This Nativity has presented us with some interesting challenges. Among them, keeping our toddler away from the Christmas tree, figuring out how to start the tradition of St. Nicholas and, most importantly (and relevant to this blog post) what it means to be Orthodox during the holiday season. Like most converts, I think, we assumed that Nativity would mean fasting and going to lots of services. A few weeks into it, we are coming to understand the less glamorous reality. Namely, we can't fast and we make it to up to the monastery maybe twice a week.
I know that fasting with two small children, one of them nursing, would be against the teachings of the church, but there's a part of me that still feels like we're missing an important part of "being Orthodox" by not doing it. This feeling is compounded by the fact that I've been losing weight since my pregnancy, losing too much in fact, and so not only am I not fasting, but doing rather the opposite: lots of full fat dairy products, rich oils, meats, etc. This is the first year that I've really been aware of the Nativity fast and shown any inclination to join in, and yet I am completely and utterly unable to do so.
Going to services has been difficult as well. When we first moved here, we thought being only a few miles from the monastery that we'd be going up multiple times a day. Matins, vespers, vigil, liturgy; they'd have to lock the doors to keep us out; only feet of snow would keep us away. Perhaps such hopes were the naivete of new converts mixed with that of young parents (a nasty double whammy, that). Needless to say, we make it up to vespers maybe once a week ("we" usually being Peter getting the toddler out of the house so I can breathe for a while and make dinner). Services are difficult for us to attend all together. When one daughter is content, the other one wants to run up the stairs into the altar. When she's finally contented with crayons or a book, the other declares (louder every week) that she's wet and hungry. Usually, these disturbances occur during a reading, or the sermon, or (worst of all) during one of the times of silence which follow the sermon and the Eucharist. We don't feel pressure from the parishioners or the monastics to keep the girls quiet, but it's awfully hard to thoughtfully consider the sermon when trying to calm a screaming baby or wrestle a headstrong toddler.
The further we go in this adventure of ours, however, I'm learning how to use all of these things to grow closer to Christ and becoming more like Him. I hope in this season of life we can learn these important lessons: that fasting isn't the point, and neither is going to church.