The guidelines for the Nativity fast, in most of the Eastern Catholic churches, are as follows:
All days except Sundays, from November 15 to December 12:
• Abstinence from: All Meats, Dairy Products and Eggs – no animal products.
• No abstinence from: Shellfish, Grains, Vegetables & Vegetable Products, Olive Oil; Fruit, Wine
On Sundays fish is allowed until the final week of the Nativity Fast..
On Wednesdays and Fridays, the usual year-round restrictions apply.
December 13 to 24:
• Abstinence from: All Meat Products, Dairy Products, Eggs, Fish, Olive Oil, Wine
• No abstinence from: Vegetables & Vegetable Products, Fruits and Grains
On Wednesdays and Fridays, food should not be eaten between meals, and meals themselves should be moderate in size. It is often customary to eat only one meal a day. During the Nativity Fast, from December 13 to December 24 inclusive, the Fast becomes stricter, and olive oil and wine are permitted only on Saturdays and Sundays. Fish is not permitted from the 13th to the 24th.
Please keep in mind that some particular Eastern churches may modify the fasting guidelines that have been outlined in this article. It is best to check with your eparchy for specific information.
The traditional year-round fasting practice in the Eastern Church, of fasting on Wednesdays in commemoration of the Betrayal of Our Lord by Judas and of fasting on Fridays in commemoration of the Holy Passion and Death of Our Lord, simply becomes incorporated into the Nativity Fast during this time.
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This article was adapted from Wikipedia, the Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church website, and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Information Center.