A New Beginning: Advice for Orthodox Christians During Advent

There is something truly special about the first snowfall of the year here in Michigan.  Whether you love the snow, or you have been dreading it since August, there is no denying that the first one always seems to feel like a “reset” for creation.  The air is crisp and feels clean.  The dried-up leaves that turn our lawns brown have been covered in white like a fresh blanket.  It is as if creation is wrapped in purity…as it prepares itself, and us, for the most incredible miracle in human history:  The day that God Himself came to Earth, in order to lift up His creation whom He loves. 

There was a recent quote from a nun on the west coast, who was asked the question: “What does God want from us in this life?”  And her response was incredibly fitting for what we try to accomplish in our spiritual lives,especially since we begin the holy season of Advent this coming Thursday! She said:  

“God is not interested in where you are or what you do.  He is only interested in the quality and quantity of love that you give…no more…and no less.”  

Beautiful…Simple…this is our life as Christians brothers and sisters in Christ.  That calling is magnified when we are preparing ourselves for incredible miracles like the Nativity.  The good news is…we don’t have to figure all of this out on our own!  For 2,000 years, the Church has given us the tools we need to grow in love!  So as we enter into this holy period of Advent, here are some of the ways the Church tells us we can grow in love.

 1.)    It is a big temptation for all of us during this time of year to over indulge in earthly entertainment.  Everyone is throwing some kind of party for work.  There are parades and festivals every weekend.  The malls and department stores are packed with people.  But during this sacred time, we have to guard ourselves from over indulging in earthly things.  Remember to not have your gaze at your feet, or all around you…but rather stare up at the heavens, and search for that bright star that is shining over Bethlehem, as the world makes it’s way towards the newborn King

2.)  If you go home today, and are not able to find your Bible sitting on your nightstand next to your bed, or in the center of your prayer corner, find it.  If you see that it is dusty from a lack of use…cross yourself…dust it off…open it up…and begin to read.  Read the books of the Prophets; Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah.  Read them all brothers and sisters in Christ. Find the passages within that Holy Wisdom that point the way to December 25th…and learn whythis period of preparation is so important for the world.  

3.)  It is important for us to always be reading and learning from the lives of our Holy Fathers and Mothers; men and women who are of the same mold as you and I…who have made it to the peak of human existence in their quest for God.  

After you finish with a chapter of the prophets, open up the writings of the Saints.  Read from St. Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation”, which answers so many questions for us about why Christmas is necessary for mankind.  Hint Hint…contrary to secular belief, Christmas has nothing to do with Black Friday, or what is under the tree on Christmas morning!

4.)   This is the time of year when the temptation becomes great to gorge ourselves with our favorite holiday dishes.  Cookies are everywhere.  With the drop in temperature, “Comfort foods” are being made in every kitchen across the country.  Although we are not permitted to offend anyone who serves you these things, we are called to show restraint during Advent, by make a conscience effort to fast from meat and dairy to the best of our ability.  We do this to train our souls to yearn for heavenly bread…and to not rely on earthly food which passes away.  

5.)   Speaking of heavenly banquets, make an extra effort to prioritize the Divine Services these next 6 weeks.  Do not deprive yourselves of the Grace of God that we are given through the Holy Eucharist. We need our Lord’s nourishment if we are to reach the feast with understanding in our minds and joy in our hearts.

All of these things, brothers and sisters, are absolutely necessary for us, so that we can fulfill the greatest commandment which we heard our Lord speak of in the Gospel lesson today: 

 “Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, and all thy mind…and thy neighbor as thyself”. 

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as we begin our journey towards the cave where our Lord came down from the heavens to lay his head in a manger, I ask for your forgiveness for any way that I had led the sheep astray through my own spiritual weaknesses.  May we gather together at the end of this journey with the Archangels who we commemorated this past Thursday, and with them let us sing the praises of the God Who loved His creation so much, that He humbled Himself down to our existence, in order to lift us all up in ways that we cannot possibly begin to fathom.