Advent Discipline, Ekonomia

Most Christians haven’t heard of an Advent fast. The Orthodox keep it quite seriously, as they do all four of the major fasts. But Western Christians, even those raised in the traditional Roman church, have forgotten or never knew about the disciplines of Advent. While keeping a strict fast may only be possible when one is living a monastic life or in a fasting community, some discipline is a good practice in the seasons of preparation before the festivals.

For those of us whose lives overlap the world, we may not be able to be so strict without causing others discomfort or great inconvenience. Honestly, I don’t like cooking two sets of meals myself if a member of the household is not able to fast with us. I know I can’t starve myself on bread and salad for six weeks, either. So this year we have a modified discipline, because I am the only one in the house who is able to fast.

We have another, more practical discipline – a freezer full of meat that needed to be used before it was unusable. Now this is an odd kind of fasting, to eat beef in a fasting season. But it was the most sensible thing to do. Instead of buying fresh meat or even vegetarian foods through the month, our goal is to use up what we have before it is wasted. There are other foods in the pantry as well that we have bought but not used; it is time to clear that out and start over. I don’t want to realize some day that “uh-oh, that has gone way past its sell-by date!” or that a forgotten bag of flour is actually rancid. We have decided to be more mindful of what we have, and give thanks to God by utilizing it.

Some things have gone to the food bank for those who simply can’t keep frozen or fresh things – canned soups, pudding mixes, and so on, that are convenient for those with limited cooking facilities. Right now, we have time, power and appliances to cook almost everything from scratch. This saves money that can be better used to help others.

Our gifts to God, especially when used for the support of others, should be the first fruits, not the last fruits. When the prophet Amos has a vision of a basket of late summer fruit, the Lord tells him it is Israel, and it is not satisfactory. That is because it is the last fruits – the overripe, left behind produce no one really wanted. It is the sacrifice that a negligent people made to God. The people kept the best for themselves, and gave away what they did not want at all. This is no sacrifice.

Most financial advisors will tell their clients, “Pay yourself first,” meaning that you should set aside money in savings at the top of your budget. God tells Christians this: Give generously of your first fruits. Charity is not the last item on the budget; God puts it first. The Lord says, “What you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.” If it were Jesus standing in line at the food bank, or without the money for winter shoes, would you give him something you didn’t want? Wouldn’t you take him home for a beautiful holiday meal, hand him the new boots you were wearing? Would you hand him a stale tuna sandwich or roast a turkey for him? Would you see him walk away in your old gym shoes or your new leather dress shoes?

I have often regretted what I have bought, and I have never regretted what I have given away.

6 thoughts on “Advent Discipline, Ekonomia

  1. This reminds me of a blog post I read recently on Advent. It was a roman catholic blog (I can’t remember the name!) That was saying the opposite about Advent and fasting – that fasting is not for Advent because it’s a joyous celebration, unlike Lent. Perhaps that’s how their parish taught? I don’t know. I can’t fast either, due to the whole penance, depression, and fiscal situation we are in. I focus instead on the excitement of the birth and parousia of Christ and encouraging my Orthodox friend in his fasting.

    • I can’t answer for the Catholics; if that’s what they are teaching now, they have moved a long way from where they used to be. So Romans are dropping fasting while Protestants are finally practicing it? I don’t know, it’s a crazy old world!

      It’s not a festive season; the world made it that. It is a season of introspection and penitance, a time to think over what we have done and left undone, and how we can better serve our Lord. Not that we need to beat ourselves with yew branches, but it is a time to gather in our thoughts and behaviours and make some improvements. It is a time to reconcile, to live out in anticipation that glorious cry, Glory to God in the highest Heaven, and Peace to those of goodwill!” We can’t turn our hearts and minds to Christ by going to parties and buying gifts. And please, readers out there, don’t start arguing with me about the true spirit of gift giving. If you want to give someone something beautiful, meaningful and spiritual, you don’t need Christmas to do it.

      Amber is right about the season. For those who can’t fast, there are other gentle disciplines. Read a book about Christmas or Christ. Bake for someone else. Spend more time in prayer, preferably with your family. Encourage those who are fasting, and practice the discipline of not jumping all over me when I refuse to participate in commercialization. Curbing one’s tongue (or fingers in this case) is also a discipline. (Amber, I don’t mean you, gentlest of souls! I just used your comment to impose some discipline on others.)

      • Amber, be gentle with yourself this year. The Lord is delighted in you, don’t worry about those who have their own issues around the holidays. Enjoy your new life together.

  2. Magdelaina,

    I pretty well tried the Advent fast last year (I say ‘pretty well’ because it is/was hard in a household where I’m the only one). However, I was taken very much by your first reference to minimizing waste and meditating on thankfulness discussed in a previous article. For those of us who aren’t in fasting communities, or members of couples/families where we’re either the only believer or the only one guided to fast, this is a powerful alternative. Think of how much we waste!! In Australia alone, the perfectly good food thrown out each year or disguarded by supermarkets/the hospitality/catering industry etc runs into the several billions!! What sort of use is this of the Creation our heavenly Father has so bountifully gifted us with. We’re using it all up and this is something my hubby can feel a part of and that resonates with him also (as part of the hippy boomer generation who did the ‘hippy’ thing)…

    I also like the idea of the twice weekly no meat fast (though understand that this might not work for everyone). Our family is going very light on gifts this year, because, as I’ve mentioned, we’re all through with ‘things’…A funny old world indeed!! I would be curious as to how you speculate Christianity will be within the next 20 years… or even the decade.

    Sarah.

    • As I said last year, don’t beat up on yourself if you can’t do the whole fast. Faithfulness is more than fasting. And I’m more practical than pious. So if using up the excess in your house makes sense, then that can be your “fast.” It’s a fast from overindulgence or overspending. We even have a decorated house this year – as the Orthodox say, “Don’t bring your own ordo to another’s monastery.” And the rooms are splendid with angels and creches, not baubles and tinsel.

      Katy over at “Non-Consumer Advocate” reminds us that 40% of food produced is wasted. If you have never visited a place where children suffer malnutrition, if you have never wanted for a meal yourself, or if you have never seen good food thrown away that you, in poverty, would have gladly eaten – time to do some reading and reflecting.

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