Having begun the Nativity Fast, I would like to ask you to consider this season, 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 the infant Christ with 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 alms-giving, 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,
Fasting is an expression of love and devotion,
in which one sacrifices earthly satisfaction to
attain the heavenly. Altogether too much of
one's thoughts are taken up with care for
sustenance and the enticements of the palate;
one wishes to be free from them. Thus fasting
is a step on the road of emancipation and an
indispensable support in the struggle against
selfish desires. Together with prayer, fasting is
one of humanity's greatest gifts, carefully
cherished by those who once have participated in it.