The fasting period begins on Saturday December 10 to Saturday, December 24.
Some may observe the traditional Nativity Fast that is 40 days in length called the St Philip’s Fast which begins with Vespers on November 14th, lasting until Vespers on December 24th. The Melkite Synod of Bishops approved a shorter number of days for the Nativity Fast beginning tonight with Vespers and ending at Vespers of the Great Feast of the Nativity on December 24th. In either observance, we aim to prepare ourselves for the feast of the Birth of Our Lord and Savior. The Church in her wisdom counsels us that if we want to properly feast, then we need to properly fast. Can’t have a feast with great foods and fun and not have a sensible distance from sin and over indulgence. Just like the lenten hallmarks are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the Nativity Fast is the same. Prayer unites with God, fasting separates us from sin, and almsgiving humanly connects us with our neighbor and the mission of the Church.
Therefore, during this period of the Nativity Fast, we abstain from meat and meat products as well as from dairy products. On December 13, the fast becomes stricter and in addition to abstinence of meat and dairy, we also abstain from fish, wine, and olive oil. We may have wine and olive oil on Saturdays and Sundays.
Fasting, by the way, is catching on with many people who are more health aware. There are benefits to fasting that are beneficial to our bodies and therefore to our souls and minds. Don’t scoff at fasting, embrace it prudently.
Since we know that being a good and faithful Catholic is countercultural —adhering to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Tradition of the Church and to reasonableness, we ought to note some problems to avoid:
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. That would be prideful.
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. Fast with a smile and love in your heart.
3. Do not become discouraged if you are unable to keep the whole fast. Do what is humanly and spiritually possible. 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.
You will want to read this great resource published by the Melkite Eparchy: The Nativity Fast: A Resource for the Domestic Church.
A quote on fasting: “In giving us this regular hunger for food, we are also given opportunity to sacrifice for each other and for God and to discipline our appetites. Always cognizant of our nature, the liturgical year is rife with periods of both fasting and feast. In order to feast, we must know sacrifice; in fact, it’s only in sacrifice that we understand what a feast really is. Our lives can contain an ever-repeating rhythm of each at its proper time. In the same way that it would be profane to feast on Good Friday, so it would be improper to fast on Easter. This rhythm is a reminder of both a need to be filled, as well as a need to strengthen our resolve, so that we might long first and foremost for the feast that has no end” (Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering).