Forty days is a biblical number of preparation and waiting, and as of today, Christmas is 40 days away! So, Christians in the Byzantine tradition begin today a 40-day fasting period in preparation for the Birth of Our Lord.
Here is a beautiful image to keep in mind during this time of waiting, captured in this quote of St. John Vianney, as well as in the words of many other saints of East and West: “My children, you have a little heart, but prayer enlarges it and makes it capable of loving God." Our hearts are our spiritual womb, and just as a child expands a mother's womb as he or she is growing, God expands our hearts by His presence within us. He makes us capable of loving Him and others.
The icon to the right is called the Platytera icon ("More spacious than the heavens"). It depicts Jesus in the womb of Mary, and her hands are outstretched in prayer. During these 40 days, we can recall the immense intimacy she had with Jesus growing in her womb. We can ask her to help us to grow in this same intimacy through prayer, as we empty ourselves through fasting and allow Jesus to enter into us and expand us.
We are praying for you during this time of preparation and expectation!