Friends, in the spirit of the season, I am reposting this piece from a previous O3 as a preparation for the beginning of the Nativity Fast, which begins this Tuesday.
With the Nativity Fast beginning November 15, I would like to ask you to consider it, for a moment, in the light of the icon of the Nativity. It is a very “busy” icon, meaning that there is a lot going on in it: angels proclaiming, shepherds searching, magi traveling, midwives washing, Joseph and the devil debating. It is bustling with activity.
But in the midst of all of that activity, at the center of the icon, lies enthroned the infant Christ in the arms of his Most-Holy Mother. It is an image of stillness. Not a stillness that is an absence, a nothing, but rather a stillness that is a fullness, a presence. It is a stillness that is peace, the Peace of Heaven descended to earth, as the angels proclaim to the shepherds.
What we must see about this icon is that it is not only an image/icon of the birth of our Lord, but it is also an image/icon of our life in Him. For what is our Christian life as it is defined in the scriptures and by the fathers except activity arriving at stillness, movement coming to rest, and labor giving way, at last, to peace?
What does all of this have to do with fasting and, specifically, the Nativity Fast of 40 days leading up to Christmas? Simply this, that we are taught by the Church to make of these 40 days a movement toward that cave which is within each one of us, our heart. True fasting is a movement, a voluntary self- emptying, moving toward the space within us where Christ can be born. All of the externals of that fasting - abstaining and limiting our food and drink and other bodily pleasures - are put in place for no other reason than to help us discover the inner shrine and dwelling place of God within us. It is that place where we, like the Most-Holy Mother of God, can become the throne of the Living God.
Most of us likely begin this lenten season very active, moving in circles around the edges of our lives. Let us, though, empty ourselves through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, directing our activity and our movement toward the center of our lives, our heart, awaiting there the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.
With love in Christ,
“Give me a word!”
Behold, I see within you, my soul, a tiny nook, like a candle-illumined cave in a massive mountain overladen with darkness. The more deeply I peer into the light concealed within you, the more it seems to me to resemble your virginal beauty, your pristine beauty, my soul. Since my peering the dim light has been growing brighter, and more and more clearly one can distinguish in it the wondrous face of a virgin-like a sunbeam arrayed in moonlight.
Here is your salvation, my frightened soul. Here is your life-- everything else is a sepulcher. If only you would make this dim light burst into ablaze, and bring this blazing bonfire into my mind and into my heart.
Come to your senses, my soul, and fix your gaze on the little cave where the youthful virgin dwells. Lo, out of this cave deliverance will come to you. Within it even now you will And all your remaining strength, your unblemished beauty, and your unsold immortality.
Outside the cave, outside my soul, where a virgin gives birth to God, everything is shadow and ash, including the sluggish carriage of the body.
~From “Prayers by the Lake” by St Nikolai of Zica