ADVENT-DERIVED FROM the Latin adventus, meaning “coming”—is a word that is not often used by Orthodox Christians living in the Eastern parts of the world. It is used more frequently by Orthodox Christians living in the West, for the simple reason that when they say “Advent”, other Christians immediately understand they are referring to a period of preparation before the Great Feast of Christmas, the Nativity of Our Lord. However, there are three key differences between Orthodox and Western Advent:
1) Advent in Western Christianity begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, while in the Orthodox Church it begins forty days before Christmas (November 15).
2) Western Advent is focused on both the First and Second Comings of Christ, whereas the primary focus of Orthodox Advent is the Incarnation of our Lord.
3) Advent Sunday marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the Western churches, while the ecclesiastical year of the Orthodox Church begins on September 1.
THE NATIVITY FAST
One of the ways in which Orthodox Christians prepare for the Feast of the Nativity is through fasting. Being a forty-day period, Advent is sometimes referred to as “Lent”, not far different from the Great Lent that precedes Pascha (Orthodox Easter). Similarly, Christmas is sometimes referred to in our service books as “Pascha”, and it has also been described as the “Winter Pascha”. (l)
While the Nativity fast is not as strict as the fast of Great Lent (fish is not prohibited on most days until the last week of Advent), the principle of fasting is the same: we prepare ourselves physically and spiritually for the coming Feast by simplifying our lives, curbing our appetites) and controlling our desires in order to increase our charity, intensify our prayer, and train ourselves to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 6:12), which is the battle with our passions.
~ Adapted from Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth
 Early editions of the Typikon describe Christmas as “a splendid three-day Pascha.” The expression “Winter Pascha” was coined by Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
By Presbytera Emily Harakas
Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year-wonderful, yes, but probably the busiest! There are so many things to do-especially for the homemaker. The special gift(s) to purchase, the house and tree trimming, the cooking, the baking, the Christmas party and entertainment, the Church Pageant and the caroling … etc., all this wonderful preparation for the most “wonderful time of the year!”
During the year, our Orthodox Church observes many fast days and periods of fasting. These times are excellent opportunities given to us for self-examination, repentance, and spiritual growth. The Christmas Fast, observed from November 15 to December 24, is one of these opportunities, and we are asked by our Church to observe this fasting period as a time of prayer and thanksgiving to God. All the “external preparation” as stated above is fine, and is probably done very lovingly and beautifully. But more importantly, we must also prepare ourselves and/or our families “internally,” and take, or better still, make the time for some quiet edifying reading or spiritual exercise to keep our heart and mind focused on the miracle of the birth of our Lord Jesus, and meditating on the depth of God’s love for us. We also have the opportunity to prayerfully honor and commemorate the Theotokos, the mother of our Lord. Her faith, courage, and complete love and trust in God is certainly an example for all of us to emulate.
~ Adapted from Presbytera Emily Harakas & Fr. Anthony Coniaris, DAILY MEDITATIONS and Prayers for the CHRISTMAS ADVENT Fast and Epiphany: Living the Days of Advent and Epiphany according to the Orthodox Church Calendar