The Nativity Fast, is a period abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, (December 25). The fast is similar to the Western Advent, except that it runs for 40 days instead of four weeks. The fast is observed from November 15 to December 24, inclusively.
Sometimes the fast is called Philip's Fast (or the Philippian Fast), as it traditionally begins on the day following the Feast of St. Philip the Apostle (November 14). Some churches have abbreviated the fast to start on December 10, following the Feast of the Conception by Saint Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos.
The purpose of fasting
Fasting with humility and repentance is believed to enable one to draw closer to God by denying the body worldly pleasure. Although the fast influences the body, the emphasis is placed on the spiritual facet of the fast rather than physical deprivation. Orthodox theology sees a synthesis between the body and the soul, so what happens to one affects the other. The church teaches that it is not enough to fast from food; one must also fast from anger, greed and covetousness. In addition to fasting, almsgiving is also emphasized.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the fast traditionally entails fasting from red meat, poultry, meat products, eggs, dairy products, fish, oil, and wine. Fish, wine and oil are allowed on Saturdays and Sundays, and oil and wine are allowed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The fasting rules permit fish, and/or wine and oil on certain feast days that occur during the course of the fast: Evangelist Matthew (November 16), Apostle Andrew (November 30), Great-martyr Barbara (December 4), St. Nicholas (December 6), St. Spiridon and St. Herman (December 12), St. Ignatius (December 20), etc. The Nativity Fast is not as severe as Great Lent or the Dormition Fast.
As is always the case with Orthodox fasting rules, persons who are ill, the very young or elderly, and nursing mothers are exempt from fasting. Each individual is expected to confer with their confessor regarding any exemptions from the fasting rules, but should never place themselves in physical danger.
There has been some ambiguity about the restriction of fish, whether it means the allowance of invertebrate fish or all fish. Often, even on days when fish is not allowed, shellfish may be consumed. More detailed guidelines vary by jurisdiction, but the rules strictly state that from the December 20 to December 24 (inclusively), no fish may be eaten.
The Eve of Nativity (December 24) is a strict fast day, called Paramony (lit. "preparation"), on which no solid food should be eaten until the first star is seen in the evening sky (or at the very least, until after the Vesperal Divine Liturgy that day). If Paramony falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the day is not observed as a strict fast, but a meal with wine and oil is allowed after the Divine Liturgy, which would be celebrated in the morning.
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