Friday, 06 November 2015, 19:19

Praise be Jesus Christ!

Depending on which calendar is designated for your parish, you need to circle one of two dates: Gregorian calendar folks need to circle November 14th, while the Julian calendar folks get to wait thirteen days, focusing rather on the 27th. In either case, the red-letter day marks a double commemoration: on the one hand, it is the feast of the Apostle Philip; on the other hand, that date marks the beginning of the pre-Christmas fast, thus appropriately referred to as the Philip's Fast. Some of you, especially those born before the Second Vatican Council, may not have grown up with this tradition; nevertheless, faithful to Vatican II which called us to return to our genuine tradition, we bishops seek to recover this richness, and we urge all our people to embrace it.

If all are to do this, we need first to understand what the Philip's Fast is. In fact, it is one of four periods of fast which precede four great feasts of our liturgical calendar. Like the Great Fast which precedes the Great Paschal Feast of Easter, the Philip's Fast lasts forty days; other, shorter fasts precede the feasts of SS. Peter and Paul (June 29th / July 12th) and the Dormition of the Mother of God (August 15th / 28th). The idea behind all these fasts is simple: they are times of spiritual preparation for the feasts which they precede. In a sense, it is the spiritual equivalent of what wise people likely do before Thanksgiving Dinner: they limit their food intake in the hours and days beforehand so as to take full advantage of the rich abundance of the feast itself; our four fasts are similar.

Obviously, this fast has a dietary component which is not an end in itself, but rather could serve as a meditation for everyone, especially for Ukrainians. After all, is it not during the month of November that we generally commemorate the Holodomor when millions of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine starved to death? An experience of hunger might make us more appreciative of the overabundance which is available to us in the United States, a wealth which both the fast and Thanksgiving Day seek to prevent us from taking for granted; they might even inspire us to take positive steps to alleviate the hunger which is visible all around us.

As we move toward Christmas, we think of the Holy Family and their own preparations. They were homeless, wandering through Bethlehem seeking a place for the birth of the One Who would later remark that “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58). Their age-old story is reflected in tragedies which sometimes make the headlines but which, alas, often do not: refugees from war-torn Ukraine have been joined by others from Syria, from the Fertile Crescent, and from Africa; their numbers are swelled by many in our own hemisphere fleeing grinding poverty and hopelessness. It is due to the welcome once offered to such as these that the words of Emma Lazarus now grace the Statue of Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teaming shores”. In our own day, urban professionals step over the homeless whose makeshift beds block their way, while shelters and food banks struggle to care for misfits in a relentlessly consumer-driven society. As Christmas parties all around us merrily entice us to forget our problems and theirs, the Philip's Fast urges us rather to follow the example of Pope Francis, paying attention and tending to those seeds which God has planted in our consciences, urging us to follow the example of the Samaritan who, unlike the ostensibly righteous, proved himself truly to be the neighbor of the wounded man lying by the side of the road.

Obviously, the dietary considerations are not the only ones which the Philip's Fast places before us. In making our daily food and drink more sparing, we might also consider what other daily habits we would do well to discontinue. Indifference should certainly be high on the list. We each have our own list; may the Philip's Fast encourage us to take our own spiritual inventory!

As we prepare to celebrate the first coming of Christ at His birth in Bethlehem, we would do well likewise to prepare for His Second Coming at the end of the world. In this regard, St. Luke poses an unsettling question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (18: 8). Before giving too hasty an affirmative answer, we would do well to reflect on the words of the Apostle St. James: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (2:14).

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2: 14-20). Jesus Himself answers those who need to be shown: “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25:45). May these words serve as an examination of conscience for all of us!

We prepare for the Christ who comes as light for our darkness, as warmth for our winter. During this season of hopeful preparation, may we learn how better to become the instruments of the Divine Love which our world so desperately needs.

+Stefan Soroka

Archbishop of Philadelphia for Ukrainians

Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States


+Richard Seminack (author)

Eparch of St. Nicholas in Chicago


+Paul Chomnycky, OSBM

Eparch of Stamford


+ Bohdan Danylo

Eparch of St. Josaphat in Parma


+John Bura

Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia




November, 2015