Nativity Fast: Orthodox Christians begin joyous fasting period for Jesus’s birth

Candles lit interior of Orthodox Christian church

Photo by Mr.TinDC, courtesy of Flickr

Nativity Orthodox iconWEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Even before the American Thanksgiving, millions of Orthodox Christians around the world are looking toward Jesus’s birth, which they refer to formally as the Nativity. Of course, in Western Christian culture, we know this as the period leading up to Christmas. For many centuries, Eastern Christians have prepared with a 40-day Nativity Fast.

By Western standards, this is a daunting spiritual and physical challenge. Traditional Orthodox fasting means giving up meat and dairy in addition to fish, wine and oil; fish, wine and oil are, however, permitted on specific days. (Learn more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.) Throughout the Nativity Fast, several other holidays take place, such as St. Andrew’s Day, St. Nicholas Day and recognition of those prophets regarded by Eastern Christians as having prepared the way for the Incarnation: Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths.

Two periods comprise the Nativity Fast: Nov. 15-Dec. 19, and Dec. 20-24. December 20 launches the Forefeast of the Nativity, with chanting of Nativity hymns each day through the Dec. 24 (Paramony). On Paramony, no solid food is consumed until the first star is observed in the evening sky, and afterward, the fast is joyously broken.

Orthodox teaching instructs that fasting be undertaken with gladness and in a sense of earnest anticipation—in the promise that these devout preparations will deepen reflections on the moment when God became human. ( has more.) Fasting for Orthodox Christians includes abstinence from foods, negative emotions and greed; prayer and almsgiving complement the fasting period.

Note: The Nativity Fast is observed November 15-December 24 in the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox follow other traditional calendars. For example, many Armenian Christians begin their fast later and focus on January 6 as the Feast of the Nativity.

Trinity Sunday: Western Christians revere Trinity, Orthodox mark Pentecost

Stained glass window of symbols of holy Trinity

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 11: White banners are draped and vestments shine as a sign of purity as Western Christian churches worldwide celebrate Trinity Sunday. Note: In the Eastern Christian Church, Trinity Sunday is observed on the Sunday of Pentecost. A culmination of the Nativity, Epiphany, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, Trinity Sunday calls to mind the role that each member of the Holy Trinity—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—play in Christianity.

Many Christians are surprised to learn that the original writers of the New Testament did not use the term “Trinity” as it appears in mainline Christianity today. While the three elements of divinity, God and Christ and Holy Spirit, were a part of the faith from its early years, the famous theologian Tertullian (who lived and wrote in Africa) is widely credited as introducing the first full analysis of the Trinity in the early 3rd century. The doctrine wasn’t formalized among Christian leaders until the fourth century.

For centuries, church leaders argued that the Trinity was honored every Sunday. But, in the 12th century, Thomas Becket declared that the day of his consecration should be an annual festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. The observance spread through Western Christianity, and was placed in the general calendar in the 14th century.

There is, perhaps, nothing more central to the creed of the Christian faith—and yet, so elusive, in comprehension of it—than the Holy Trinity. Through the centuries, countless saints have attempted to teach about the Trinity. Among the most famous was a three-leaf clover that tradition says was used by St. Patrick.


On this one Sunday each year, many Christians around the world recite the Athanasian Creed (read it here). Some bake cloverleaf rolls to reflect the Trinity, or set the table with a centerpiece of triple-leaf flowers. For a Catholic perspective or to read Pope John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Trinity, go to

Meatfare Sunday, Cheesefare Sunday: Orthodox Christians prepare for Lent

Bowl of wings and dairy dip on wooden table

Orthodox Christians consume meat and dairy for the last time on the final two Sundays before Great Lent, and will not resume consumption until after Pascha (Easter). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19 and SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26: Lent is approaching fast for the world’s 2 billion Christians, and on February 19, Eastern Orthodox churches take initial steps toward their traditional Lenten fast with Meatfare Sunday. After Meatfare Sunday, no meat may be consumed until Pascha (Easter); in one week, Cheesefare Sunday will discontinue the partaking of dairy products until Pascha. For Orthodox Christians, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday—this year, on February 27.


Though commonly referred to as Meatfare Sunday, this day is more formally known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment. In services, emphasis is placed on the Second Coming and Last Judgment—a time when Christ, in Matthew, refers to coming in glory with the angels to judge the living and the dead. While the opportunity exists, the faithful are encouraged to repent. The parable of the Last Judgment points out that Christ will judge on love: How well one has shared God’s love, and how deeply one has cared for others.

Looking to cook up a mouthwatering meat dish (or two) today?  Find recipes at Allrecipes, Southern Living and Food Network.


Great Lent commences for Eastern Christians on the day following Cheesefare Sunday, on Clean Monday—but the faithful already are cleaning their slates (and their plates) today, by asking forgiveness and eliminating dairy from their diets until Pascha. In the Orthodox church, this year, February 26 is Forgiveness Sunday (also known as Cheesefare Sunday).

On the search for a few tasty dairy recipes? Find recipes for all courses from Eating Well, Food Network and Dairy Goodness, a recipe collection from the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Meat hasn’t been consumed since last Sunday, on Meatfare sunday, but dairy products will be consumed for the final time today. Throughout Great Lent and until Pascha (Easter), Eastern Christians will observe these fasting customs with only occasional exemptions for oil and wine—but never meat or dairy.

Starting tonight, the Vespers of Forgiveness will signal the first liturgy of Great Lent; the service will end when attendees ask forgiveness from both fellow congregation members and the priest. If you have Orthodox friends and colleagues, this is a moving liturgy to attend, as the process of forgiveness often is deeply personal for the faithful.

Christmas: 2 billion Christians celebrate Jesus’s birth

“Fear not for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior; which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11-12

Interior of ornate cathedral softly lit, crowd before towering Christmas tree and star and altar

Christmas service in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Andi Graf, courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 25: Today is celebrated as Christmas by the vast majority of the world’s 2 billion Christians—including many Orthodox Christians in the U.S. who refer to the holiday as the Nativity. However, some Christians around the world still mark Christmas according to earlier versions of global calendars, pushing many Russian, Ukrainian and Serbian churches to a January 7 celebration. Latest of all, each year, there’s even an ancient Armenian Christmas liturgy in the town of Bethlehem as late as January 18 and 19.

While the birth year of Jesus is only speculated, December 25 is embraced by a multitude of Christians worldwide as the day Mary and Joseph knelt beside their newborn son in a manger. On Christmas Day in most of the Church, the season of Advent closes for Western Christians; the Nativity Fast ends for Eastern Christians; and the 12 days of Christmastide begin. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday.


About half of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas with Western Christians on December 25. That list includes the Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Albania, Cyprus and Finland—as well as the Orthodox Church in America.

Celebrating in January—for a variety of traditional reasons—are Orthodox churches in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Ethiopia. Mainly this variance involves the older Julian calendar, which pushes Christmas to January 7, but further wrinkles in the tradition affect some Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians. The very last Eastern Christmas will be celebrated by the Armenians living in Jerusalem, who travel to Bethlehem for an hours-long, centuries-old liturgy in the Church of the Nativity.


The Chronography of 354 AD is the oldest surviving reference to a Roman celebration for the birth of Jesus on December 25; in the East, the birth of Jesus was already observed with the Epiphany, on January 6. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was outshone by Epiphany, though by the later medieval period, Christmas-related holidays were starting to become more popular.

From the formative years of the Church’s celebrations to the Nativity noted today, a multitude of customs have become associated with Christmas: displaying manger scenes, caroling, sending greetings and hanging stockings by a fireplace, to name just a few. Certain saints have been responsible for creating some of the customs—namely, St. Francis of Assisi for the nativity scene, and St. Nicholas for stockings and candy canes—while others are secular or even pre-Christian.

Christmas encountered turbulence through the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 19th century, writers such as Charles Dickens were creating the “heartfelt goodwill” that morphed Christmas into a more secular holiday based on goodwill, family and jollity. (Wikipedia has details.) For billions around the globe, Christmas today includes cookies, gift giving, shared feasts, cherished stories and songs and festive decorations.

Illustration of manger scene with light from above shining on baby Jesus

Photo by Travis, courtesy of Flickr


Christians believe the birth of Jesus to Mary fulfills an ancient Messianic prophesy. Two canonical gospels record Jesus as having been born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. Tradition tells that the birth took place in a stable, because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Nearby shepherds, told of the birth by angels, came to see the baby; magi came later, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. (Find answers for Orthodox Christian questions at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; access Catholic answers at American Catholic.) The Star of Bethlehem is believed to have led the magi to Jesus, and the visit of the magi is celebrated as Epiphany, on January 6.


The Christmas pudding cooked on Stir-up Sunday is still traditionally served in some countries, but for others, Christmas today is more about cookies and peppermint sweets than old-fashioned fruitcakes and puddings. Interested to learn more?

From Martha Stewart, try baking something beautiful.

From Rachael Ray or Food Network, find an array of professional recipes.

From AllRecipes, gather favored suggestions for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

From Food & Wine, cook up something fancy or unique.


ROCCA ON DICKENS—CBS correspondent Mo Rocca takes us to England for a “tour” of Charles Dickens’ famous tale,  A Christmas Carol. It’s a fun overview for Dickens fans.

NO WHITE CHRISTMAS—Forecasters are united in predicting that the majority of the continental United States won’t see snow on the holiday. Here’s an NBC version of that report.

POPE FRANCIS—Displaying his now world-famous optimism, Pope Francis is making headlines for insisting that he make all of his Christmas-season appearances, despite threats of terrorism. In a talk on December 20, he reminded the world that the Christmas story includes God’s call to compassion for the world’s poorest families. He wasn’t alone. “Jesus himself was a refugee,” Cokie and Steve Roberts reminded readers in this news story.

Ecclesiastical New Year: Orthodox Christians reflect on cycle of the Church

Painting of workers gathering hay and grains at harvest time

In ancient society, harvest time was a season for reflection, gratitude and the start of a New Year. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: A convergence of historical and biblical events places the Orthodox Christian Ecclesiastical New Year on September 1—a tradition dating back through the millennia. In an ancient agricultural society, harvest season meant gratitude and the recognition of divine blessings. Prior to the advent of the Julian calendar, Rome began its New Year on Sept. 1. Christian leaders also say that, based on the biblical record, Jesus Christ entered the synagogue on Sept. 1 to announce his mission. Today, Orthodox Christians use the New Year period to reflect and pray. (Learn more from the Orthodox Church in America). Some adherents recommit themselves to their faith, while others contemplate the New Year to come.

As the annual cycle of saint days, feasts, fasting periods, commemorations and more begins, the faithful examine the Orthodox Christian year. Through specific days and dedications, adherents can take the opportunity to consider people and events critical to the Church.

Pascha: Eastern Orthodox Christians revel in the Resurrection

Priests in vestments with children

A Pascha party in Amsterdam, 2009. Photo by Jim Forest, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, APRIL 12: The Great and Holy Feast of Pascha brings the ultimate joy of the Resurrection of Christ to the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, in the most significant day of the year. From an Orthodox perspective: It is the feast of feasts; it is the fundamental truth of the Christian faith; it is Christ’s victory over death.

For Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar, today’s Pascha confirms the truth of Christ’s teachings. The Resurrection, it is believed, proclaims God’s plan, the divination of man and the order of the universe.


Before midnight on Saturday, the Odes of Lamentation are repeated; a celebrant approaches a temporary tomb, and the winding-sheet is removed from it. The Orthros of Resurrection begins in darkness. Hymns are sung and, in most churches, the priest leads congregation members outside, where the Gospel is read. (Find details at Orthodox Church in America.) Before reentering the church, the priest announces the resurrection of Christ. When the priest begins the hymn of Resurrection, the Easter service takes on a full festal tone. Back inside, the Easter Matins service is sung in its entirety.

The Pascha icon shines at the center of the church—the image of Christ destroying the gates of hell and freeing Adam and Eve from the captivity of death. Congregants proclaim: “Christ is risen!” As the Easter Matins comes to a close, the Easter Hours are sung, followed by the proclamation of the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) The sermon invites everyone, young and old, to forget their sins and to join in the feast of the resurrection of Christ.


While the Western term for the Resurrection celebration, Easter, is more widely accepted in the West, Eastern Orthodox Christians often point out that the term Pascha more accurately describes the events of Christ’s life, death and rising. While Easter is most likely derived from Ostara, an ancient Pagan springtime festival, Pascha is translated from Greek as “Passover.” Pascha describes the Jewish festival of Passover, as well as Christ as the paschal lamb.

Tomorrow, the Monday following Pascha, is known as Bright Monday, and the remainder of the week is Bright Week. Throughout Bright Week, services are similar to those of Pascha.

Wondering what Pascha is like in Greece? Read the colorful, vibrant details of a childhood in Lefkada, as penned by a writer for the Huffington Post.

Meatfare Sunday: Orthodox Christians eliminate meat & look to Great Lent

Hand and fork jabbing at white meat poultry on plate of food

After Meatfare Sunday, Orthodox Christians do not consume meat until Pascha (Easter). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15: Lent is on the horizon for the world’s 2 billion Christians, and today, Eastern Orthodox churches take gradual steps into the Lenten fast with Meatfare Sunday. After Meatfare Sunday, no meat may be consumed until Pascha (Easter); in one week, Cheesefare Sunday will discontinue the partaking of dairy products until Pascha. For Orthodox Christians, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday—this year, February 23.

Though commonly referred to as Meatfare Sunday, this third Sunday of the Triodion Period is more formally known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment. In services, emphasis is placed on the Second Coming and Last Judgment—a time when Christ, in Matthew, refers to coming in glory with the angels to judge the living and the dead. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) While the opportunity exists, the faithful are encouraged to repent. The parable of the Last Judgment points out that Christ will judge on love: How well one has shared God’s love, and how deeply one has cared for others.

On the Saturday prior to Meatfare Sunday and on the two Saturdays following, a liturgy and memorial service is held for the faithful departed. These days are known as the Saturdays of the Souls.

Interested in some delicious new meat recipes for this final opportunity ? Find recipes at Allrecipes, Cooking Light and Food & Wine.