‘Twas the night before Halloween and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a fully decorated Christmas tree as I entered my local supermarket. Rather than get me thinking about Christmas, my thoughts turned to the forty-day period of fasting leading up to the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. Philip’s Fast gets its name from the fact that the forty-day period begins on November 15, the day after the feast of Saint Philip the Apostle. In his wonderful book of meditations, The Winter Pascha (SVS Press), Father Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, suggested it may be providential that the start of the pre-Christmas fast coincides with the Feast of Saint Philip. Father Hopko rightly observed that, like the first disciples, Jesus calls us to “come and see.”
The first step on the way of the Winter Pascha is the encounter with the man Jesus… If we want to come and want to see, we will. Like the first disciples, we will see ‘greater things” than we ever expected. We will see “heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” We will see Jesus as our Master, and will cry to Him: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” And we will come to know Him for who and what He really is. But first we must come. For if we do not come, we will never see.
To “come and see” means to turn our attention away from the many distractions of everyday life as well as the additional distractions of the season – from Black Friday and Cyber Tuesday, to mall Santas and “malling,” from sports and politics to the Internet and its various social media. The tradition of the Byzantine Church asks that we abstain from meat products every Wednesday and Friday during the Philip’s Fast. In fact, the Philip’s Fast is a voluntary forty-day penitential period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Take a few minutes and ask yourself, if I do not enter into the Philip’s Fast, will I have anything left to give to the Son of God on Christmas morning? Will I be exhausted after days, if not weeks, of Christmas parties (aka “holiday” parties) and Christmas shopping. Will I have any room left in my heart to receive the Son of God – in the Eucharist, in the message of His Word, or in my neighbor, or will my heart have become supersaturated with the distractions of the season?
Philip’s Fast is a time to prepare to come and see the Lord. Stop and take a time out from the secular holiday season frenzy. Come and see the Lord. Can any of us afford not to participate deeply in this too often neglected penitential season of the Church?
By Fr. Deacon Thomas P. Shubeck