Orthodoxy, if it is nothing else, is a faith whose foundation rests upon fasting. The number of days of fasting in any given year varies based on the changing duration of the Apostles’ Fast, which extends over a variable number of days beginning with the Feast of All Saints (after Pentecost) and ending with the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29th). Within this current calendar year of 2020, if we follow the Church’s calendar totally, we will have fasted for 185 days, or just OVER one half of the year.
As Orthodox we know in general WHY we fast. We know that our Lord Himself told us to fast. “When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (Mat 6:16-18)
All of this covers the issue of fasting in general. But what of the season that we enter today? Why is it important that we as Orthodox Christians fast when the rest of the whole world is celebrating? After all, this is the season of Holiday Parties. There’s lots of food—and drink. Why do we have to say “No!” to such events? How does this benefit our salvation?
But one would assume that after posing the question, you would already know the answer!
Fasting is a discipline we impose on ourselves. The Church doesn’t impose it—we must do so! We fast to give us the impetus to focus on others rather than on self. We should spend our time not thinking about what, how much, or with whom we’ll feast and eat, but rather on the needs of others, and on our own spiritual needs, on prayer, on avoiding sin, on resisting temptation, on squelching anger and jealousy and covetousness, on taking control of a world that has been allowed to control us.
Speaking personally, every year when we come to this day, my own ponderings begin to focus on the Mother of God. Today, she is over 7 months into her carrying the Christ-child. She feels Him within her—feels God inside her womb. She is caring for herself to assure that He is cared for. Her love for Him as a Person has blossomed. It is a love that will extend beyond the Cross, the tomb, the Ascension, and her Dormition to have that same love for His Church, for the Church is His bride.
She is preparing as any mother to this day would prepare. But her preparations will be interrupted by a world not pleased with her Son’s coming. She’ll have to divert, to carry her Child in a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where she will bear Him. Not long thereafter, her home will be torn from her as angels guide her, her Son, and St. Joseph the betrothed to a distant land, to Egypt, where they will live until Herod’s death.
The Mother of God’s focus is on her Son. And as in so many cases, we can learn from her a great lesson on where our own focus must rest, on how we are to live in this also strange land.
The Theotokos showed her faith well before the Annunciation. She shows it at the Lord’s conception, at His Nativity, throughout His life and His ministry, and throughout the entire life of His Church.
Let us look to her for our example, on how we must embrace the Lord’s commandments and His example to us of how we are to live. Let us see in the Mother of God our example of living a silent life serving Him! Let us use this Advent fast to draw ourselves closer to her example.