On Monday, we Orthodox began a period on our church calendar called Christmas Lent or Advent. Yes we have begun Advent. As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, Advent is not Christmas as that season does not begin until December 24th. Celebrating Christmas before Christmas is like saying Christ is Risen during Great Lent.
Anyway, I am always interested in the history of things and I was interested in when this time of the year became a fast period. Sometimes I think we Orthodox think that all of these things were handed down just before Jesus Ascended into Heaven, well that is not always the truth.
So, thanks to John Sanidopoulos at the Mystagogy blog I have the following information.
A decree of the Council of Saragossa in 380 AD mentions this period on the calendar as a prepatory period. Every Christian should go to church daily from December 17th until the Theophany. At the Synod of Mac (581) it was decreed that from November 11th until December 24th every Christian should fast three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So there is some pretty early evidence of this time of the year being different than the rest of the year. A time of preparation for the coming of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
In 1166 at the Council of Constantinople the Pre-Nativity season was established. The Council decreed that the fast would begin on November 15th and last until December 24th in effect another 40 day fast was created to mirror that of Great Lent.
St. Leo the Great wrote, “Four periods of the year have been set aside as times of abstinence, so that over the course of the year we might recognize that we are constantly in need of purification, and that amid life’s distractions, we should always strive by means of fasting and acts of charity to extirpate sin, sin which is multiplied in our transitory flesh and in our impure desires.”
As in the fast period leading up to Pascha the Nativity Fast, as it has become known, was established to allow us through repentance, prayer, and fasting to cleanse ourselves before the Nativity, so that with “clean heart, soul, and body, we might reverently meet the Son of God.
The focus of the Nativity fast is also on almsgiving and that is the topic for tomorrow.