Beginning on November 15 / 28 and concluding on December 24 /January 6, the Nativity Fast gives us an opportunity to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour in the Flesh on December 25 / January 7.
How can we prepare for Christ’s arrival? The Church gives us these ways:
+Increase our prayer. Says Fr. Anthony Coniaris, “The two great movements of the soul have always been withdrawal and return…withdrawal into God’s presence through prayer for strength…without prayer, the quality of our service deteriorates. Without prayer we forget the world; with prayer we remember.” Advent is a time to remember that in God, we move and breathe and have our being, and we must be with Him and consciously in Him before we can have authentic love and relationship with others.
+Give alms. There is something poetic about giving money and perhaps even more important in these busy times, our time, to others who are in need at Christmas time. We can battle our self indulgence with self sacrifice, by giving freely, with joy and gratitude to God for His good gifts to us. St. John Chrysostom writes, “It is not enough to help the poor. We must help them with generosity and without grumbling. And it is not enough to help them without grumbling. We must help them gladly and happily. When the poor are helped there ought to be these two conditions: generosity and joy.”
+Remember some of the unique and remarkable saints of the Advent season, reading about their lives and celebrating their days of remembrance. Of course, we remember St. Nicholas (December 6 (19)) as he is commonly honored at this time of year, but what about some of the others? St. Herman of Alaska (December 13 (26)) exemplified the spirit of this time of year to perfection, and he belongs to us here in America, so let’s not let the day go by without reading about him and recalling his sacrificial life with the people of Alaska. St. Stephen the Protomartyr is remembered on December 26 (January 8) the day after the Nativity service, and he too can be venerated for his godly example. On New Year’s Day, we honor the brilliant St. Basil, who spoke with erudition and intelligence to the issues of his day in a manner that transformed the Church.
+Go to confession. If there is any act out of step with the vain and glib holiday atmosphere presented to us by the spirit of this age, it is act of the repentant Christian confessing his or her sins. Said Dorothy Day, “Going to confession is hard, hard when you have sins to confess, hard when you haven’t, and you wrack your brain for even the beginnings of sins against charity, chastity, sins of distraction, sloth or gluttony. You do not want to make too much of your constant imperfections…but you want to drag them out to the light of day as the first step in getting rid of them…I have sinned. These are my sins. That is all you are supposed to tell; not the sins of others, or your own virtues, but only your ugly, gray, drab, monotonous sins.” Blessed are those who mourn, for it is precisely in this mourning that we receive comfort. These are the tidings of comfort and joy that the Christmas carol songwriter celebrates—redemption from the guilt and weight of sin!
+Incorporate the Church’s traditions in ways that make sense for us here and now. Though we are not perfect fasters by any means, our family eats more simply in the season of Advent. We celebrate St. Nicholas Day by putting out shoes on the night of December 5 so that “St. Nicholas” can fill them with gold coins while the children sleep. We read about his life, marveling at his overflowing love and goodness. We listen to Orthodox Christmas music and we keep an Advent wreath and calendar for six Sundays instead of four. We enjoy a traditional Christmas Eve dinner incorporating old world traditions.