Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Nativity Fast

For Eastern Catholics today begins what is often called Philip's Fast, or the Nativity Fast. It is called Phillip's Fast because on the Eastern liturgical calendar 14 November is St. Philip's feast. The Nativity Fast is similar to the fast of the Great Lent, though not quite as austere in some aspects. According to Byzantine Catholic practice, on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays one abstains from meat, meat products, and all dairy and dairy products, which includes eggs. Fish and shellfish, which are distinguished from each other in Eastern Christian dietary practice, are permitted on these days, as are olive oil and wine until 12 December. In a complete reversal, Wednesdays and Fridays are not fast days or days of abstinence, at least not until 13 December. 12 December, which is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Roman calendar, marks the last day of the initial part of the Nativity Fast.

St. Philip
Beginning on 13 December, all days through 24 December are days of abstinence that one fasts from meat, meat products, all dairy, fish, olive oil, and wine. Shellfish is permitted. While it is important to take the fast seriously, in the United States, with our observance of Thanksgiving during the Nativity Fast, it is okay and I would say even encouraged to just go ahead and observe Thanksgiving in the normal and expected way. It is similar to how we Roman Catholics in the U.S. typically take a break from our strict Lenten observance on St. Patrick's Day. On Wednesdays and Fridays from 13-24 December it is customary to only eat one very modest meal. During the latter period of the Nativity Fast wine and olive oil are permitted only on Saturdays and Sundays.

I make only one modification in that from 15 November to 12 December, as a Roman Catholic, I abstain from meat and meat products on Fridays. Also, there are Fridays on which I go on a water only fast. I also interpret no wine as no alcohol. Observing these lengthy periods of fasting is difficult, which is why the following tips from the website of Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco are necessary:

1. The external observances of our Faith do not make us better than anyone else. No sense of superiority or exclusiveness should be allowed to enter into our practice.
2. Insofar as possible, it is best to fast quietly, without letting anyone know that you are fasting. This is clearly in line with Our Lord's teaching. When ordering at a restaurant, don't proclaim, "No meat for me, I'm fasting!" Just order the dish which accords with the fast.
3. Do not become discouraged if you are unable to keep the whole fast. The Evil Spirit is always on the lookout to fool us into giving up because we cannot do it all. Part of fasting is to learn our weakness and inability to save ourselves.
4. Remember that Fasting includes a) fasting from sin; b) additional spiritual reading and prayer; c) almsgiving and other works of Philanthropia ("the love of humankind"). Do not neglect these as you prepare for the Feast.

So, what to eat? I point you a great website with a lot of links to recipes that enable observance of both the Nativity Fast and fasting during the Great Lent: Sources for Orthodox Fasting.


  1. Thank you for this informative post. I had just read that the Nativity Fast had begun on another blog and was not exactly sure of what it meant. (I am embarrassed to say!)

    This sounds like a beautiful and edifying practice and an antidote to the challenges of "Christmas cheer" that rage on through all of Advent.

    Thank you and peace Deacon Scott.

  2. Thanks, Fran. This morning is already more lovely for the beginning of this beautiful observance.


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