Protopresbyter Serafim Gascoigne from the Holy Protection of the Theotokos Orthodox Church, Seattle, Washington, and Priest Sergei Sveshnikov, rector of the Holy New Martyrs and Confessors of Russian church in Mulino, Oregon answer Pravmir’s questions about the Nativity Fast and the Nativity celebration.
Fasting is not difficult if we live in an Orthodox family. In fact the external act of fasting from animal products is not difficult, for this is part of our daily liturgical life. On a spiritual level it is more challenging, especially with the demands that are made on us at this time of the year. I am referring to our ‘obligation’ to join in office parties or socialize with non-Orthodox friends. For those of us whose immediate family is not Orthodox, this poses a challenge on the physical level as well.
Source: The Catalog of Good Deeds
There is a remarkable story in the book Everyday Saints related to fasting. Russian monks came to the Caucasus during the Chechen War to hear confessions of the local Orthodox flock and to give them communion. The organizers of the trip decided to arrange a thank-you meal for the priests. They cooked a fabulous meal with smoking hot heaps of roasted lamb meat and other delicious dishes. When the monks learned about the “surprise”, they were shocked. First, monks don’t eat meat at all. Secondly, it happened during the Great Lent, or more precisely, during the stringent days of the Holy Week. What could they do? The author writes that the monks immediately realized that their refusal would be a horrendous insult for the hosts. So they ate meat and drank wine, and that meal was the most joyful feast of love in their lives.
Yes, we are talking about fasting. It is one of the basic aspects of our life.
The below excerpt is taken from the book by Fr Lawrence Farley, One Flesh, pages 47-55.
A blessed Nativity Fast to everyone!
Our modern and secular culture knows little of the value of fasting as the ancients understood it. For us, any denial of our bodily desires is at best unnecessary and at worst unnatural and harmful. Abstaining from food is acceptable if part of a weight-loss program, for it has an acceptable goal in mind – namely, looking slim and sexy. But abstaining from food because it is Great and Holy Friday, with the goal in mind of pleasing the Lord, is less acceptable to our culture. It may be tolerated as part of a strange and incomprehensible religion, but it will not strike a responsive chord, because our culture does not recognize pleasing the Lord as an acceptable goal in the same way as it recognizes looking slim and sexy as an acceptable goal.
Orthodox Christians around the world observe four fasting seasons during the year. Two of these - the Great Fast for the forty days of Lent, and the Dormition Fast in August are considered “strict” fasts. The other two are generally observed as “lesser” fasts: the so-called “Christmas Lent” or fast during the forty days before the Feast of the Nativity, and the Fast of the Apostles which occurs in July.