The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, (December 25). The fast is similar to the Western Advent, except that it runs for 40 days instead of four weeks. The fast is observed from November 15 to December 24, inclusively. These dates apply to those Orthodox Churches which use the Revised Julian calendar, which is identical to theGregorian calendar. For those national Churches which still follow the Julian calendar (Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem), the Winter Lent does not begin until November 28 (Gregorian) which coincides with November 15 on the Julian calendar. Sometimes the fast is called Philip’s Fast (or the Philippian Fast), as it traditionally begins on the day following the Feast of St. Philip the Apostle (November 14). Some churches have abbreviated the fast to start on December 10, following the Feast of the Conception by Saint Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Many Protestant Churches observe the historic Church Seasons, while many others do not. In the Western Church, the Seasons are the same, whether one is Protestant or Roman Catholic, however, Eastern Orthodox observance varies somewhat, emphasizing more periods of fasting.
The New Testament is quite clear, in the freedom that we have in Christ, that we are nowhere required to observe these (or any) Church Seasons, or indeed any specific days or fasts, but are also at same time quite free to do so if we would like to.
What the Lord does require of us, is that regardless of whether we observe or do not observe these things, we are to do all that we do “unto the Lord”. And we are also taught by God’s Word not to “judge” other Christians in their practice of these matters.
“Let not him that eats despise him that eats not; and let not him which eats not judge him that eats: for God has received him. Who are you that judge another man’s servant? to his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he shall be upheld: for God is able to make him stand.
One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he does not regard it.
He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks.” -Romans 14:3-6
The Church Seasons follow the life of Jesus Christ, beginning with the preparation for his birth in Advent, the birth of the Christ child at Christmas, the journey of discipleship in Epiphany as the Wise Men follow the star to Bethlehem, the preparation for remembrance of Jesus’ passion and death during Lent and Holy Week, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead at Easter, and his ascension into Heaven.
After his ascension, we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and build our relationship with the risen Christ during this season. This is a also good time to review what we are both individually, and as a Church, doing to fulfill Christ’s “Great Commission” to go into all the world and preach His Gospel (Good News) of Salvation.
We are back to Advent and while we begin preparing again for the coming Nativity celebration, we remember that we also look forward to another, coming advent of Christ, His Second Coming to judge the world. Let us use this Season of Advent, as Christians before us have done throughout history, to prepare our hearts and lives for Him.
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” -Revelation 22:20