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Municipal workers cleaned an area at the site of a Russian missile strike amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine, Nov. 6.
Municipal workers cleaned an area at the site of a Russian missile strike amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Odesa, Ukraine, Nov. 6.
Photo Credit: Nina Liashonok | Reuters

Amid Russia’s war, Advent fast takes on deeper meaning for Ukrainian Catholics

Ukrainian bishops in the United States issued a pastoral letter Nov. 18

An Advent tradition among Eastern Catholics has taken on a deeper meaning amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The Fast of St. Philip, also known as the Philippian or Nativity Fast, is observed by Eastern Catholics and Christians worldwide.

The fast — instituted at the Council of Constantinople in 1166 — begins prior to Advent on Nov. 15, the feast day of St. Philip, and ends on Christmas Eve.

During the fast, faithful typically abstain from meat on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while observing a lesser form of abstinence on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The fast is often intensified in the days immediately preceding Christmas.

Although less strict than the Great Pascha fast of Lent, the St. Philip Fast is intended to prepare the faithful for the joy of Christ’s birth.

The bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S. issued a pastoral letter coinciding with this year’s fast, saying that the observance marks the “embarking on a journey that culminates in the contemplation of an indescribable mystery — God’s condescension to humanity.”

The letter, released Nov. 18, was signed by Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia; Bishop Paul Chomnycky of the Eparchy of Stamford, Connecticut; Bishop Venedykt Aleksiychuk of the St. Nicholas Eparchy of Chicago, who wrote the document; and Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo of the St. Josaphat Eparchy of Parma, Ohio.

The bishops said that “in this divine event, God not only reveals His name but also makes Himself visible, inviting us to recognize Him.”

Yet that invitation can be difficult to discern or accept amid Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the bishops said.

Amid the atrocities, said the bishops, “we continually pose questions to each other and to God: ‘How much longer will this endure? Why, O God, does this war persist?’”

The story of Christ’s birth provides solace and an eternal perspective on human history, the bishops said.

“This war, while manifestly physical and visible, also has deep spiritual ramifications,” they wrote. “We yearn for change, for someone to rise against injustice and corruption, yet we tend to overlook that the journey begins within ourselves, with our heart.”

In reflecting upon the lives of the saints, the faithful can draw strength and “marvel at how they found spiritual equilibrium amidst sorrow, mastering themselves and receiving the strength of Christ,” the bishops said.

“As we commence this journey to the Nativity, we invite you to fathom the depths of this mystery,” they wrote. “A single child altered the course of human history with His birth. The tapestry of human history is interwoven with the thread of Jesus Christ.”

In Christ, “we are also capable and called to change our personal stories and big history,” the bishops said. “Each one of us can contribute with the gifts bestowed upon us by the Lord, thereby effecting change in the world around us.”

“Much work lies ahead, but it is the sole path to a genuine experience of the Nativity of Our Lord,” said the bishops. “We are called to comprehend the gift of patience, for in God’s timing, everything unfolds according to His divine plan. While we may ardently desire swift change and accomplishment, true transformation occurs when we cooperate with God’s grace, serving our neighbors with fervor in afflictions, hardships and distress.”

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