Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Christmas Eve Brings Joy and Hope for Better Days


On Tuesday, when Orthodox Christians all across the globe mark Christmas Eve, we talked to noted Russian guitarist Vitaly Kys and folklore singer Grunya. Last year, the couple brilliantly represented the Voice of Russia during the Eurofolk international music festival, which was held under the aegis of the European Broadcasting Union in Moscow.

The musicians kindly agreed to perform several Christmas folk songs from their new disc, released late last year. Now, Viktor Kys elaborated on what is Christmas personally for him. “Any church holiday, not least Christmas, brings me a deep and ever-lasting joy, something that fills my soul with emotions. These emotions are very important for everyone”, he said, emphasising that folklore is a major spiritual value that enriches a person’s soul.

The outgoing Year of Family in Russia saw the couple successfully fulfil both creative and personal plans with Vitaly and Grunya notably being busy with the upbringing of their three children. Today, this deeply-Orthodox family is marking what Grunya called a significant day for all Orthodox Christians.

She said, “Each year, we look forward to Christmas Eve, which coincides with the end of a protracted church fast, a rite that teaches people to love, forgive, and remain humble. Upon returning from church, typically, we start preparing special Christmas food, kutiya, or cooked grain and honey mix. Thanks to the holiday, we are in high spirits and full of optimism, which is especially important now that the unfolding economic gloom tarnished the New Year with turmoil.

Nowadays, many people prefer to greet Christmas near the TV screen. In contrast, in my childhood, I and my friends performed Christmas carols for their neighbours in their apartment house. Clad in traditional folk costumes, we knocked on each door and wished people ‘Merry Christmas’ from the bottom of our hearts. At first, the neighbours were naturally surprised to see us, only to heap praise on our performance in the end, traditionally presenting us with candies and other Christmas gifts. I am happy and proud by the realisation of the fact that I am able to sing songs that praise my motherland”.

6 January 2009

Tatiana Karpekina

Voice of Russia World Service


Editor’s Note:

Grunya is Russian and she speaks of singing traditional kolyadki. Unfortunately, some Ukrainian nationalists have spread the lie that these songs only exist in the Ukraine. That is sad, isn’t it, that a group so hates all other people that they cannot see when their neighbours do the exact same thing that they do? Reflect on the fact that the haters have the ear of Washington…



Grunya in Concert.

Filed under: cultural,music,performing arts,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

If I posted about Grunya and her fusion ethno-folk group above, don’t you want to hear her sing? You won’t be sorry you stopped to listen…

Prime Minister Putin Arrived In Petrozavodsk to Take Part in Christmas Worship


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (1952- ). Christ is Born, Vova! Glorify Him!

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in Petrozavodsk, where he will attend Christmas Divine Liturgy. He will attend services for the feast at the Church of the Entrance of the Lord into the Temple, one of the oldest Orthodox churches of the city. The church is located in the village of Solomennoe, on the shores of the strait that connects Lakes Onega and Logm. This was considered a sacred place since ancient times, the church stands on a monolithic stone, not having a single crack, towering over the lake and the surrounding buildings.

In the old days, there was a monastery situated here. The monastery was established long before the founding of Petrozavodsk, at the time of Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich (between 1585 and 1595), by Elder Kassian, a disciple of St Aleksandr of Svir. It caught the attention of Tsar Pyotr Veliki. According to legend, the tsar gave chairs for the altar as gifts to the church named for his heavenly patron. Supposedly, he made these chairs with his own hands. Following the closure of the monastery in 1764, next to the Church of Ss Peter and Paul, the Chapel of the Entrance of the Lord began building a new edifice, which was completed in 1780 through the efforts of Ilya Kononov, a merchant from St Petersburg. It had two side altars, one on the south side in honour of the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God, and another on the north side dedicated to the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Ss Constantine and Helen.

During the Soviet period, the parish church of Solomennoe did not avoid the sad fate of most Russian churches. In 1931, the Church of the Entrance was closed, its crosses were stripped off, and the dome was destroyed. The church was first used as a warehouse, and, then, it underwent renovation for use as a school and dormitory. By the 1980s and 90s, a gym and shop were located in the building. In 1996, the Church of the Entrance was returned to the Orthodox Church, but, the architectural image of the original church building had disappeared. At that time, the church was an ugly two-story building, mutilated by modifications, deprived of its domes, bell towers, and high arched windows. On 24 November 1996, Bishop Manuil of Petrozavodsk and Karelia served a molieben and a Blessing of Water at the beginning of reconstruction. The restored Church of the Entrance is noted for a unique interior decoration, a three-tiered handcarved iconostas executed by Palekh master-craftsmen.

7 January 2009



Christmas Eve: Traditions and Recipes


Suvorov Waited for the Star!

Remember how, a few years ago, there appeared regularly on television pictures of a noisy feast? Glasses rang and the utensils sparkled… Only one person was silent, and had nothing to eat. It was the renowned Russian general Aleksandr Vasilyevich Suvorov. He thus separated himself from the crowd of merrymakers, which was noted by the Tsaritsa herself. “Indeed, I must fast until the first star appears, dear Mother”, the generalissimo quietly explained. Of course, after a broad gesture of approval from Tsaritsa Yekaterina, he raised his glass. But, in fact, this party took place on Christmas Eve, a day of the strictest fasting before the feast of Christmas. Why did Suvorov believe it necessary to behave thusly on this day?

The Strictest Day of the Christmas Lent

The preparation for Christmas begins with the forty days of the Christmas Lent. The last day before the holiday is called sochelnik (from the word sochivo, a special dish of sweet beans), and, on this day, the Church prescribes a strict fast before the evening services (of course, this applies only to those who are able to do this without harming their health). By tradition, the meal can only begin after the appearance of the first star, in memory of the Star of Bethlehem, which announced to the shepherds the birth of Christ.

The letter of the Church typikon does not mention this tradition, but, it is expected that worshippers shall carry a lit candle to the service. The clergy and the faithful sing the tropar of the feast of the Nativity of Christ with lighted candles in their hands. Nowadays, the service takes place in the morning, so, you can eat non-Lenten food at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

“On Christmas Eve, before Christmas Day, it so happened that they did not eat until the first star appeared”, wrote the Russian émigré writer Ivan S. Shmelev in his novel, Leto Gospodne (The Summer of God). “Kutia made with boiled wheat and honey; vzvar made from prunes, pears, and raisins… the image was placed over a pile of hay. Why? It was as if it were a gift to Christ. Well… if He lay in the manger, it should lie in a manger. Sometimes, waiting for the stars, you polished all the glasses… the first star appeared, and, then, another… then, the light bursts forth from the black backdrop of the sky, it shimmers. What a star it was! Hazy, yet alive, struggling, it caught the eyes. In the frozen air, amongst the large stars, different lights shone out… crystal blue, deep blue, and green, all of them, shooting out at you. Then, you heard the ringing of the bells. It was if the stars themselves were ringing as the bells! Frosty and resonant, as pure as silver… In the Kremlin, they struck the ancient bells, by degrees, it seemed so muffled. The bells were as taut as silver, but, also, as smooth as velvet. It seemed as though they all began to sing out; the bells in a thousand church belfries began to play. You shall not hear the like today… no. Not at Easter, it doesn’t sound like that, and that first ring spreads, singing with a silver song, seemingly without a beginning or an end… boom… boom…”

In the ancient church, the Divine Liturgy, the foremost church service, at which bread and wine is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, at Christmas Eve, was served at night. One ought not to eat or drink before receiving the Holy Eucharist; so, there is a pious tradition not to eat anything on the day preceding the service, starting at the hour that the liturgy is supposed to end the next day. Following this rule, the custom arose not to eat until the first star appeared in the sky, although the service is now done in the morning.

How Do You Prepare Sochivo?

Sochivo is made from boiled wheat (or kutia), peas, rice, pearl barley, refined honey, poppy-seeds, dressed with hemp, sunflower, or other vegetable oils suitable for a Lenten meal. The wheat was a symbol of life coming back after the winter, and the honey or other sweet ingredients symbolised sweetness and blessedness in one’s future. However, the Lent has not yet ended, the solemn holiday liturgy is yet to come, so, the Christmas goose, kholodtsy, and kolbasi will come later, on Christmas Day, and during the Svyatki (Holy Days) that lead up to Epiphany.

But, How Does One Prepare Oneself?

The last five days of the Christmas Lent are entirely devoted to preparing for the holiday. One notices that the services appointed for these days are similar to the preparatory services of Passion Week. It helps us to remember not only the external and merciful aspects of the holiday, such as home decorations, gifts, and the oxen and donkeys in the crèche in the nursery watching over the baby Jesus, but, also, that for which Christ came into the world: the Incarnation of God, perhaps, for Him, it was not less a cross than the cross on Golgotha. However, gradually, this sober mood becomes replaced by one of happiness and rejoicing. If, previously, the texts for the Church services indicated the condescension of the mystery of God coming to earth, now, they speak about the terrestrial consequences of this event, both touching and surprising.

Already, in the service of Christmas Eve, we read many passages from the Gospel that narrate the birth of Christ. These are like the rays of light penetrating from the bright day of the feast. We read the prophecies about the coming of Christ from the Old Testament. Precisely, on this day, we hear in the church, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… for the first time, we sing the first hymns glorifying the holiday, so, we are able to take home expectation and calm happiness.

6 January 2009



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