The Philip’s Fast message from the US Ukrainian Bishops 2020

PHILIP’S FAST (PYLYPIVKA) PASTORAL OF THE UKRAINIAN CATHOLIC HIERARCHY OF THE U.S.A. TO OUR CLERGY, HIEROMONKS AND BROTHERS, RELIGIOUS SISTERS, SEMINARIANS AND BELOVED FAITHFUL,

Glory to Jesus Christ!

St. Philip’s Fast or Pylypivka is about to start. It is a joyful 40-day fast, which begins on November 15, the day after the feast of the apostle St. Philip, and lasts until December 24, Christmas Eve. This fast is meant to prepare us spiritually for the great and solemn holyday – the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the time given to us to deepen our understanding and awareness of God’s mystery – the Incarnation of the Son of God and the coming of the Messiah, the King of Peace, Emmanuel and the Light of the world. It is time for us to find and rediscover true joy of the Nativity of Our Lord through prayer, meditation, and acts of charity, not like it is in the artificial atmosphere of Christmas parties, buying and exchanging gifts and enjoying specially prepared holiday delicacies.

We may think that the coming of Christ is a completed event and a historical fact of the past, and the anticipation of His coming is only symbolic for us. It is not! Christ always comes to us. He is constantly born spiritually in the heart of every person who believes and expects Him. He comes to us in prayer and the Holy Mysteries, especially in Holy Confession and Communion. Today He comes to be with us and among us.

This year, St. Philip’s Fast and the understanding of the coming of Christ and His presence among us takes on a special meaning and significance for us. In the midst of the relentless COVID-19 pandemic, the suffering of many from this deadly illness, often resulting in the sad and tragic loss of family members and friends, political discord and instability, riots, wars and human rights abuses around the world, we are thirsty for a deep awareness and conviction that Christ the Lord is truly present among us and that His grace is life-giving and necessary.

St. Philip’s Fast recalls for us the Old Testament and the world, which froze in anticipation of the coming of Christ, the Light of the world. We will hear readings from the books of the ancient prophets Nahum, Habakkuk, Daniel, and Isaiah, who prophesied of His coming eight centuries before He was born. They wrote that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, about the escape of the Holy Family to Egypt and the return to Nazareth, about His healing of the sick, about His rejection by the chosen people, about His betrayal and taking thirty silver pieces by one of the apostles, about His crucifixion among robbers, about His side being pierced, about His Resurrection and Ascension to Heaven. Later, the holy evangelists, while writing the Gospels inspired by the Holy Spirit, will include these prophecies to show us that Jesus Christ is the Messiah that everyone expected and that He is truly the Son of God.

Philip’s Fast (Pylypivka)

All Christian churches prepare for the feast of the birth of Christ by some sort of period of penance. The Western church calls this the period of Advent, connected with the Latin word for “come,” since we are waiting for Christ to come into our lives. We may be celebrating an event in the past, the birth of Jesus, the first coming of God into our world, but we are also celebrating the present, God coming into our own lives and into the world of today, and the future expectation of Christ’s second coming, when he will come in glory to judge tote world in righteousness.

The Roman Church once began the Christmas preparation on St. Martin’s Day, Nov. 11, which gave forty days until the winter solstice on Dec. 21, and the church of Milan in Italy still has a forty-day preparation beginning on Nov. 15.

Traditionally, the Byzantine Church also begins its Christmas preparation on Nov. 15. Since this follows the feast of St. Philip the Apostle, it is called the Philip’s Fast. There is a legend about St. Philip, that when he was about to be martyred, he delayed his entrance into heaven by forty days in order to do penance for the sake of his persecutors. This is certainly only a legend, since Philip was not connected with the pre-Christmas fast until the ninth century, but it does point out one aspect of fasting – it is an act of charity for others. Some contemporary groups have expressed this by introducing the custom of setting aside the money they save by fasting to buy food for the poor. St. Philip is the apostle who leads us to Christ. When Jesus called him to be a disciple, his first action was to go and tell Nathaniel. When Nathaniel questioned him about Jesus, Philip replied, “Come and see” (Jn 1:46). Later in the Gospel, some Greeks (Gentiles, representing all nations) wanted “to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21), and it is Philip and Andrew that lead them to Christ. At the Last Supper, it is Philip that asks the question, “Master, show us the Father,” and Jesus replies, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:8¬9). In the face of Jesus our Lord, we are able to see the love of the Father for us. The holy Apostle Philip, therefore, leads us to Christmas, to see for the first time the face of God, who came into the world to break down the barriers between humanity and God (Eph. 2:14).

Philip’s Fast (Pylypivka) begins

The Philip’s Fast (Pylypivka), the pre-Christmas fast, begins today. The Church begins the Fast the day after the feast of the Holy and All-Praiseworthy Apostle Philip. The Fast is a period of 40 days of spiritual preparation for the celebration of the Nativity/Theophany cycle of the liturgical (Church) year.

Historically, the Philip’s Fast (Pylypivka) was a period of strict fasting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday –days of strict fasting without meat, dairy products or oil (in Slavic countries).

Now the bishops have indicated that the Fast is lessened a bit also to include fasting, works of penance and doing charitable work. BUT today we observe the Fast on Wednesdays and Fridays by an abstention from meat and foods that contain these ingredients.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church teaches her faithful that “Penitential fasting practices, repentance and abstinence that aim to satisfy the sins committed and to achieve the highest level of perfection is the oldest tradition in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church” (CCEO: 882, § 1).

Recall, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church maintains that “Abstention from meat and meat products is to be observed on all Fridays of the year except for compact weeks, patronal feasts and the twelve major feasts” (CCEO: 882, § 4).

Definitions

Abstinence means that we do not eat a certain type of food, for example meat and oil, or any other foods that have that as an ingredient.

Fasting means that we eat less food. A general rule is that for a day of fast, the amount of food of the main meal is less than the other two meals combined.

Those exempt from fasting and abstinence are:

  • Children under the age of 14
  • Adults over the age of 60
  • those who are gravely ill
  • pregnant women
  • post-partum mothers
  • breast-feeding mothers
  • travellers (if travel time exceeds 8 hours)
  • those engaged in heavy labour
  • those who eat from the table of others
  • the poor who live from charity

On December 24, the Vigil of the Nativity, there is an abstention from meat, dairy and eggs, and foods that contain these ingredients.

When we arrive at the Nativity on December 25, until January 4, there is no fasting or abstinence.

We keep the Philip’s Fast because we believe that doing so it can help us to better understand and appreciate all of God’s saving plan for each of us.

At the Divine Liturgy you will notice that the priest will wear dark vestments as the norm for this penitential season with exception of Saturdays, Sundays and first class feasts.