UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC YOUTH & YOUNG ADULTS

Archeparchy of Winnipeg

The Nativity Fast/ST. PHILIP’S (Pilipivka) FAST Thoughts

The Nativity Fast
The Nativity Fast – “Pylypiwka” What some call the “commercialization”
of Christmas is in many respects nothing else than the stripping of the Christian
meaning from the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and replacing that meaning
with something else. A good argument can be made that the place of Christ has
been assumed by “the person” – hence the presents, the food, the emphasis on
material rather than spiritual fulfillment. But anyone who is familiar with
Christian history knows that Christmas wasn’t always celebrated the way it’s
celebrated now in Canada or America – in fact, it was until very recently
celebrated everywhere the way we should still be celebrating it.
The first thing that must be accepted if we are to have a spiritually
enriching Nativity is that we should observe the Nativity fast.  We have maintained the Christian discipline of fasting in a systematic
way, and fasting is traditionally one of the main activities in preparation for any
great spiritual event. The literature is simply too great to even begin citing
examples – we have the Holy Scriptures, the early Christian writings, the
patristic literature and the canonical legislation of almost 2,000 years which all
attest to this fact. Since the feasts of the Nativity and the Theophany (the “12
days of Christmas”) are accorded the second place of honour in the hierarchy of
our Church calendar it is only fitting that the second most important fast (after
the Great Fast before Pascha) should be appointed as preparation for them.
Our Canadian culture, which in a religious sense grew out of an
amalgamation of protestant and catholic ideas, approaches the preparation for
Christmas differently. Rather than the “fast, then feast” approach which
Christians always practiced, we see around us the “feast, feast and buy”
approach characteristic of a) Christmas parties, b) Christmas day, and c) boxing
day customs which we all witness every year. How should I, as a
Christian, react when I am invited by a well-meaning friend or colleague to a
Christmas party where it might be easy to get alcohol but impossible to get
fastworthy food? It’s not always (or even especially) the non-Ukrainians we
have to worry about, either. I remember a few years ago seeing a segment on
one of the Ukrainian television shows about the Christmas party of the
Ukrainian Professional and Businessmen’s Association in Toronto. As I recall, it
took place on a Friday during the Nativity fast in a restaurant, during lunch (I remember wondering how many of those present ever took time off of work to
attend feast day services in Church) and the menu wasn’t appropriate for an
Ukrainian Catholic . If I do take my faith seriously, how should I react when
invited to something like this?
Basically, we’ve got 2 choices – do what Christians have always done, or
“go with the flow”. We know that true Christians have never been afraid to
witness to the Truth of the Gospel – even unto death. We believe that the
Church embodies the Gospel in her life. So anyone or anything which would
teach us that the discipline of the Church is “quaint, but unnecessary”, or that
an activity of such central spiritual importance as fasting is something to be
dismissed as “old fashioned” is to be ignored or even denounced – again, if we
take our faith seriously. We should be very careful in attending any parties
during the Nativity fast – we should exercise moderation in eating and drinking,
we should make sure that fastworthy food will be served, be sure that there will
be no loud music or dancing, excessive drinking, etc. This is especially
important when we realize that the secular newyear is celebrated during the
Nativity fast. But having said this, these parties are an excellent chance to
witness to our faith, and to the Apostolic faith and practice which we still have,
and which so many others are seeking in our world.
A particular Ukrainian custom which underlines this “fast, then feast”
approach is our Koliada – the Christmas Carolling. As we all know, we do not
sing Koliady until Christmas eve – Sviat Vechir, but continue to sing them, and
then the schedrivky, until after the feast of the Theophany. This is in stark
contrast to our surrounding culture, in which we hear the carols for at least a
month before Christmas, but on boxing day they’re gone. It never ceases to
amaze me, that after such a grand and elaborate build-up our Canadian
brothers and sisters can literally forget Christmas within 24 hours. While our
Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters may continue to sing the traditional
religious carols in their Churches and even in their homes after the 25th of
December, the disappearance of these carols from the public consciousness on
the 26th is a clear indication that these songs, most of which have deep Christian
meaning, seem to be valuable as a means of selling toys and gifts, but nothing
more. To make a long story short, our Ukrainian tradition regarding Christmas
carolling/Koliada is the correct one – not because it’s Ukrainian, but because it’s
Christian. We don’t celebrate before the festival, nor should we sing carols
before the Holy Supper on the eve of the Nativity. We now come to the matter of “Christmas” presents. As we know, the
authentic Christian and Ukrainian tradition is to receive a present from Holy
Father Nicholas, whose day we celebrate on the 6/19th of December. One
indication that this is the original tradition for all Christians is the existence of
the “Santa Claus” tradition in conjunction with the secular celebration of
Christmas. If the presents really were simply “Christmas” presents, then there
is no need for dear old Santa Claus to be hanging around, is there? But since
the giving of gifts was always associated with St. Nicholas, when the custom of
giving gifts was transferred to Christmas, St. Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus, went
with them. Again, we see that the customs and traditions our forebears brought
with them to Canada are good and true. This is enough of a reason to continue
them, but in this particular instance we see an even greater blessing. If we do
return gift-giving to St. Nicholas’ day we don’t mix up “Christmas” with the
feast of the Nativity; and when we do celebrate the Nativity it is as a religious
festival with no tinges of greed or materialism. This is a very concrete way of
“putting Christ back into Christmas”, as the saying goes. Getting the gift-giving
out of the way on the 6/19th of December permits us to put God, and not
ourselves, at the centre of the celebration.
We often hear that “You Ukrainians are lucky, you get to celebrate
Christmas twice!” I was once informed by a young woman who had left our
Church and attended a Pentecostal Church that “your Church is not the True
Church, because (among other things) you celebrate Christmas twice, which is
not in the Bible”! As that young woman said, Christ was not born twice. We
only celebrate this feast once a year, on the 7th of January. The feast of the
Nativity of Our Lord falls on December 25th, but since the Julian (Old or
Church) calendar is 13 days out of sync with the Gregorian (Latin) calendar
December 25th falls for us on the 7th of January on the new calendar – a
difference of 13 days. Those who celebrate on the old calendar know how
difficult it is to ignore a church and secular festival of the scale of new calendar
Christmas. Most (probably almost all) of us have friends and family who
celebrate on the new calendar and for whom this feast has spiritual or worldly
meaning. Are we to lock ourselves in our houses, not answer our phones, and
hope that no one bothers us on December 25th? An interesting question for
those who celebrate according to the Julian calendar, is “what should we do on
the 25th of December?” Again, we should keep in mind that the 25th of December is for us a
fasting day, and we should behave accordingly. If we’ve given gifts on St.
Nicholas’ day, then this needn’t be done on the 25th. If there is a desire on the
part of the parish to have a service, this is an excellent day to do so, as no one is
working, and the feast of St. Spiridon (a 4th century wonderworker, similar to St.
Nicholas) and St. Herman of Alaska fall on this day. We have a free day to
spend with our families, perhaps preparing for our own celebration of the
Nativity in 13 days – learning carols, decorating, baking, etc. One of the best
things that we can do is help out where a community group or soup kitchen is
serving Christmas dinner for the poor – it lets some of their volunteers spend
the holiday with their families, and teaches us firsthand about one of the most
important aspects of fasting, which is almsgiving, or helping the poor. Where
possible, we might even do this as a parish activity. Doing these things will
help us understand and be grateful for our own celebration 13 days later.
Finally, and most importantly, we should attend services as often as
possible, approach for the Holy Mysteries of Confession and Communion, try
to increase our prayer life, and make a special donation to the Church and for
the poor and needy. If we do these things, or even begin to do some of them this
year, our celebration will be real, and our understanding will be enriched. As
we all know, the better we are prepared for anything in life, the better the final
outcome. May we spiritually prepare for the great feast of the Nativity of Our
Lord, and may our preparation bring us true and lasting spiritual joy.

http://www.stjohnoshawa.com/The_Nativity_Fast.pdf

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