We have just entered the holy Nativity Fast. The Theotokos—the holiest of all holy ones—has just entered the temple to live in the Holy of Holies. We will shortly enter a new civil year with the beginning of the month of January (a name which comes from the Latin for "door") according to the civil Gregorian calendar, but we remain in the month of December according to the Church's Julian calendar. We usher out the commercialism and consumerism of "Christmas" and New Year celebrations so that at Nativity we may enter the dark cave in Bethlehem, to noetically celebrate the Incarnation of the Only-begotten of the Father without mother and the son born seedlessly of the Virgin.
How many of us stand spellbound by a sunrise or sunset; or find ourselves lost in admiration of paintings, letting our eyes wander over the brush strokes and revel in the small victories of form, beauty, balance, interpretation; or immerse ourselves in music, being swept up by the tone and mood, fixated on the undulations of melody and harmonic progression, rhythm and syncopation; or bury ourselves in a book, seeing the characters with our mind's eye, crying at their pains and rejoicing in their triumphs, meditating on the deeper meanings encoded in masterful prose or poetry.
Would that we marveled in these ways at the mysteries of Christ!
Our nous (the eyes of our heart, our attention) longs to direct its gaze to Christ. We practice directing it elsewhere, and when it comes time to pray, we begrudgingly redirect our nous in a partial, petulant way to the Savior, and then immediately after our prayer rule or church service is finished, with pleasures we distract our nous so addicted to the passions.
The fasts are a time to purify our nous by reclaiming our attention with vigilance and vigor. With the sins of others and with alms we give, we are to forgive and forget; with ourselves, we are to be harsh, diligent, detailed, allowing nothing to slip through, approving no weakness, excusing no evil thoughts, "agree[ing] with [our] adversary quickly, while [we are] in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver [us] to the judge, and the judge deliver [us] to the officer, and [we] be cast into prison" which is to say that we are to heed our conscience zealously before our time for repentance has passed.
May we all thus fast, that we may receive abundant grace and stand worthy to marvel at the arrival of the pre-eternal God made flesh, singing with the angels and shepherds: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!