Liturgically, the season of preparation for the feast of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas) doesn’t begin until December 20, the first day of the Forefeast. That means, simply, that it is not until that day that we begin to sing the hymns of the Forefeast in the Divine services.
We need not wait, however, until December 20 to begin to prepare for the feast. After all, we have begun already the lenten fast of forty days prior to the feast. And a lenten fast, much more than simply “giving up” certain foods for a time, is specifically a time of preparation prior to an encounter with God. At Mount Sinai in the wilderness, after the Exodus from Egypt, God commanded Moses to have the people of Israel prepare themselves for the Divine revelation. They were instructed to purify themselves for God was going to reveal Himself to them, speaking to them and making covenant with them.
Our lenten seasons in the Church have much the same meaning and importance. For, after all, which is the greater revelation, Sinai or Bethlehem? When the pre-incarnate Son of God appeared in smoke and fire on the mountain? Or when He was manifest in the cave, in the arms of His mother, in the flesh? The Scriptures and the saints and the hymns of the Church are of one mind when they confess that the latter, the humble child in the manger, is the greater and more magnificent revelation which is beyond comprehension.
And so it is not too soon, brothers and sisters, to begin to prepare ourselves for the Nativity of our Lord.
With love in Christ,
“Give me a word!”
Strive to pay more attention to yourself and not analyze the affairs, actions and appeals made to you by others. If you find no love in them, it is because you yourself have no love within you.
+St Leo of Optina
Beware of limiting the good of fasting to mere abstinence from meats. Real fasting is alienation from evil. ‘Loose the bands of wickedness.’ Forgive your neighbor the mischief he has done you. Forgive him his trespasses against you. Do not ‘fast for strife and debate.’ You do not devour flesh, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but you indulge in outrages. You wait for evening before you take food, but you spend the day in the law courts. Woe to those who are ‘drunken, but not with wine.’ Anger is the intoxication of the soul, and makes it out of its wits like wine.
+St Basil the Great
Fasting is an exceptional virtue; it represses bodily impulses and gives strength to the soul to fight against the poisoning of the heart through the senses, and provides it with a remedy against any past poisoning. Fasting causes the mind to be cleansed constantly. It withers up every evil thought and brings healthy, godly thoughts - holy thoughts that enlighten the mind and kindle it with more zeal and spiritual fervor.
~Elder Ephraim of Philotheou