Sunday, November 24, 2013

Advent - Week Three Study Guide

Download pdf

During this week during our preparation for the feast of Christmas we have the great American feast of Thanksgiving. This is one of the holidays that has not been totally taken over by commercial interests and is a beautiful time when families come together and offer thanks to God. At Saint George we celebrate this event with a Divine Liturgy at 9:00am on Thursday morning. Come with your family for Liturgy which is the greatest offering of thanksgiving, receive Holy Communion together, and then return home to enjoy the family feast in thanksgiving.

Read 1 Chronicles 29:10-19: This is a prayer of Thanksgiving by king David when he had made provision for building of the Temple.
What was the purpose of offering this prayer?

Why is it impossible to give anything to God?

Why did he gather all that wealth to build the Temple?

How are David’s and the people’s gifts offered to God?

What does David ask of the Lord concerning his people?

Read Phil 1:3-11: This is a personal expression of thanksgiving  by Saint Paul about his beloved Philippian Christians.
For whom is St. Paul thankful and why?

What is St. Paul’s personal statement to the Philippians in verse 7?

What is the source of his  affection for the Philippians?

What is his prayer for them?

What are you thankful for?

How do you express your thankfulness to God?

The Divine Liturgy
The greatest encouragement we have is the sacrament of Holy Communion, which is the purpose of the Divine Liturgy. It is called Eucharist or Thanksgiving because its heart is the prayer of consecration in which the bread and wine, the basic fruits of earth and man’s work are offered as gifts of thanksgiving to God which He consecrates and transforms into the precious Blood and Body of Christ.  We offer these gifts to God knowing that they are also the gifts of God to us.
The priest echoes the prayer of King David we read above when he proclaims: “We offer You, Lord, these gifts from Your own gifts for all things in all circumstances!”
The prayer of consecration is known as the Anaphora.

Read and reflect on this prayer from the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil:
Priest: Master, Lord, God, worshipful Father almighty, it is truly just and right to the majesty of Your holiness to praise You, to hymn You, to bless You, to worship You, to give thanks to You, to glorify You, the only true God, and to offer to You this our spiritual worship with a contrite heart and a humble spirit. For You have given us to know Your truth. Who is worthy to praise Your mighty acts? Or to make known all Your praises? Or tell of all Your wonderful deeds at all times? Master of all things, Lord of heaven and earth, and of every creature visible and invisible, You are seated upon the throne of glory and behold the depths. You are without beginning, invisible, incomprehensible, beyond words, unchangeable. You are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the great God and Savior of our hope, the image of Your goodness, the true seal of revealing in Himself You, the Father. He is the living Word, the true God, eternal wisdom, life, sanctification, power, and the true light. Through Him the Holy Spirit was manifested, the spirit of truth the gift of Sonship, the pledge of our future inheritance, the first fruits of eternal blessings, the life giving power, the source of sanctification through whom every rational and spiritual creature is made capable of worshiping You and giving You eternal glorification, for all things are subject to You. For You are praised by the angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, powers, and the many eyed Cherubim. Round about You stand the Seraphim, one with six wings and the other with six wings; with two they cover their faces; with two they cover their feet; with two they fly, crying out to one another with unceasing voices and ever resounding praises:
Priest: Singing the victory hymn, proclaiming, crying out, and saying:
People: Holy, holy, holy, Lord Sabaoth, heaven and earth are filled with Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to God in the highest.
Priest: Together with these blessed powers, loving Master we sinners also cry out and say: Truly You are holy and most holy, and there are no bounds to the majesty of Your holiness. You are holy in all Your works, for with righteousness and true judgment You have ordered all things for us. For having made man by taking dust from the earth, and having honored him with Your own image, O God, You placed him in a garden of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Your commandments. But when he disobeyed You, the true God who had created him, and was led astray by the deception of the serpent becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, You, O God, in Your righteous judgment, expelled him from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ. For You did not forever reject Your creature whom You made, O Good One, nor did You forget the work of Your hands, but because of Your tender compassion, You visited him in various ways: You sent forth prophets; You performed mighty works by Your saints who in every generation have pleased You. You spoke to us by the mouth of Your servants the prophets, announcing to us the salvation which was to come; You gave us the law to help us; You appointed angels as guardians. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us through Your Son Himself, through whom You created the ages. He, being the splendor of Your glory and the image of Your being, upholding all things by the word of His power, thought it not robbery to be equal with You, God and Father. But, being God before all ages, He appeared on earth and lived with humankind. Becoming incarnate from a holy Virgin, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, conforming to the body of our lowliness, that He might change us in the likeness of the image of His glory. For, since through man sin came into the world and through sin death, it pleased Your only begotten Son, who is in Your bosom, God and Father, born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and ever virgin Mary; born under the law, to condemn sin in His flesh, so that those who died in Adam may be brought to life in Him, Your Christ. He lived in this world, and gave us precepts of salvation. Releasing us from the delusions of idolatry, He guided us to the sure knowledge of You, the true God and Father. He acquired us for Himself, as His chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. Having cleansed us by water and sanctified us with the Holy Spirit, He gave Himself as ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the cross, that He might fill all things with Himself, He loosed the bonds of death. He rose on the third day, having opened a path for all flesh to the resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible that the Author of life would be dominated by corruption. So He became the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, the first born of the dead, that He might be Himself the first in all things. Ascending into heaven, He sat at the right hand of Your majesty on high and He will come to render to each according to His works. As memorials of His saving passion, He has left us these gifts which we have set forth before You according to His commands. For when He was about to go forth to His voluntary, ever memorable, and life-giving death, on the night on which He was delivered up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy and pure hands, and presenting it to You, God and Father, and offering thanks, blessing, sanctifying, and breaking it:
Priest: He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles saying: Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you and for the forgiveness of sins.
People: Amen.
Priest: Likewise, He took the cup of the fruit of vine, and having mingled it, offering thanks, blessing, and sanctifying it.
Priest: He gave it to His holy disciples and apostles saying: Drink of this all of you. This is my blood of the new Covenant, shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.
People: Amen.
Priest: Do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you proclaim my death, and you confess my resurrection. Therefore, Master, we also, remembering His saving passion and life giving cross, His three; day burial and resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and enthronement at Your right hand, God and Father, and His glorious and awesome second coming.
Priest: We offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all.
People: We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, Lord our God.
Priest: Therefore, most holy Master, we also, Your sinful and unworthy servants, whom You have made worthy to serve at Your holy altar, not because of our own righteousness (for we have not done anything good upon the earth), but because of Your mercy and compassion, which You have so richly poured upon us, we dare to approach Your holy altar, and bring forth the symbols of the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ. We pray to You and call upon You, O Holy of Holies, that by the favor of Your goodness, Your Holy Spirit may come upon us and upon the gifts here presented, to bless, sanctify, and make this bread to be the precious Body of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.

How can you prepare for and regularly experience the Liturgy as your foundation of a thankful life before God?

Is your life outside the Liturgy a “eucharist/thankful” life or is it one burdened by complaining, fault-finding and resentful feeling?

How can you grow toward a more thankful life?

Read John 1:35-51. On Saturday this week we celebrate the feast day of Saint Andrew who was a fisherman and was the first called of the disciples. Here is the hymn which is sung at his feast:
Let us praise for his courage Andrew the theologian, first Apostle of the Savior and brother of Peter; for in like manner as he drew his brother to Christ, he cries out also to us: “Come, for we have found the One Whom the world desires.”
Kontakian Hymn of Feast of Saint Andrew

Saint Andrew is especially important to our Church, as our apostolic succession of our clergy is linked back to him. After Pentecost Andrew went to many lands, but among them was a town on the northern coast of Asia Minor called Byzantium. It was this town that eventually became the capital of the Roman Empire and the center of Christianity. It was renamed by Saint Constantine the Great as Constantinople. It is in this city where to this day (renamed Istanbul by the Ottomans) our Patriarch Bartholomew resides.
Andrew also carried the Gospel message in Greece and was martyred in Patras.
Who was the teacher of the two disciples before Jesus invited the to follow Him?

What did Andrew do at once when called?
a. He found
b. and told him
c. then he

List ways we can tell people about Christ and bring them to Him:

Read Lk 18:35-43
On Sunday December 1st we hear the story of Jesus healing of Blind Beggar.
Jesus often meets with handicapped people and gives them aid or healing. In ancient time it was thought that such persons were handicapped because of a demonic possession. But Jesus did not treat them any different than others. He did not approach them as persons disabled but as ones with a disability.

How do we view persons with a disability?

How can we help someone who is disabled during this season as we approach the Nativity of our Savior?

Reference: A Year of the Lord Litrugical Bible Studies, Vol 2 by Theodore Stylianopoulos

Monday, November 18, 2013

Advent - Week Two Study Guide

As we continue our preparation for the coming of Christ on December 25th, this week we turn our thoughts to the Mother of God. Mary, the Theotokos, gives us the perfect model of humility and silent expectation that we can use as a model during this period of preparation. The more we find ways to follow her example of obedience and purity the closer we will come to Christ who is about to be born.

On November 21st we celebrate the entry of Mary into the Temple in Jerusalem. We know from tradition that Mary’s parents were childless in old age. They prayed continuously to have a child and vowed that if God were to bless them with a child they would dedicate her to God. After a miraculous birth her parents took her at the age of three to the Temple in Jerusalem where she lived for twelve years. She lived in the most holy place in the Temple being cared for by the Temple priests and angels. The hymns of the Church testify to the careful spiritual preparation for the birth giving of the Son of God that God provided to her. She was purified through her life in the Temple to receive God Himself in her womb. Joseph, an older man, was selected to protect her when she left theTemple at the age of about 13.

The icon of Mary which we see in the asp of our Cathedral shows Mary with her arms lifted up in prayer and with Christ bursting from her womb. Mary, chosen to carry the infinite God in her womb, must be “wider than the heavens”, is the name of this icon.
The hymn which is sung at vespers of this feat of her entry to the Temple is as follows:
The most holy virgin,
Temple that is to hold God,
is dedicated within the temple of the Lord,
and young girls, bearing lamps,
now go before her. Her noble parents,
Joachim and Anna, leap for joy and dance,
for they have given birth
to her who is to bear the Creator, and she,
the most pure, with rejoicing
goes round the temple habitations
and is fed by the hands of an angel.
She was chosen to be the Mother of Christ,
the Lord Who grants to the world great mercy.

All the feasts of the Theotokos point to the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation through Christ. The icons of Mary show her holding Christ in her arms or as is shown above bursting from her womb.  She is not praised for her own sake, but for her faithful role in being willing and obedient to God as an instrument in His divine plan. This good news of salvation is included in the Dismissal hymn for the feast day:
Today is the foreshadowing
of the grace of God and the good news
of the heralding of our salvation.
The Virgin is manifest
in the temple of God and beforehand
she announces Christ to all.
Let us sing to her with a mighty voice:
Hail! You are the fulfillment
of the Creator’s dispensation

What was the Temple like?
Read Exodus 40:1-35; 1 Kings 7:51 - 8:11; Ezekiel 43:27-44:4; Heb 9:1-7 
These are the prescribed Scripture readings for the feast that tell us about the Temple where she was dedicated:

How big was it?                                  How many rooms did it have?

What items were inside and where were they placed?

What was the significance of this structure?

Draw a layout of the temple indicating what was in each place.

Can you relate this design in any way to our Cathedral?

Just like this Temple that God designed for the Israelites to worship Him, Mary was also specially prepared to receive God into her womb. Can you imagine what it must have been like to grow up in such a holy place? This earthly Temple of the time of Moses foreshadows the living temple that God Himself chose to form the Christ, He who came down from heaven as fully man and God.

Read Lk 1:39-49,56
What does this tell us about the way Mary and Elizabeth anticipated the birth of Christ?

Read Lk 10:38-42 & 11:27-28 
This Gospel that is read on the feast days of Theotokos is about the sisters of Lazarus who was raised from the dead, Martha and Mary.
What did Mary do when Jesus visited her and her sister in their home?

Why is Martha upset?

To whom is Jesus referring when He says, “just one is needed”?

What was Jesus’ response to the woman’s praise of His mother?

This lesson gives us insight about how to observe the Nativity Fast.  We are not to worry or to be troubled over many things like Martha, but to have our attention focused on Christ.  All we do should be in His memory and to glorify Him. Like Mary we are to sit spiritually at His feet and listen to His words and strive to obey them out of our love for Him.
Are you more like Mary or Martha in the story? How?

How can you incorporate both into you daily life in this period of preparation?

Celebrating the coming of the Theotokos into the sanctuary, let us too, carrying lamps in spirit, go in joy with the attendants to the temple. Let us offer a prayer to Christ. To the Son who was begotten of the Father before all ages and in the last times was incarnated of the virgin, let us sing with one voice: Christ our God, You have raised up our banner of victory. O Holy Lord, glory to You!
Adapted from Matins Hymns of the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos.

Read Luke 18:18-30
Next Sunday we hear the parable of the Young Rich Ruler. This is the story about the man who asks Jesus, “What can I do to attain eternal life?” In His response Jesus links eternal life with the observance of His commandments. It is essential that we know His commandments and dedicate ourselves to living them in their fullness as Jesus taught.
What are the Ten Commandments in your own words? (see Exodus 20:1-17)
__________________________________    __________________________________
__________________________________    __________________________________
__________________________________    __________________________________
__________________________________    __________________________________
__________________________________    __________________________________
What are some ways that Jesus expanded these commandments? (see page 13 in NT Orthodox Study Bible or read Matt 5 - 7)

What are areas where we too must earn to become obedient to God’s commandments?

When was the last time you repented in front of the icon of Christ in the sacrament of repentance with a priest as your witness?   This is a good thing to do as part of your families preparation for Christmas. Call the Church office and make an appointment with Allene the Church secretary to participate in this powerful sacrament.

Jesus was able to live with perfect obedience to God. Many of His teachings are stricter than what is found in the Old Testament. Jesus was trying to help us to look into our hearts instead of thinking about following some prescribed rules. He taught that we are to have a pure heart if we are to see God. In the Sermon on the Mount he repudiated not just murder but also anger, not just adultery but a lustful look, not only fair retaliation but  no revenge whatsoever. He said “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you.”

Look up what  Jesus tells His followers in Matthew 5:20 about strict obedience.
Complete this: “You will be able to  enter the kingdom of heaven only if your:
Christ centers His life on giving and sharing, serving others, sacrificing Himself for the good of others. He expects us to become like him, to be working towards our perfection.
What does he say in Matthew  5:48?

What did Jesus ask of the rich man in the parable?
a. Sell  _________________________________
b. Give __________________________________
c. Come and _____________________________
When he saw the rich man’s sadness what did Jesus Say?

What did He promise to those who make great sacrifices for the sake of the Kingdom of God?

Just as Jesus challenged the rich man, so too He challenges us to become self-giving and dedicated to doing God’s work. His direction for us is difficult and impossible if we try to do it all on our own. This is why we need His help, the work of the Holy Spirit, the gift we continually receive in the sacramental life of the Church. A life in Christ is a continual tension between what we are now and what we are expected to become. It is an endless path of repentance. We must seek a deeper communion with the Holy Spirit and continue to grow in our love for  Christ.

What is important to you about the story of the rich ruler?

What are insights about  obedience to God’s commandments?

Identify one thing you can do to improve your life in obedience to His commandments during this period of preparation. Take advantage of Holy Confession, a most powerful sacrament. During this period find at least one way to become more like Him who is coming for our salvation in just a few weeks.

In keeping with the season, this week our Philoptochos Ladies are offering on Thursday, November 21st a Thanksgiving meal and making our wonderful Greek Pastries available to the entire Greenville community. The proceeds from this event go to help charitable organizations sponsored by the Philoptochos society. Pastries go on sale beginning at 9:30am and meals are served until 7pm. 

Buy or make some pastries and take them to share with someone who is shut in, or a person you admire for their ability to follow God’s commandments.

Visit a homeless shelter or a food bank kitchen with your family. See if there is any way you can help those in need.

Come to the Liturgy for the Entry of Mary into the temple on the 21st at 9:00am.

Reference: A Year of the Lord Liturgical Bible Studies, Vol. 2

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Advent - Week One Study Guide

The following study guide is based on the liturgical readings during this advent period of the Nativity fast. I will be posting one for each week of this period of preparation for the coming of Christ on December 25th.
Download as pdf file

Week One: Beginning of the Nativity Fast - Advent

Beginning November 15th we prepare for the nativity of our Lord. We have prepared this special series to support you in keeping this Advent season Christ centered. We will be following the liturgical cycle of the Church as we approach the most incredible event in human history, the Incarnation of God. We will give you Bible readings and questions that you can share with your family as well as some of the hymns and prayers made especially for this season.

We must plan for any important event whether it be a wedding, a baptism or a vacation trip. Similarly we need time to prepare for the understanding and celebration of the major events in the the life of the Son of God. Therefore, the period between November 15th and December 25th is considered a fast period, a period of preparation for the celebration of the Nativity. This fast is followed by the twelve feast days of Christmas, traditionally known as the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” This is not a strict fasting period as is Great Lent, but we are asked to undertake a moderate fast to help us keep focused on the true meaning of this period. Discuss with your family how you can together begin the time of preparation and anticipation of the coming (advent) of Christ into the world and into our lives. We want to make it more than a period about Santa Claus, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and Frosty the snowman.

Read Matthew 4:1-11
In this Scripture you will find the way Jesus Christ prepared himself for His ministry.  He goes into the wilderness for forty days and faces the temptations of the devil.
As you read this Scripture ask yourself, “What were the principles that were important for Jesus in His preparation and how you can apply them to your own preparation during the Nativity fast.

How long did Jesus fast?  
What were the three temptations He faced?
a.                                 b.                               c.
How did He answer each of them?

We will find that Jesus gives us a good example about how to prepare. We must rely on:     
  a. the Word of God rather than food and social activities;
  b. We must embrace humility rather than pride and vanity; 
  c. We must center our lives on God rather than on material things. 

Identify three ways you can you apply these principles during the Nativity fast?


Evangelist Matthew: Read Matthew 9:9-13
On November 16th we celebrate the life of the Evangelist Matthew. Not only did he give us an account of the Nativity story, but he is an example of a person who renounced worldly values and a sinful life to follow Christ. He was a tax collector which is akin to a corrupt bill collector today. In those days a tax collector was free to collect extra fees for his own benefit. Therefore, he was a wealthy man who enjoyed much power in his role. He was a Jew working for the Romans and was despised for his activities. It was the call of Christ that changed his life.  He was transformed from a man controlled by the desire for power and money into a herald for the Good News. 

Here is the hymn  from Vespers on his feast day:
When Christ who searched human hearts discerned through His divine foreknowledge, O Apostles Matthew, your God-loving disposition, He rescued you from the world of injustice. He transformed you into a universal light, commanding you to illuminate the ends of the earth. He made you worthy to commit clearly to writing the divine Gospel. O Apostle,pray to Christ that He might save and illumine our souls!

What were the words Jesus used to call Matthew?
How did Jesus strengthen His friendship with Matthew?
Who were Matthews established friends?
What was Jesus’ justification for keeping company with sinners?

What does God prefer to animal or ritual sacrifice and how can we give this in our preparation?

Jesus said, “I did not come to call righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”  Matthew is an example of this. Even though he was an outcast and a sinner he understood the Love of Christ unlike the Pharisees who could not. He believed and later became a great missionary in Palestine and Ethiopia where he was martyred. His Life after choosing to follow Christ was radiant with light. He became a disciple of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Read his full story at this link

Consider the following questions:
What were the temptations that Matthew might have faced and had to resist after his conversion?

How in this season of the Nativity fast can we show kindness both to “outcasts or sinners” and “respectable or righteous” people?

Read Luke 12:16-21
Next Sunday, November 17th, the Gospel lesson is the parable of the rich fool. In our culture the wealthy person is usually seen as one who is successful. Jesus gives us a picture of a wealthy man whose only problem was the abundance of his wealth and calls him a fool. Don’t we consider one who has no worries about money to be successful and one who never has enough to be a bit lazy? Think about what this story is telling us about some of our assumed thoughts.
Why does Jesus calls this rich man a fool? 

What did the rich man mistake for security?

Since material goods are not evil in themselves what attitudes regarding material possessions make their use good or evil?

Jesus warns us not to be greedy for material things, but to be “rich towards God.” What does this mean to you?

How can we apply this in our life during this period of preparation for the feast of the Nativity of God?

The period of the Nativity fast is also a period for charity.  We should seek out those who are disadvantaged, who are suffering, who are in need of material things as well as spiritual uplifting.  We should try to make time out of our busy schedules to help others who are in need.  Often we become so wrapped up in the need to satisfy our children and grandchildren, who already have more than they need, with the latest toys. They are in some respect like the rich fool.  In the process we can forget to turn our attention to those who are in real need. Try and find one way which you and your family can help others outside of your own family during this period.

For he who holds possessions… and houses as the gifts of God, and ministers from them to the God Who gives them for the salvation of people, and knows that he possesses them more for the sake of the brethren than his own, and is superior to the possession of them, not the slave of things of the things he possesses, and does not carry them about in his soul, not bind and circumscribe his life with them, but is ever laboring at some good and divine work, even should he be necessarily some time deprived of them, is able with cheerful mind to bear their removal equally with their abundance. This is he who is blessed by the Lord, and called poor in spirit, a meet heir of the Kingdom of heaven. (Clement of Alexandria)

Let us rejoice!
Let us celebrate with songs!
The revelation of Christ is made manifest:
the preachings of the prophets
have received their fulfillment.
For Christ of whom they spoke,
foretelling His appearance in the flesh,
is to be born in a holy cave
and to be placed as a babe in a manger.
With uprightness of mind
let us lift up a joyful prayer,
celebrating the coming of the Lord.
O Christ, our god, glory to You!
Adapted from Vesper Hymn for the Forefeast of the Birth of Christ.

Describe how you and your family can prepare for the feast of the nativity keeping in mind always the teachings and life of Christ. Identify an activity for each of the weeks between now and Christmas day. Lay out a family plan for this important period.

Some activities to consider:
Purchase a Nativity Icon and light a candle in front of it at the beginning of each nights meal each day during the fast.

Read the Christmas Story in Matt 1:18 - Chapter 2 and Luke chapters 1 and 2. Identify the characters and events (make a list of each) that took place and make a time line of them. Get a biblical map and find the locations and paths that were taken by those involved in the story. Have each member of the family select a part of the story and character and act out the part.

Reference: A Year of the Lord: Liturgical Bible Studies, Vol. 2

More on the Nativity of our Lord

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Advent - The Nativity Fast

Next week we enter into the period often called Advent.  This is the period set aside for us to prepare for the coming of Christ.  Our way of preparing for the significant events in the life of Christ is to fast. The Advent, or Nativity fast,  is seen as a lighter fast than Great Lent, but especially today it is a most important one. 

Why? Because of the craziness of the period that precedes Christmas.  It is filled with secular images and activities so that too often we lose the notion that we are dong all this to prepare for the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior is lost. We need to sit down with our families and determine how we will prepare for the Coming of Christ and honor this period by our fast.

There is no need to enumerate the distractions during this period.  But doesn't Santa Clause seems to get a bigger billing than Christ? Also there are all the other modern symbols of this time such as Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, Frosty the snowman, and all the other non religious Christmas stories. In addition there are the office parties and the numerous visits and gatherings of friends and neighbors where we celebrate. But when we get together what are we celebrating?  This is our challenge, we must bring Christ to the center of our all our activities during this season that so many enjoy.

Elder Paisios tells us the following about fasting:
With fasting man reveals his choices. Out of philotimo, a person undertakes an ascetic discipline and God helps. But if a person forces himself and laments, "Oh well, it's Friday; I have to fast," he will surely torment himself. If however, he understands the meaning of fasting and does it out of love for Christ, he will rejoice in it and say to himself, "This is the day when Christ was crucified; they didn't even give Him water to drink; they gave Him vinegar. I, too , will not drink water all day." If he does this, then he will experience a far more sublime inner joy that the person who in joys the best refreshments.
What does this mean for us in regards to the Nativity fast? It instructs to understand that by fasting we bring ourselves to an awareness of the life of Christ and how he sacrificed for us. Each time we resist a temptation to violate our fast we are brought back to the truth of our salvation.  We rmeber why we are doing it and this centers us and our current activity on Christ.  In this way we keep Christ in the center of our lives even in a hectic period like Advent.

Any fast must be done out of the love of God.  We do it to help us remember Him.
Elder Paisios amplifies this point.
If someone doesn't get to the point of doing something, whatever it is that he chooses to do, out of love for God and his fellow human beings, he is merely wasting his time and effort.  If he is fasting and has the prideful thought that he is doing something great, his fasting is wasted. He is like a vessel with holes that cannot hold any thing. Put water into a vessel with holes –– the water gradually drips away.
During this period let us not be like a vessel with holes, but let us seek to fortify ourselves with a fast that will help us keep our focus on the purpose of this season.

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual counsels IV: Family Life, pp194, 199