Fasting, Feasting and the Pursuit of Happiness

NativityFor a relatively small community, this period of the year is marked by vigilant fasting in preparation for the Savior’s humble birth from a Virgin most pure.  It is a time punctuated by the vigilant yet joyful expectation for this blessed moment of radiance in the night of human history.  Through the ascetical practice of fasting, through the mystery of confession, and through the liturgical commemoration of the prophets of old, we prepare our hearts for the glad tidings of great joy: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

For the larger community of the world, however, this same period of time is marked by frenetic shopping and continual parties at home and in the office as an expression of what? perhaps, holiday cheer, but certainly not as a preparation for anything greater than itself. And in many instances, it is marked by excess-overeating, overspending, and overindulgence in drink.

And so, the former community has its eyes fixed on the coming of the feast while avoiding feasting until the Nativity itself, while the latter often is so worn out and frazzled by all the activity and commotion that it is left with little to celebrate once Christmas arrives. This is a busy season for the police, paramedics, therapists, social workers, and clergy who have to deal with the aftermath of all the revelry.  Sadly, during this time of year suicides increase, domestic violence is on the rise, and emergency room populations swell.  Yet, our contemporary society beckons us to partake in the feasting for that is where happiness is thought to be found.  Empirical evidence shows this is not the case.

What happened to the pursuit of happiness?  Why are so many people depressed, anxious, and exhausted?  I would submit that just as the human body provides us with warning signs when it is not healthy, so too the human spirit.  The human spirit is not created to pursue earthly happiness as an ultimate goal.  When our souls are flooded with noise, activity, and constant stimulation, the spirit rebels-often leading to depression, anxiety, and exhaustion.  Material possessions, food, and drink don’t satisfy us.  They were never intended for such a purpose.  When the Nativity of Christ devolves into nothing more than the pursuit and acquisition of such things, the human soul can be led to nihilistic despair.

The true significance of the Holy Nativity can only be appreciated if its celebration is preceded by a period of preparation that is consonant with the event that calls for the wise searching of the magi, the simplicity of the shepherds, the purity of the Virgin, and the humility of the manger.  Just as St. Andrew prepared to meet the Messiah through his discipleship with the Forerunner, we also must spend time in a period of ascetical preparation.

About Father Alexios