It has come to my attention that I haven't written a blog post in a while (aka one of my youth accosted me after our "God's Word & Me" session saying in a very disapproving voice, "Um, you haven't written anything in months." So, here I am, trying to figure out what I should write about as I wait for the bank to take my call (I've been on hold for 21 minutes... and counting).
So, now that it's November and we've been 100% thrust into winter, I've got to say that Christmas is on my mind. And I know that it's only the beginning of November, but with all the snow on the ground and seeing Christmas decorations in the stores (I haven't heard Christmas carols yet, thank goodness; that would be a little much for me), I do have to admit that thoughts of Christmas have started to creep into my brain.
Though I do love Christmas, I have actually come to discover, however, that my favourite time of the year is actually in the lead up to Christmas, what we call Pylypivka or St. Philip's Fast (the Roman Catholics call this Advent). Now some of you may be wondering why it's the fasting period that I really like instead of its culmination. Honestly I've been trying to figure this out myself for a while and I think it has to do with the anticipation of the feast.
During Pylypivka, as with Lent, Christians are asked to spend some time preparing for what's to come, in this case, Jesus' birth. We do this by dedicating more time to prayer and participating in a 40 day fast so we can truly focus on God and our relationship with Him. It definitely isn't an easy thing to do, especially when there are so many other things that get in the way of this preparation, such as shopping or parties (I definitely get sucked into both). Don't get me wrong; fellowship and gift-giving are both wonderful ways to spend time and money and can be a beautiful testament to the love we have in our hearts for others. But we do have to strive to remember that our relationship with Jesus is number one, especially as we prepare to celebrate His birth.
So what can we do to work on that relationship? How does prayer and fasting actually help us grow in relationship with Christ? Man, I'm still figuring that part out. What I have done in the last couple years, though, is found a program to guide me through this time of preparation. Admittedly I haven't found one that's designed for Ukrainian Catholics (if you know of one, please let me know and I'll check it out!), but Dynamic Catholic, an organization based out of the States, presents an online program called Best Advent Ever (they have one for Lent too) that I've participated in the last couple years. You sign up and every day during Advent you get a short video and some ideas to focus on that help you think about what Christmas actually means and what you can do to make this Christmas the best. I usually journal on the topic of the day and that brings out ideas that I never would've thought of before. I will also sometimes pray through journaling, addressing any concerns I have with God through pen and paper.
The thing with either of these examples is that they actually don't take very long: 10 minutes at most. I'm sure even you can find 10 minutes in a day to watch a video, talk to God, or just sit in silence (which can sometimes be the hardest thing of all!).
What are some other things you could do during Pylypivka to prepare yourself for Christmas? Write them in the comments below!
P.s. How serendipitous! An hour later I'm checking out my friend's bookcase (I'm staying with her while my bathroom's getting fixed) and come across this book, "Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Book of Christmas Virtues." Not only does it contain amazing stories that only Chicken Soup books can, it explores 7 different virtues we would typically focus on during Pylypivka, is family-friendly, and poses discussion questions at the end of each section! What a great way to explore the meaning of Christmas :D