Glory to Jesus Christ!
St. Philip’s Fast or Pylypivka is about to start. It is a joyful 40-day fast, which begins on November 15, the day after the feast of the apostle St. Philip, and lasts until December 24, Christmas Eve. This fast is meant to prepare us spiritually for the great and solemn holyday – the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the time given to us to deepen our understanding and awareness of God’s mystery – the Incarnation of the Son of God and the coming of the Messiah, the King of Peace, Emmanuel and the Light of the world. It is time for us to find and rediscover true joy of the Nativity of Our Lord through prayer, meditation, and acts of charity, not like it is in the artificial atmosphere of Christmas parties, buying and exchanging gifts and enjoying specially prepared holiday delicacies.
We may think that the coming of Christ is a completed event and a historical fact of the past, and the anticipation of His coming is only symbolic for us. It is not! Christ always comes to us. He is constantly born spiritually in the heart of every person who believes and expects Him. He comes to us in prayer and the Holy Mysteries, especially in Holy Confession and Communion. Today He comes to be with us and among us.
This year, St. Philip’s Fast and the understanding of the coming of Christ and His presence among us takes on a special meaning and significance for us. In the midst of the relentless COVID-19 pandemic, the suffering of many from this deadly illness, often resulting in the sad and tragic loss of family members and friends, political discord and instability, riots, wars and human rights abuses around the world, we are thirsty for a deep awareness and conviction that Christ the Lord is truly present among us and that His grace is life-giving and necessary.
St. Philip’s Fast recalls for us the Old Testament and the world, which froze in anticipation of the coming of Christ, the Light of the world. We will hear readings from the books of the ancient prophets Nahum, Habakkuk, Daniel, and Isaiah, who prophesied of His coming eight centuries before He was born. They wrote that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, about the escape of the Holy Family to Egypt and the return to Nazareth, about His healing of the sick, about His rejection by the chosen people, about His betrayal and taking thirty silver pieces by one of the apostles, about His crucifixion among robbers, about His side being pierced, about His Resurrection and Ascension to Heaven. Later, the holy evangelists, while writing the Gospels inspired by the Holy Spirit, will include these prophecies to show us that Jesus Christ is the Messiah that everyone expected and that He is truly the Son of God.
The story of salvation does not end with the coming of Christ over 2,000 years ago, but it continues to this very day. We are all awaiting His second coming, which He Himself prophesied, and it will be very different from the first. When Christ comes a second time, everyone will recognize Him. During His first coming, He was not loved but was rejected. When He comes a second time, all the tribes will acknowledge Him as Lord. During His second coming, He will also be accompanied by the angels. During His first coming, He entered the world as a helpless baby in the manger. When He comes a second time, He will come as the King of kings and Lord of lords. That is why the expectation of the coming of Christ is not and cannot be symbolic, but is a completely genuine event – He will come a second time.
During the Christmas fast, let us prepare spiritually for His coming. Create a prayer corner in your home and display an icon of the Nativity of Christ, meditating daily on the mystery of the coming of the Messiah. Let us receive the Mysteries of Holy Confession and Holy Communion during these days, especially if we did not have the opportunity to do so during Great Lent. Let us abstain from meat on Fridays, overeating and excessive use of the Internet. Let us be generous with our time and talents and serve the poor and disadvantaged as much as we can. Let us reconcile with those whom we have offended and those who have offended us. Let us always be aware that Jesus Christ will come a second time as our Lord and Judge, though “of that day and hour no one knows.” (Matt. 24:36).
May you and your family be blessed by Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, whose joyful Nativity in the manger of Bethlehem we patiently await!