Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thoughts on the Byzantine Advent Season

"O faithful, let us celebrate beforehand the Nativity of Christ; let us raise up our minds to Bethlehem, and we shall be raised up in spirit. We shall gaze upon the mystery of the cave; Eden is opening up, and God is coming forth from the pure Virgin. He is perfect in divinity and in humanity. "
the nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Byzantine Catholics throughout the world- Ukrainian, Ruthenian, Romanian and more- do not celebrate Advent as the majority of the Roman-rite Catholics and other Christian denominations do. Like Orthodox Christians, the time before the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ is a fasting period that consists of 40 days beginning November 15th. We call it Saint Philip's Fast or the Nativity Fast. It is both a season of preparation and penance. 

The Nativity Fast is less severe than our fasting time of Lent before Easter, but it is a penitential time nonetheless. As a Byzantine Catholic family, this nativity fast plays out in a forced simplicity. We leave any Christmas parties to Sundays during the fast, mostly waiting for the actual Christmas season that begins on December 25th, the 25th being the 'first day of Christmas.' 

As with every fasting period, we strive to follow the way of true penitence- like a strong three-legged stool we fast from certain foods, we pray more, and we give time and resources for charitable good. Because we are a clergy family, much of the time and resources that we offer to God and His people is through supporting husband and father in his ministry of additional confession times, prayer services, masses and counseling sessions. 

Like many families, we light the candles, we tear off a strip from the Advent paper chain daily and we prepare cookie dough for our cookie trays to give to neighbors. As many Christian families do, we juggle obligations with all the fun distractions and strive to give our children a balanced life in this world that rejects Christ yet still wants the gifts. What makes us a bit different than the rest is that our Advent wreath has seven candles- one for each Sunday of the Fast and one for Christmas Day.  Our Advent chain is longer as well. We will bake the cookie dough and give to friends during the twelve days of Christmas. 

We live a counter-cultural and perhaps hopelessly outdated life as faithful in the Byzantine Catholic Church. Churches, vestments, traditions and songs are modeled after ancient Constantinople. Like Christ who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, we cling to a timeless faith that has not changed. Following the Nativity Fast, we remember that we are imperfect, waiting for the perfect Christ Child. 
Therefore, let us call out: O holy God, O unbegotten Father, O holy and mighty One, O Incarnate Son, O holy immortal One, O comforting Spirit, O holy Trinity, glory to You! (from the Pre-Christmas vespers, traditional)

I decided to post this here because I assume that the Huffington Post doesn't keep short guest posts up for long. The original post was here at Huffington Post Religion.

Click here for a beautiful reflection from Christ the Bridegroom Monastery

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