Does our Orthodox Nativity Fast acutally correspond to the Advent Season of the Western Church? I used to think that it did, until I had an OCA priest I met at St. Tikhon's monastery challenge my thinking on that. This priest, whom I'll call Father X, who had also been raised in a liturgical Western Church like I was, certainly did NOT condemn or demonize the Western liturgical season of Advent. I want to make that point very clear. This was NOT a case of "the West is bad, the East is good here." However, he did point out to me that attempts to match up the Orthodox Nativity Fast to the Advent Season of the Western Church are somewhat contrived at best. When I consult the liturgical readings for the Sunday Liturgy after Nov. 15, I don't note any changes. The Gospel readings continue out of St. Luke and the Epistle readings continue out of Ephesians. I don't see any "Advent" theme there. Even the names of the Sundays don't have any "Advent" theme. For example, Sunday Dec. 7th this year is called "23rd Sunday after Pentecost, and Dec. 14th is the "24th Sunday after Pentecost. That's what is referred to in the RCC as "Ordinary Time." I only see TWO Sundays of real preparation in the "Orthodox Advent": namely, the two Sundays before Christmas: the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, and the Sunday of the Holy Ancestors of Christ. I am starting to wonder if we Orthodox should call the Nativity Fast "Advent" at all. It seems to me that in the Western Church, the emphasis in Advent historically has been on Christ's Second Coming, not His Incarnation. If you read the Collects for the Four Sundays in Advent this becomes especially clear. In the Lutheran Church of my youth we prayed on the First Sunday in Advent:
"Stir up Thy power of Lord, and come, that we may be saved from the threatening peril of our sins and saved by Thy mighty deliverance ..."
Our Advent hymnody was full of language about the Bridegroom coming for His bride:
"Come forth, ye virgins, night is past!
The Bridegroom comes, awake!
Your lamps with gladness take!
And for His marriage feast prepare,
For ye must go to meet Him there."
It seems to me that our Orthodox tradition places this emphasis on the Second Coming and on Christ the Bridegroom in the Services of Holy Week, not in the weeks preceding our Lord's Nativity. At Bridegroom Matins of Holy Week we sing:
"Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He findeth watching ...."
Perhaps this is too nuanced an argument, but on the whole I don't see that the Western season of Advent with its four Sundays and very thematic emphasis on the Second Coming corresponds to anything we have in the Orthodox East with our 6 week Nativity Fast that is hardly thematic at all (except for the last two weeks) and gradually introduces the theme of the Incarnation and God being born in the flesh, not so much through Scripture readings, but through hymns.