|By Paul M. Weyrich, For The Bulletin|
In a few short days most Americans will be sitting down to a sumptuous dinner. In most cases that includes turkey, dressing, special potatoes, cranberry sauce and so on. However, there is a minority of Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians whose food these days consists of no meat, no eggs no dairy products. Dining this past Sunday with Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Cyril Bustros at Holy Transfiguration Church in McLean, Va., we enjoyed some salmon on rice with special potatoes, kibbe, with raw fruits and vegetables. On a week day we would only be permitted shellfish.
We may have wine on Sundays, but not on non-feast days. This fast is almost identical to what Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians use before Pascha or Easter. The difference is with this fast most of the churches celebrate Christmas on the same day whereas with Pascha, the dates may be as many as six weeks apart as Pascha is calculated differently by most Catholics and by the Orthodox. (Some Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics in Greece follow the Orthodox calculation for Pascha.) Pope Benedict XVI is said to believe the Orthodox are correct in the way they calculate Easter. He is said to want Catholic Churches to switch to the Orthodox calculations but since the rest of the Christian community has followed the Roman Catholics in the way they determine the date of Easter it is unlikely that any changes will take place.
Why the fast now? Christmas, when God became man, is one of the two most important feasts of the Church. Christmas is the only feast which originated in the West and was adopted in the East. All of the other feasts originated in the East and was adopted by the West.
For St. Paul, whose special year is midway through, Christian discipleship is like an athletic contest in an arena which requires body training and effort. This is the root of the Christian understanding of asceticism. By training our body mind and spirit with the help of God's grace to seek and follow His commands and culture the virtues of the Saints.
This fast is known as St. Philip's Fast because it begins each year on the feast of St. Philip the Apostle, which begins each year on Nov. 15. In addition to the fast, alms giving is greatly encouraged. A special time for what Eastern Christians call "The Jesus Prayer" is also encouraged ( Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me the sinner) This is preparation for Christmas. Years ago in the Western Church, both Catholic and Protestant, there was the Advent season. These days Advent is not taken as seriously a it once was. However, St. Philip's Fast is taken seriously by both Orthodox and Greek Catholic Christians. Unless you understand the idea behind the fast, you might not want to be asked over for Thanksgiving dinner.
Paul M. Weyrich is chairman and CEO of The Free Congress Foundation as well as a protodeacon at Holy Transfiguration Melkite-Greek Catholic Church in McLean, Va.