Voices from Russia

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Orthodox Christians Celebrate Christmas in Saint Clair PA

russian orthodox bellringers

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On Wednesday, it was a white Christmas for those who celebrated the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ at St Michael the Archangel Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church in Saint Clair PA. The snow that fell on Christmas Eve provided a beautiful scene for the actual holy day. Families and individuals came to the church in the morning with the temperature at about 15 degrees and snow blowing from roofs and along streets. About 70 people who attended the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom on Orthodox Christmas; they wouldn’t have missed it for cold weather or snow to be part of celebrating the birthday of Jesus. Whilst Christmas is 25 December according to the Gregorian calendar, St Michael parish, which follows the Julian calendar, celebrates the holy day on 7 January. The church is part of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA.

One could hear “Merry Christmas” from time to time, but many people gave the traditional Orthodox greeting of “Christ is born!” or “Christos Razhdayetsya!”, with a joyful response of “Glorify Him!” or “Slavite Yego!” Members of the St Michael Choir led by dirigent Barbara Verbitsky sang hymns in English and Rusin before the Divine Liturgy. The choir also chanted many of the responses throughout the liturgy, which they sung “a cappella”, without musical instruments. Fr Jeff L Zias, pastor, celebrated the Divine Liturgy. At the start of the liturgy, Zias incensed the ikonostas, or icon screen, then, walked down the centre aisle, incensing the congregation. At the back of the nave, he incensed the icons of Christ Pankrator, Mary the Godbearer, and St Michael the Archangel, the patron of the parish.

According to Orthodox teaching, the birth of Jesus is of tremendous importance to eternal salvation, because through his birth, God gave us the food of life eternal, which is his body and blood under the forms of bread and wine in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. They give very little importance to the exchange of gifts or to any commercial thought. Orthodox Christians rejoice on Christmas Day because Christ is in their midst, a newborn child with outstretched arms begs for his love, and he returns this love in his God, his neighbour, his family, and to his country.

After the Epistle reading from the Epistle of St Paul to the Galatians 4.4-7 and the Gospel reading from Matthew 2.1-12, Fr Jeff gave a sermon, which was the Archpastoral Letter for the Nativity by Bishop Gregory of Nyssa, Primate of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ was incarnated from the Virgin Mary for us humans and for our salvation. This salvation is boundless and is offered to us on a daily basis. As we continue to face difficult times and circumstances in the whole world and in our personal lives, let us embrace with our whole hearts the happiness that the Lord offers us at this special Nativity season. Let us love Him as our Saviour and let us love our neighbours as our brothers and sisters. With Jesus Christ in our hearts, the difficulties and troubles, no matter how great, do not have the power to disappoint us because He fills us overwhelming with joy. When we are tested by temptations and encounter sadness in our lives, let us remember that these trials merely make us stronger and more faithful. Let us always remember that God never abandons us. Today, God is revealed to us as a small child in the manger. This child may look weak and fragile, but it has enough love to cure each and every one of us of all our ills. Let us invite this child into our lives in order to transform our entire existence. May all of us, priests, panis, deacons, subdeacons, readers, parish officers, parishioners, friends and supporters of the God-protected American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, experience the joy and wonders of the shepherds and the awe and respect of the three wise men at the arrival of the Messiah, our new born King. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!”

8 January 2915

John E Usalis

Pottsville (PA) Republican Herald

http://republicanherald.com/news/orthodox-christians-celebrate-christmas-1.1814119

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