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General Articles and Essays

One Man's Advent Reflection

by Geoffrey Gyrisco

First, much of this has been said before and better. Second, I write for myself and for no one else. And finally, I write from the perspective of an apartment in the cold snow-blanketed American Mid-west, in a country where Orthodox Christians are an inconspicuous minority. Your country, climate, customs and calendar may be very different. Indeed, I hope that much of them are.

Today, feeling truly sick in body as well as a bit in mind and spirit, I was forced to slow down and reflect on the ancient wisdom of the Church in this season. The holiday invitations I got in my e-mail did not make me feel any better. This season is not Christmas, it is Advent. The Church has wisely designated this time as weeks of fasting and spiritual preparation.

In Holy Tradition, with many local variations, the celebration of the Christmas season lasts for 12 days, from the Feast of the Holy Nativity (Christ Mass) until the celebration of the visit of the Three Kings or Wise Men from the East and the celebration of Christ's baptism in the Jordon, where a dove descended on Him and a voice cried out from heaven saying, "You are my beloved Son." Christmas is linked to Epiphany, God's revelation in the world. The Christmas season and celebration begins on the night of the Holy Nativity.

In modern America, however, the Christmas decorations go out on store shelves by Halloween (at the end of October). The next big holiday is American Thanksgiving, the last Thursday in November (a feast rightly celebrating God's abundant harvest and true human friendship). The merchants launch the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving, when shoppers take off like racers out of the starting gate, requiring special provisions at some stores to handle the crowds. This is followed by a round of parties sponsored by nearly every business and organization, secular and religious, plying us with abundant food and drink, extra-ordinarily high in calories, sugar, salt, dairy, meat, and alcohol. (This in a society where few of us do manual labor in the cold and our number one health problem is how we eatóto the point that average American lifespan is falling--and our doctors are telling us to reduce calories, sugar, salt, dairy, meat, and alcohol for the preservation of our physical lives!)

Then by afternoon on Christmas Day, and certainly the day after that, on the Feast of St. Steven, drivers will start to see Christmas trees, shorn of their ornaments, dumped forlornly on the street curb. Christmas is done and over. Then follows the big emotional let down, millions of people depressed in the darkest coldest days of winter.

And Christmas Day, The Big Day, was never like that in the wonderful sugary scenes depicted on Christmas cards that Americans exchange in such abundance it overloads our postal system. Instead, Christmas reminded my father of the death of the sister who raised him; this Christmas may be my mother's last on this earth. That is not just my story. That is the true Christmas story of every household.

So how do we Orthodox Christians in lands that are not predominantly Orthodox Christian keep ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy?

1) I am not going to every party I have been invited to.

2) We are bidden by Holy Scripture to fast in private, going out in good clothes, our skin oiled. I intend to dress up, put on my skin moisturizer, be the good guest, accept one little piece offered and eat it with joy and gratitude, and no more.

3) I am intending to keep my home and business life as simple as possibleóthat is an even greater challenge in fasting than in food. If I do not do that, I become physically ill.

4) I am giving some time to spiritual reflection and seeking opportunities to assist those who have less than I do. And then,

5) During The Great Twelve Days of Christmas, when my friends are caught in the winter gloom of cold, snow, darkness and emotional let-down, invite them to celebrate with me the Christmas season as the Holy Church in its great wisdom as taught us to do, lighting one small candle in the darkness.

Let us remember one another in our prayers.

See Also:

My Reservations on Christmas Caroling
If everybody wants to have caroling which involves acts of pleasures before Christmas, what is the point in having a 'Lent' prior to Christmas?

Reality of Christmas Today
As the clock strikes midnight, everyone gathers around the Christmas tree to celebrate the holiday with joyful greetings and gifts. Time passes away swiftly with all the excitement. And once everyone is in bed, a few hours later, the alarm sounds. Itís time to go to church for Christmas service in the early morning. Why go? What happens anyway?

The Jesus of Christmas: Who was the baby in the manger?
So who was the baby in the manger? The answer to that question is the most important one in all history. For if Jesus was not who he claimed to be, his promise of eternal peace is empty. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then our lives can have no meaning without him.

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