The Nativity Fast is upon us! Today, November 15, we begin our preparation for the celebration of Our Lord’s birth into this world for our salvation.
Why fast before the Nativity? We fast before the Great Feast of the Nativity in order to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Our Lord’s birth. As in the case of Great Lent, the Nativity Fast is one of preparation, during which we focus on the coming of the Savior by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
By fasting, we “shift our focus” from ourselves to others, spending less time worrying about what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and so on in order to use our time in increased prayer and caring for the poor. We learn through fasting that we can gain control over things which we sometimes allow to control us—and for many people, food is a controlling factor. [We live in the only society in which an entire TV network is devoted to food!] While fasting from food, however, we are also challenged to fast from sin, from gossip, from jealousy, from anger, and from those other things which, while well within our control, we all too often allow to control us. (From the Orthodox Church in America website at https://oca.org/questions/dailylife/why-fast-before-the-nativity)
St. Paisius Velichkovsky, commemorated on November 15, says this about our ability to properly fast:
Look and judge according to your own infirmity as to how much you can do. To each one there is a measure and the inward teacher is one’s conscience; not everyone can have the same rule and same ascetic labor, because some are strong and others are weak. Some are like iron, others are like copper, while others are like wax. And thus correctly discovering one’s own measure, take food once each day, apart from Saturdays, Sundays, and great feasts of the Lord. A moderate and sensible fast is the foundation and chief of all virtues. One should fight evil as one fights a lion and a fierce serpent—in the infirmity of the body and spiritual poverty. He who wishes his mind to be firm against defiled thoughts should make his body refined through fasting”.
From The Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. IV: St. Paisius Velichkovsky (Platina: St. Herman Press, 1994), 74-75 at https://orthochristian.com/88203.html