November 15, 2017


Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’ (Matthew 3:2-3).

When we look closer at our church calendar, we will see that our Church always prepares its members for holidays with big or smaller fasts. There are four such fasts: Great Lent – prepares us for Easter, “Petrivka” - prepares us for the feast of the saints Peter and Paul, Dormition fast or “Spasivka” – prepares us for the feast of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and finally, a longer fast before the Christmas holidays – Saint Philip’s Fast. As well we have one day fasts before the Theophany feast, on the third Sunday of the Great Lent, the Veneration of the Cross, on the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, and on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Today with God’s help, we are going to meditate on the Christmas fast, known as Saint Philip’s Fast. From long ago the feast of Christmas was celebrated on the same level as feast of the Easter. That is why the church rubrics looks at the feast of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ as the second Pasch, and as the faithful were preparing for the feast of Easter with fasting and prayer, so the Christmas fast becomes for the faithful the time of preparation for the coming of the Savior. Simon of Solun’ says: “This forty (40) days fast is like Moses’ fast, who was fasting for forty days and nights and accepted the tables of God's commandments. Let us fast, as well, for forty (40) days, and we will receive the living Word of God incarnate of the Virgin Mary and partake of His Body”.

The Christmas Fast in our Church starts on November 15, after the feast of St. Philip, and that is why has the name Saint Philip’s Fast. Athanasius of Sinai – Antiochian Patriarch, in his writings “On three 40’s” says this fast has its beginnings from apostles’ times, and describes such a story about the holy Apostle Philip. He writes that “St. Philip before his martyrdom was asking God to punish those who persecuted him. For that, it was reveled to him that after his death he is not going enter into heaven for forty (40) days. Then saint Philip asked other apostles to pray and fast for him for forty (40) days, and the Apostles assigned to all the faithful forty (40) days fasting”.

Saint Philip’s Fast for the faithful of our Church is a symbol of prayers and fasting of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, who were expecting the coming of the Messiah with anguish. How should we fast during saint Philip’s Fast? Our Church has an old tradition, according to which the faithful prepare for the feast of the Nativity of Christ not only through prayer and fasting, but as well with the sacraments of Reconciliation (Confession) and Holy Eucharist. Even now a days, the holy Church somewhat softens the Christmas fast in the consumption of food, but it binds us to a longer prayer, to the works of mercy, to mutual love. “This the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

Let the love for Jesus rekindle our souls, and may the same love for our sacred tradition, be for us the motivating force, so that each year as we prepare our hearts for Christmas through prayer and fasting, we will meet him worthily and joyfully. Let us be aware that through sincere spiritual preparation for Christmas (Saint Philip’s Fast), our heart will become a manger for Jesus Christ where He can be born and rest.

As well, let us remember that the time of fast which we are entering, this is for each of us a time of spiritual assent, in which both the soul and the body take part. The soul takes part through prayer, meditation and practicing more intensely the virtues of good deeds. All this is manifested through the involvement of our body in fasting and works of mercy. Without the mortification of the body there is no spiritual fast. Saint Basil the Great says: “As much as you distant yourself from the body – as much your soul will be spiritually sound. For not an increase in strength in our body, but endurance of the soul and patience in difficult experiences, we gain strength against invisible enemies”.

Fr. Gabriel Haber, OSBM

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