St. Philip's Fast/Advent
In the East we begin our Advent on 15 November and fast 40 days, to 24 December. Because the fast begins the day after the feast of St. Philip the Apostle, it has taken his name. It is also called the Nativity Fast.
It "thematically focuses on the proclamation and glorification of the Incarnation of God, whereas the Western Advent focuses on the two comings (or advents) of Jesus Christ: his birth and his Second Coming or Parousia." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativity_Fast)
On 14 November we hang our evergreen garlands, assemble our advent wreath, and hang our door wreath to begin the fast. We also set out the shepherds and empty mangers of our Nativity sets, and set the traveling Mary and Joseph across the room.
Throughout the fast we hang ornaments on our wreath to celebrate the festive milestones and hang a bell for each of the six weeks.
The O Antiphons
Even though this is a Roman tradition, we have also incorporated this into our family.
The O Antiphons are used at Vespers the last seven days of Advent in the West.
Each antiphon is a name of Christ - one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:
17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
23 December: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)
Each day from the 17th to the 23rd of December we add another O Antiphon plaque to our chain, singing the corresponding verse from O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Why Do We Fast?
Through the discipline of fasting, when practiced with prayer, repentance, and almsgiving, it is believed that by tempering the bodily desire for food, other passions are tempered as well, and that the soul can orient more away from worldly needs and more towards spiritual needs. Through this practice one is better enabled to draw closer to Christ and engage in the continuous and synergistic process of becoming more Christ-like. While fasting is practiced with the body, it is important to note that emphasis is placed on the spiritual facet of the fast rather than mere physical deprivation. Eastern theology sees a synthesis between the body and the soul, so what happens to one can be used to have an effect on the other.
The Rules of the Fast
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. People 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.
The rules strictly state that from 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.
On December 25, the Afterfeast of the Nativity of Christ begins. From that day to January 4 (the day before Theophany Eve) is a fast-free period. The Eve of the Theophany (January 5) is another strict fast day (paramony).
The Liturgical Period
The two Sundays preceding the Nativity are liturgically connected with the Feast. The first, the Sunday of the Forefathers, is in commemoration of all the holy people of the Old Testament who completely trusted God and patiently awaited the coming of the Messiah. The second, the Sunday of the Fathers, is in commemoration of those members of the genealogy of Christ who became the carriers of the Messianic promises.
The ‘predprazdenstvo” or the pre-festive period of the Nativity is celebrated for five days, December 20th to the 24th.