Friday the 15th of November marked the first day of the Nativity Fast for Orthodox Christians.  This is the period of 40 days before the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity, or Christmas as most of the western society calls it, reminding us of the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah who was born in a cave in Bethlehem.  I just read this excerpt today from antiochean.org:

What is the meaning of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord in our family life? How can we live through the preparatory period of Advent as a Christian family? Can this meaning be truly and naturally, unpretentiously, embodied in the experience of a family, a home with children, teenagers, adults and old people?

Of course, first of all, Christmas is a FEAST, a celebration, an occasion for joy. Understanding the real meaning of this joy (God coming to us to share our humanity) comes to every individual gradually, within the measure of his or her spiritual development, but the experience of joy, of rejoicing, of having a very happy time because it is Christmas is something that can be experienced by all members of the family, whatever their age, whatever their level of spirituality . . . if only there is someone within the family who remains a witness of the true meaning of this joy. The experience of a joyous celebration remains the foundation stone of understanding the meaning of the Lord’s Nativity.

Reading this and the rest of the article helped set my mind at ease.  Too often I worry about whether I am setting a right example to my children in allowing them to participate in the commercialism of Christmas.  We do the trees, Christmas cards,  shopping,  baking, and  tell tales of Santa. We do gifts on Christmas morning or sometime close to it if my husband's work schedule and the church schedule allow it to happen that day.

But I worry, are we missing the real point?  But what is that point? The point, of course is the birth of Christ.  And no, of course we know that most likely the actual birthdate was not December 25th.... but we do know it occurred, don't we?  And it IS a cause for wonderous joy and celebration!  God, Himself, came into this earthly world fully God and fully human within the womb of a virgin to share our humanity!  That is, indeed, a cause for great celebration!!

So  the shopping, tree decorating, and baking turkeys were not part of Christ's birthdays while He was alive here on this earth - it is something we do as part of the celebration we enjoy now in rememberance of this great event.  Where we need to caution ourselves is whether we are remembering the point of this celebration or are we getting so wrapped up in the commercialism that we are missing it?  Are we remembering why Christmas morning is significant?  Are we putting our worship time at church first, before the hustle and bustle? Are we being real Christians in our treatment of others while we are out in the midst of that hustle and bustle? Are we remembering the three kings and the symbolisms of their gifts or are we more concerned with the best deal of the shopping season?  Are we remembering the reason for this preperation is for the arrival of a babe lying in a manger, a babe that is Christ? Are we remembering the nativity fast when Orthodox Christians prepare for 40 days beforehand through praying, fasting, giving alms, etc?  After all,if one prepares by cleaning and meal preperation for a guest coming to their homes, shouldn't one also have even greater preperation in preparing for Christ?

          This Year For The Nativity Fast, I'm participating in an activity put together by   Adventures of An Orthodox Mom.  I love reading the psalms! It's being part of a large group of Orthodox women who are praying the psalter together.  Everyone reads a different part of the psalter each day so through the group of over 72 women,  each and every day, the entire psalter is read. Along with the psalms we read each day, we pray for the women in our group.

Our family is also trying once again to complete the readings that go along with the Jesse tree.  We don't have a tree.  Instead I draped a swag of greens over the kitchen window so we can see it during dinner which is when we do our readings.  For more on the Jesse tree project, go to this nice write up on Anticohean.org.

After we do our reading each night, we hang an ornament representing the reading onto the greens.  Then I read a small meditation out of Daily Meditations and Prayers for the Christmas Advent Fast and Epiphany by Presbytera Emily Harakas & Fr Anthony Coniaris.

This year, my husband's schedule is tight around the holy day.  He works the night of Christmas day... so our earthly traditions may need to change a bit.  Obviously church attendance comes first.  We will probably have a more simple meal so we can enjoy the day together as a family rather than worrying about preparing a whole lot of food and the clean up afterwards.  But on that day, and the rest of the days leading up to it, I hope that I can convey the importance of the celebration to my family.  I hope that the Christmas spirit comes into our souls and we remember what it's all about. I hope that all of you will know and feel it too.  The coming of our Lord... it's a great reason to celebrate!

God Bless you all!

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Today I write of Mary, the greatest woman who ever lived.  She is known to the Orthodox as the Theotokos.  I hope, even if you are not Orthodox, you will read this to find out why we Orthodox Christians highly honor this blessed lady.

A vast majority of Protestants are under the impression Orthodox Christians worship Mary (Theotokos).  This is simply not true.  She is honored greatly.  She is not worshipped.  Worship is for God. And while I know I am one person that cannot sway the mind of someone who has committed to this thought the majority of their lives', I hope that I can at least put a thought into their mind...that perhaps this idea is inaccurate and perhaps he or she could do a little further research before deciding to stick to this conclusion.  And maybe, just maybe, he or she will have a little better understanding of why we do honor Mary and why he or she  should as well.

Theotokos is a Greek term meaning 'birthgiver of God'.  This is the Virgin Mary.  This is the woman who was the first to accept Christ into her life. This is the woman who played an immense role in man's redemtion by her consent to bear Christ. This is the woman that leads us to Christ.  This is the woman the bible has shown us that we should honor. This is she who contained Christ, God who is uncontainable, within her womb.

The bible tells us that Mary was a virgin when the angel Gabriel appeared to her.   The prophet, Isaiah, predicted this conception.  It is written, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

We honor Mary because she is the mother of Jesus Chrsit.  Mary was not just any random young girl.  Mary had found favor with God.  "Do not be afraid, Mary," said Gabriel, " for you have found favor with God"( Luke 1:30). Mary was chosen by God for an honor that will always be hers alone. And Mary accepted the task given to her.  Mary had free will.  Mary could have run and hid from the angel.  Mary could have protested.  But Mary was willing.  She answered the angel, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).   In this action, Mary was the first to accept Christ into her life.

In accepting Christ into her life, accepting her role of the incarnation, Mary played an immense part of man's redemtion:

"Christ saves men, who have fallen through their own fault into the power of the devil, by breaking that power. He became Man for this purpose; He lived and died and rose again that He might break the chains by which men were bound. It is not His death alone, but the entire Incarnation, of which His death was a necessary part, that freed men from their captivity to Satan."           ~ Fr. John Romanides

The Holy Bible shows us that it is, indeed, fitting to honor Mary and that she is the mother of our Lord.  The angel Gabriel honored Mary,"Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you, Blessed are you among women"Luke 1:28).  Gabriel told Mary that God had found favor with her (Luke 1:30). Mary herself, in offering one of the most magnificent prayer of praise to God, "My sould magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.  For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;  For behold, henceforth all generation shall call me blessed." Her favor was further established upon meeting with her cousin, Elizabeth, when the woman, upon seeing her, exclaimed,                " Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord shuld come to me?" (Luke 1:42-43)

The icons of Mary you will find in Orthodox Christian churches and homes never depict an image of Mary alone.  All icons of Mary are with her son, Jesus Christ.  Mary is honored because of her son and the icons reflect that. The icons of Mary display the mother leading us closer to Him. She led us to him in her acceptance of her part in the incarnation and she lead people to follow him in her life (John 2:5) and she continues to lead us to Him in our life by her example.  She is often seen pointing in his direction or gazing adoringly into his eyes while holding the child out to us to behold with our own.

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Mary held our Lord and Savior in her womb for 9 months.  God, who is uncontainable, was contained within her.  For this and all of the above reasons given and so much more, Mary was the greatest woman who ever lived.  Mary was his mother, giving birth to our Lord.  He honored her and so should we.

Sources Used and Further Sources That May Interst You:

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"He who is devout to the Mother of God will certainly never be lost."   ~St. Ignatius of Anticoh