Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

8 January 2014. Hey, Hey, It’s the Svyatki… You Shouldn’t Monkey Around…

00 Orthodox Christmas 2013. 07.01.13

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It’s the Svyatki! The time between Christmas and Epiphany, twelve days of sheer joy… no fasting for you (that’s from the Nativity Nazi… who whacks all tightarsed konvertsy with his ladle). Feast, feast, feast… do pass me the roast beast. All kidding aside, God blesses human gaiety… He created it, didn’t He? After all, He turned water into wine, not wine into water, and He made a righteously ass-kicking vintage when He did so. God is too important to leave to religious hobbyists and to political shysters. Cross yourself and smile… God made a good earth, full of good things, and its our duty to see that everybody gets their fair share (and greedsters like Rush and Sarah get the boot).

Христос рождається! Christ is born! Славите его! Glorify Him!

I apologise for the pun in the title… those of “a certain age” will catch it… forgive me, for I have sinned…

BMD

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Yes, It Was Orthodox Christmas Yesterday… A Multimedia Presentation

00d Orthodox Christmas 2013. Serbia. Badnjak. 12.01.13

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Typically, when they celebrate Christmas Eve, members of St Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in McKeesport PA gather outdoors for the traditional blessing of the badnjak. This year, due to the extreme cold, they held most of the ceremony indoors in the fellowship hall… as golden-robed acolytes brought in an oak branch with browned leaves… a symbol of hope in rebirth amid the dark of winter. Only the last part of the ceremony… the burning of the badnjak… took place in a fire pit outdoors. However, there was plenty of warmth indoors, physically and spiritually. Very Rev Stevan Rocknage of St Sava said, “Christ is born!” The worshippers crowded into the hall replied, “Indeed he is born!” Then, they repeated the phrases in Church Slavonic, “Mir Bozhi, Khistos se rodi!” “Vaistinu se rodi!” In beginning the evening’s festivities, Fr Stevan said, “Let’s get this show on the road”.

Whilst many Orthodox celebrate Christmas at the same time as Roman Catholics and Protestants, most Slavic Orthodox continue to follow the traditional Orthodox calendar based on the ancient Julian calendar, according to which today is Christmas Day. At St Sava, the priests and a small, but energetic, choir alternated with chants and hymns, some in English and others in Church Slavonic. Clergy blessed wheat, walnuts, and coins… auspicious symbols scattered in the straw on the floor for the children to pick up. Before the service, Mary Magdić said that she loves the annual Christmas gatherings, “You don’t get this everywhere”, pointing to the crowded room brimming with conversation and anticipation. Gary Trbovich agreed, saying of the congregation, “It’s a family. It doesn’t get any better than this”.

Fr Stevan said that the blessing of the badnjak, is a Christianised version of an ancient pagan custom symbolizing death and rebirth, noting, “It’s a way of showing Christ is the God of life”. Steve Kracinovsky, president of the parish board, said that many members are in inter-religious families and exchange gifts on the Western Christmas, they’re able to focus on the spiritual aspects of the holiday by marking the Nativity separately, saying, “There’s no rushing. All the gift-giving is over”. Fr Stevan added, “From the eve of Christmas on Monday through 12 days to Epiphany, which marks the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, we celebrate and try constantly to remind ourselves through our actions, this is why we’re celebrating”.

After the blessing of the badnjak, parishioners went upstairs to the sanctuary for Christmas Eve liturgy, beginning with a familiar tune, Silent Night in English and Church Slavonic. They also gather for liturgy on Christmas Day. Fr Stevan said that he sees parishioners seeking comfort and peace in spiritual things during times of economic and other struggles, observing, “What a wonderful thing for the birth of our Lord to come, because the world is in such turmoil. People flock to our parish just to get away from the craziness out there”. He said that it inspires people to do something about that craziness. For example, at a recent youth group meeting, he said that the young people resolved to bring gift packages to nursing homes and visit an Orthodox monastery to help spruce it up.

Similar observances took place at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Whitehall PA. The weather wasn’t ideal for an outdoor ceremony, but Very Rev Rajko Kosić, parish priest at the cathedral said, “You just have to do what you have to do. Even though Easter is the biggest holy day of all, Christmas is more joyous. When a child is born, everybody’s happy”.

6 January 2014

Peter Smith

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

http://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2014/01/07/Orthodox-celebrate-Christmas.html

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01i Bagpipes serbian gaide

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Perched in a sunny spot on Mim Bizić’s kitchen counter is a glass bowl that, at first glance, appears to be green grass growing from a bed of pebbles. However, the pebbles are grains of wheat that broke open to release shoots of new life… a metaphor for Jesus’ death and resurrection taken from the Gospel according to St John. This tiny garden of wheat is a psenica (SHEN-it-za, literally, “grain of wheat”), a Christmas tradition in the Serbian Orthodox Church, which occurs on 7 January according to the Orthodox Calendar. Traditionally, one plants the seeds in a bowl on 19 December, St Nicholas Day, and waters them after reciting the Our Father. Waiting for them to grow is a spiritual exercise.

Ms Bizić, who retired five years ago as a librarian in the Quaker Valley School District, said, “Isn’t it a fun way to pass the short, dark days waiting for the birth of Christ?” The green wheat is held tall and straight by a circlet of ribbon in the Serbian national colours of red, blue, and white. She said, “When you first put the wheat in, you wonder if it’ll grow. Then, you see it put out these little knots, and, then, the shoots. You can see it grow the next day and the next. It fills you with happiness”. Her home in Moon PA is fully decorated for Christmas, which she joked that she celebrates three times. There’s St Nicholas Day on 19 December, then, 25 December, for what she calls “American Christmas”, complete with presents. However, the holy day, and the day of the most treasured customs, is always 7 January.

She’s the granddaughter of Serbian immigrants who grew up on the South Side. She never felt odd for celebrating Christmas in January. Her German and Lithuanian friends enjoyed participating in the family celebrations with her. There was the Christmas tradition of lighting three candles… in honour of the Holy Trinity… whilst reciting the Our Father. There’s also a tradition of baking a coin into a special loaf of bread, which the family passed around the table as they sang a hymn. The coin brings luck to whoever finds it. Ms Bizić records these traditions and many more on her website, its name means “Grandma Mim”. It’s a virtual museum of Serbian culture, which her home has been for many years. Just inside the front door, visitors see a portrait of Karadjordje, who led the First Serbian Uprising of the Serbian Revolution against the Ottoman Turks. Every wall has icons, folk art, and family mementos. She passed all of this along to her son, Nick, who’s teaching it to his 3-year-old daughter, Jocelyn. Ms Bizić’s website includes a series of photographs in which she and Jocelyn prepared a psenica. Her son also spread the tradition to some of his Texas neighbours.

This year her parish, St Elijah Serbian Orthodox Church in Aliquippa PA, sold kits to make psenicas. They’ll send the proceeds to Kosovo to buy firewood. She said, “Even though we mightn’t make that much money selling the kits, we’re keeping the custom alive for harried families who mightn’t have the time to go shopping to a speciality store to buy loose wheat”. On Christmas, the psenica takes its place at the centre of the family table, where it’s part of all the family prayers and rituals. Afterwards, one gives it to the birds. Ms. Bizić said, “We bless ourselves and make a grand send-off. We say, ‘We thank you, psenica, for being with us and making us happy through this whole season of expectation'”.

7 January 2010

Ann Rodgers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

http://www.post-gazette.com/neighborhoods-west/2010/01/07/Moon-woman-keeps-Serbian-Orthodox-Christmas-customs-alive/stories/201001070297

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St Nicholas. Serbian. 1987

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This morning at St Nicholas Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Homestead PA, Fr Robert Buczak will celebrate Divine Liturgy, the choir will sing kolyadki, and everyone will eat an enormous feast. For his parish and Orthodox around the world, today is Christmas. Although many may think that Orthodox celebrate today because this is the day that the Magi, or three Wise Men, arrived to visit Jesus, Fr Robert said that it’s because it’s 25 December on the traditional Orthodox calendar. Most Orthodox follow the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar, the civil calendar in widespread use. Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582; eventually, it became the calendar used throughout the world. Some Orthodox adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1923 for fixed feasts. Those following the traditional calendar celebrate Christmas and other church holidays, except Easter, 13 days after Gregorian calendar dates. Fr Robert said, “So, it’s not that we believe [Jesus’ birth is] a different date. It’s the same date”.

Christmas for non-Orthodox Christians usually includes a church service, gifts, mangers, carols, and a large dinner. Orthodox Christmas includes all that, too, but with a few tweaks. Even though they celebrate Christmas and worship Christ, Orthodox don’t usually say, “Merry Christmas”. They prefer “Christ is born”. The Nativity scenes also differ. Like others, the Nativity displayed at St Nicholas shows the Holy Family, animals, a star, and a manger. However, it doesn’t have statues. This manger scene is an icon, a traditional painting. St Nicholas, like most Orthodox churches, has icons, not statues. The manger scene resembles others… Mary and Joseph crouch over a baby in swaddling clothes, whilst a donkey and ox look out from a cave. Then, Fr Robert asked, “Is Jesus’ face a baby’s face or a man’s face? Are his blankets swaddling clothes or a burial shroud? Is the cave a manger or a tomb? Icons tell stories”.

You can hear another difference in the music… the kolyadki sung a capella by the church choir during the Christmas Eve service aren’t the ones played on the radio. Fr Robert explained that Orthodox from Carpatho-Russia in Eastern Europe founded St Nick’s, so, the kolyadki, or Christmas songs, come from that area. He promised me, “[When the choir sings] you’ll feel like you’re in the kingdom of heaven”. Fr Robert said that the Orthodox celebration begins on Christmas Eve with a Holy Supper served “when the first star appears in the sky”. It includes twelve fasting dishes, including mushroom soup and bobalki… dough balls with kapusta. Families place straw under the table to represent the manger and always leave one chair empty for any stray guest. Fr Robert said, “So, there’s always room at the inn”. After supper, an evening church service is held, followed by a second service Christmas morning, and a second feast, this one including meat.

When does the gift giving start? It already happened… on 19 December. That, according to the Church calendar, was St Nick’s Day. Traditionally, families give gifts then, based on the legend of St Nicholas giving three women three purses filled with coins to help with their wedding dowry. The early gift giving leaves St Nick’s parishioners free to focus on the spiritual side of Christmas.

7 January 2010

Kate McCaffrey

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

http://www.post-gazette.com/local/south/2010/01/07/Today-is-Christmas-for-Orthodox/stories/2010010704560000000

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Church-Linked Printing House Produces Stalin Calendar

00 Stalin. 19.10.12

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Editor’s Note:

There’s been much kerfuffle about this… but there’s much less than meets the eye at a superficial glance. It’s NOT an official Church publication. A Church-owned publisher printed it… but the creator and distributor is an outside enterprise. In short, the Church didn’t publish this… but it’s causing it fits because some lower-level lamebrain allowed its printing at a Church-owned plant. No doubt, there was money involved… but this time, the scoundrel got “hoist by his own petard”. Watch for someone to hit the bricks… and soon.

BMD

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Raising eyebrows of Christians and Soviet loyalists alike, an MP-affiliated printing house produced a calendar of one of the Church’s worst oppressors. The calendar by Dostoinstvo (Dignity) publishing house offers a series of pictures of Soviet leader Iosif Stalin. The calendar comes complete with biographic snippets and Stalin’s nicknames, including Soso, Pockmarked, and Lord. According to the calendar’s masthead, the Patriarchal Publishing Centre of the Trinity-St Sergei Lavra printed it. On Tuesday, blogger Mikhail Babkin posted the first images of the calendar online. As of yet, the Church hasn’t commented on the issue. The Church set up the Patriarchal Publishing Centre; it’s at a famous monastery in Moscow Oblast, it handles many of the publishing activities of the MP. Dostoinstvo is a conservative publisher whose back catalogue comprises a motley mix of pro-Stalin and pro-Church publications. Last year, it offered a monthly calendar with pictures of Russian tsars, which, inexplicably, cost twice as much as a Stalin calendar… 400 Roubles (12 USD. 13 CAD. 13.50 AUD. 8.80 Euros. 7.40 UK Pounds) vs 200 Roubles (6 USD. 6.50 CAD. 6.75 AUD. 4.40 Euros. 3.70 UK Pounds). Stalin, who was an Orthodox seminarist in his youth, ordered hundreds of churches destroyed and OK’d widespread repressions of clergy.

8 January 2014

RIA-Novosti

http://en.ria.ru/russia/20140108/186339195/Church-Linked-Printing-House-Produces-Stalin-Calendar.html

 

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US Senate Narrowly Approves Debate on Controversial Jobless Aid Bill

00 Politics. Merry Christmas... There's No Room at the Inn. 02.01.13

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On Tuesday, the US Senate narrowly approved debate on a temporary extension of unemployment insurance benefits (UIBs) to over one million jobless Americans, giving some unexpected momentum in the new year to the Democrats and the Obama administration. The vote to approve debate was 60-37. With six Republicans and all present Democrats backing the move to begin formal debate on the bill, supporters reached the 60 votes required to advance it with no room to spare. The measure, sponsored by Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jack Reed (D-RI), would retroactively restore federal aid payments to about 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans that expired at the end of last year. Previously, that aid kicked in after state benefits expired, after about 26 weeks in most states.

Five Republicans joined Heller to support moving forward on the legislation… Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, and Rob Portman of Ohio. Those lawmakers… who said they want leaders to find a way to offset the cost of the federal benefits… mightn’t support final passage of the bill. However, their support Tuesday kept the legislation alive, despite last-minute doubts that the procedural vote would pass. Senator Harry Reid told reporters after the vote, “It was in the balance until the last minute”. If the final bill does pass the Senate, it’s not clear that the GOP-led House would take it up. House Republican leaders painted the current proposal as fiscally irresponsible. In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that any extension of the program must be paid for and contain House-backed job creation plans, saying, “One month ago, I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits shouldn’t only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work. To date, the president has offered no such plan”.

Senate opponents of the measure said that they never intended that the emergency aid programme, first enacted during the height of the economic recession, be permanent, and that spending cuts elsewhere in the budget should offset the aid. In a statement, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), said, “Spending 6.5 billion USD (216 billion Roubles. 7.03 billion CAD. 7.28 billion AUD. 4.8 billion Euros. 4 billion UK Pounds) in three months without trying to find ways to pay for it or improve the underlying policy is irresponsible and takes us in the wrong direction”. Earlier Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed paying for the insurance extension by delaying a key mandate in the president’s health care law, a major Republican aim, and a clear non-starter with Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Reid immediately rejected that proposal as a mere “guise to obstruct”.

Outside rightwing groups like the political arm of the Heritage Foundation and the anti-tax Club for Growth had also urged a “no” vote on Monday’s procedural measure, calling the extension proposal fiscally irresponsible. Supporters… including the White House… argued that the abrupt end to the benefits on 28 December plunged long-term jobless into further desperation and would hurt the American economy if it’s not reversed by a retroactive extension. Senator Reid said, “This investment in our fellow Americans is one of the most effective ways to spark and sustain an economic recovery”. He accused Republicans who opposed the legislation of “callously turned their backs on the long-term unemployed”. US President Obama planned to speak about the unemployment insurance extension shortly after the Senate vote. He’s sure to paint the GOP as out of touch with Americans concerned about income inequality and the plight of the working poor, issues that Democrats believe would mobilise their political base in 2014 and beyond.

7 January 2014

Voice of Russia World Service

http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_01_07/US-Senate-narrowly-votes-to-advance-controversial-jobless-aid-bill-0634/

Editor’s Note:

There are three simple things that the Congress can do to get the money to fund UIB extensions:

  • Abolish the Bush tax cuts for all those making over 1 million USD (33.2 million Roubles. 1.08 million CAD. 1.12 million AUD. 736,000 Euros. 610,000 UK Pounds) a year from whatever source (earned, corporate, or capital gains)
  • Tax capital gains at the same rate as earned income
  • Remove the cap on FICA taxes (and extend them to capital gains earnings)

This won’t happen. The Republican Party has become the willing running dog of the rich… the so-called “conservative” movement is just a bunch of political hacks in the pay of the American oligarchs (through campaign contributions unleashed by the immoral and basically-illegal Citizens United decision… corporations AREN’T people, and anyone who says such is a loon). In short, the GOP has become a criminal organisation in objective terms… as it advocates policies that were illegal prior to 1980. Those regulations and laws were in place to prevent another Great Depression. What was the result of this Republican slide into criminality? The Great Recession, that’s what. Note well that the rich REFUSE to help those hurt by their rapacious policies. Indeed, they want to stamp on those hurt by their greed even more. Such policies are evil… and no Christian or decent person can support them, and it doesn’t matter how “pro-life” the Republican Party is. The GOP’s pro-life stance is hypocritical and empty… their intent to protect the rich and stamp on the poor to do so is all too real and all too heartfelt.

Orthodox people should watch the Unholy Trinity… Bilirakis, Issa, and Amash… watch ‘em all vote against UIB extension in the House. None call it evil, none call it satanic, none call it godless… but it is, and in spades. It’s time for REAL Orthodox Christians to oppose these jerks and their konvertsy supporters. Don’t forget that Orthodox people were in the forefront of the labour movement. Some of us haven’t forgotten that (and I’m not alone… the Obama bumper stickers outnumbered the GOP ones by a huge margin at St T’s on Memorial Day)…

BMD

 

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