Voices from Russia

Monday, 5 January 2015

Holiday Celebrations for Churches Using the Traditional Orthodox Calendar

st john russian orthodox church mayfield pa

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When Joanne Lutz was a little girl, she celebrated Christmas with her next-door Polish Catholic grandmother, and nearly two weeks later, again with her Russian Orthodox grandmother. She said, “I had two Christmases from the time I was born”. Now 67, the Scott Township woman attended Sunday services at St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Mayfield PA with her daughter and pigtailed toddler granddaughter. Like her Russian “baba”, she’ll celebrate Christmas with her family 13 days after 25 December… this Wednesday, 7 January.

The Russian Orthodox Church adheres to the older Julian Calendar, as opposed to the newer Gregorian Calendar, which most of the western world follows. Introduced by the Roman Empire during the reign of Julius Caesar, the Gregorian Calendar mostly replaced it in the 16th century Gregorian calendar due to its perceived imperfections, leading to the 13-day difference. Therefore, the service at St John’s on Sunday was a pre-Christmas service… a celebration of the direct earthly ancestors of Jesus Christ in preparation for his birth… rather than a post-Christmas one. The bishop of the diocese, Nicholas of Manhattan, oversaw the Sunday service, called a liturgy, bringing with him an ancient icon cut out of a tree in Russia in the 13th century. The bishop told the congregation that believers took away the wooden icon, which has the faces of the Virgin Mary, the baby Jesus and others on it, appeared, from Russia after the revolution in 1920.

In a phone interview earlier in the week, Fr John Sorochka, the pastor of St John’s, explained that members of the Russian Orthodox Church prepare for Christmas Day on 7 January with a 40-day fast. On the night of Christmas Eve, the final day of the fast, the people celebrate with a Lenten meal of 12 meat-and-dairy-less dishes, to represent Jesus’s disciples. He also told us that people often place handfuls of hay under the table to represent the poverty Jesus was born into.

Straw plays an important part of tradition and celebration of Christmas at St George Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Taylor PA as well. Kyra Leasure, the daughter of the church’s pastor and a caroller herself, told us that on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, members of the church, which also follows the traditional calendar, but unlike the Russian Church falls under the Greek Orthodox Church, go carolling. Dressed in costumes to represent the shepherds who witnessed Jesus’s birth and wearing baggy pants stuffed with straw, the faux shepherds visit homes of other church parishioners. Once there, they sing carols in the ancient Slavonic language, act out the nativity and leave a bit of the metaphorical hay.

Fr John told us that other area Eastern Orthodox parishes that celebrate on the Julian Calendar include St Basil in Simpson PA, St Stephen in Old Forge PA, Ss Peter and Paul in Scranton PA, and St Mary in Dickson City PA. The North Pocono Cultural Society will celebrate Russian Christmas on Wednesday in Moscow PA with its fourth annual art and cultural event. Participating businesses on Main, Van Brunt, and Church Streets will feature locally made art, jewellery, and ethnic food from 16.00 to 18.00.

5 January 2015

Peter Cameron

Scranton (PA) Times-Tribune

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/holiday-celebrations-for-churches-on-julian-calendar-1.1812532

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