In the evening of Christmas Eve a log cut from a tree, the Yule log (badnjak), is placed on the fire. This young tree, usually oak, symbolizes Christ and his entry into the world. Burning of the Yule log presents the warmth of Christ's love. Then, Christmas Eve is a reminder of the tree that the shepherds brought into the cave and which the righteous Joseph burn to warm the just born God-child in the cold cave.
A Dedicated Servant of God
More than 1,600 years ago, in the year 270 AD, St. Nicholas was born not far from Myra, in a land that is now part of the country of Turkey. In those days Orthodox Christians were persecuted for their faith. It wasn't easy to be a Christian. Many of them were tortured and executed because they believed in Christ.
Nicholas was taught by his parents to love the Lord with his whole mind, heart, soul, and with ail his strength. When they died he inherited their money. He used this to help the poor, the hungry, and the sick. Whenever he helped anyone he did it secretly, so that only God would know, He did not want praise from people; he wanted his reward to be only in Heaven.
The establishment of the Nativity Fast, as well as other multi-day fasts relates to the ancient times of Christianity. But already from IV century St. Ambrosius of Milan, Philistrius and St. Augustin mention the Nativity Fast in their works. In V century Leo the Great wrote about the Nativity Fast . At first the Nativity Fast lasted seven days for Christians, and for the others - a bit longer. At the Council of 1166 when was held in the time of the Constantinople Patriarch Luke and Byzantine emperor Manuel a forty-day fast was ordered to be observed by all Christians before the great feast of the Nativity of Christ.
The life of each Orthodox Christian should be ascetic. Without our spiritual and physical effort, aided by the grace of the God, it is impossible to free of a power of sin and to unite with the Lord. That is why Fasting in the Orthodox spirituality holds a very important place and without it there is no progress in any Christian virtue. In the distant past, the concept of fasting included the complete abstinence from any food, and later took on the meaning of abstaining from one type of food called "fatty", ie. the one that contains animal fat, but at certain times and food that is prepared on vegetable fat. A special kind of fasting is "dry eating" which means using of non-cooked, dry fasting food.
St. Stephen of Decani was born as the eldest son of the saintly King Milutin (Stephen Uros II) and his wife Elizabeth, a Hungarian princess. Living at the court of his parents, the heir-apparent received a good education, his mind exercised by study of the language and writings of his people, and his heart strengthened by study of the Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Orthodox Faith.
The good fruit of his upbringing proved itself when King Milutin was forced to send him as hostage to the Tartar chief Nogyi. In spite of the potential dangers, Stephen was obedient to his father's will and did not resist, trusting his life to the Lord. And his hope was not in vain. He eventually made friends with one of the Tartar nobles, who succeeded in assisting his safe return home.