According to the Roman calendar, the liturgical season moved into Advent this past Sunday. Looking at the Byzantine calendar, however, Advent proper isn’t anywhere to be found. My family, as relatively new Byzantine Catholics, have celebrated Advent for several years. What to do?
In the Byzantine Rite, we actually start celebrating Advent several weeks earlier than Latin Rite Catholics. While we don’t necessarily call the season “Advent”, on November 15th, we begin the Nativity Fast (also called St. Philip’s fast) – a forty-day period of penance, fasting, and reflection on the year that has passed and the coming celebration of our Lord’s birth. In addition, we also place special emphasis on the celebration of the Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra (yes, THE St. Nick), as he is the patron of our particular Church. Our particular parish hosts a wonderful pot-luck celebration each year in commemoration of St. Nicholas, which is a tradition in many Byzantine churches.
Many Byzantine Catholics I know combine elements of both the West and the East in their celebration of the season. In my family, we have been making use of the Advent prayers from the Roman Divine Office in addition to the integration of various Nativity Kontakia and Troparia that accompany the Byzantine daily prayers.
Below is an excerpt from the Troparion, the Theotokion, and the Stichera of the Royal Hours, a prayer service often celebrated on the Vigil of the Nativity (Christmas Eve). You will note in these ancient and venerable hymns a rich affirmation of the theology of the Church in its proclamation of the Nativity story. The full service, along with the musical settings, can be downloaded from the Metropolitan Cantor Institute’s website here.
At that time, Mary registered in Bethlehem with the elder Joseph, who was of the house of David. She had conceived without seed and was with child, and her time to give birth had come. They found no room at the inn, but the cave became a pleasant palace for the Queen. Christ is born to raise up the likeness that had fallen.
Since we have no one in whom we can confide because of our many sins, O Virgin Theotokos, intercede for us with the One who was born of you, for a mother’s prayer is a power means for obtaining the Master’s favor. You are most worthy of veneration, so do not turn away from the pleading of us sinners; for the One who willed to suffer in the flesh for our sake is full of mercy, and his power is sufficient to save us.
Stichera of the First Hour
Make ready, O Bethlehem: prepare yourself, O manger. Let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away; born of a Virgin, God has appeared to all, formed as we are and making our flesh god-like. Therefore Adam and Eve are renewed, and they call out: Loving kindness has appeared on earth to save our human race.
Stichera of the Third Hour
Such is our God, no other is to be compared to him. Born of a Virgin, he comes to dwell among us. Placed in a poor manger, the Only-begotten Son is seen as a mortal man, the Lord of glory is wrapped in swaddling clothes. A star guides the Magi to come and worship him; and we sing: O Holy Trinity, save our souls.