Fasting Before Christmas

This week, on December 5th, we will have a vespers followed by an open house of sorts to the community.  I don’t know how many visitors we’ll get, but for us, December 6th is the feast day of our patron, St. Nicholas.  We are named in honor of a Feast (Holy Resurrection–as in Pascha, or “Easter” as it is known to many) but, as is common in the Russian tradition, a parish named after a feast is also granted a patron.  Vespers begins at 7pm, and refreshments follow.  Following refreshments, three very short little talks will be given, one on the real life of the real St. Nicholas (hint: he’s NOT a fat elf with flying reindeer), one on fasting in the Orthodox Church, and one on our Eastern Christian hymnography for Christmas.

I think the fasting talk will be quite appropriate.  The idea that we shouldn’t just live a gluttonous life from Thanksgiving until December 25, or maybe January 1st, will seem to be a unique concept (unfortunately) to many Americans.  Nonetheless, there are Americans out there looking for a spiritual alternative.  I recently ran across this essay that seemed to be yearning for something similar (and, hey, she mentions the Peanuts Christmas special, so how I could I not link to her post?):

http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/civil-religion/pamela-dolan/unplug-from-christmas-stress-not-from-the-holiday/article_d5abd1fe-3b0c-11e2-a109-001a4bcf6878.html

Of course, we’re not Protestant Episcopalians and, of course, we’re in no danger of ordaining women, etc., but I think Pastor Dolan’s efforts to bring a different perspective to the Advent Season is a good one.  Likewise, I think a reflection on fasting and the real St. Nicholas can help in this regard as well.  St. Nicholas was known for his generosity and love but also for his asceticism.  The three ought to go together.  See, generosity without the others is merely playing the victim.  Love without the others is misguided and can become selfishness.  Asceticism without the others is legalism and possibly self-pity.  St. Nicholas is a reminder to us that they all go together, that Christmas is a feast for which we ought to fast and prepare.

For those of you needing a quick primer on St. Nicholas himself, start here:

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Nicholas_of_Myra

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