Voices from Russia

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Orthodox Christians Celebrate Christmas in Saint Clair PA

russian orthodox bellringers


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


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Yes, It Was Orthodox Christmas Yesterday… A Multimedia Presentation

00d Orthodox Christmas 2013. Serbia. Badnjak. 12.01.13





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



01i Bagpipes serbian gaide






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



St Nicholas. Serbian. 1987





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


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Saturday, 29 December 2012

29 December 2012. IOCC Goes to the White House… Nothing Posted on oca.org Even Though One of the Participants Was From St Fagomir’s in Yonkers

00 IOCC Meeting in DC. 29.12.12

Image in original low resolution… note well that it wasn’t a largish affair… nonetheless, it occurred. It’s a pie in the face to the DC cabal of Rod Dreher, Victor Potapov, JP, and Mattingly… none of them were invited (or wanted). 


Read this. Read it? Good! Let’s get down to business here. There were NO OCA bishops present, although the new Greek carpetbagger ACROD bishop was at this Dixie Fry. OK, it didn’t happen at the White House; it happened at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. That’s the Greeks for you, always puffing things up a little more than they should be. However, this was a lovefeast between the EP (for the IOCC is a creature of the EP… there’s no such thing as a “pan-Orthodox” agency… that’s simply not true) and the present centrist Obama Administration. It shot the entire thesis of the more wild n’ woolly konvertsy all to hell. The only named OCA person at the event was from SVS… that means that if the OCA goes down, SVS will be traitors and jump to the EP, rather than to the Mother Church (does that mean that Dahulich and Moriak will do likewise, attempt to backstab us, and try to take their dioceses with them? Perspirin’ minds wanna know…).

One of the Cabinet whispered:

I wonder how the rightwing convert trash will spin this?

Indeed. They who laugh last, laugh best…


Thursday, 29 November 2012

29 November 2012. EP Names Relative Neophyte as Head of the ACROD… EP Invites NO OCA Hierarchs to Johnstown Installation


One of the Cabinet told me:

OCA was NOT invited… I thought, well, no OCA bishops were able to attend… and it’s a big mistake to have a Greek as their bishop. Why didn’t they choose a po-nashemu from the other side?

This must be particularly galling to Lyonyo & Co… you see, if Mollard had gotten an invite to the Johnstown shindig, even if it were to just sit amongst the people, it would’ve been a feather in Lyonyo’s cap and a boost to Mollard’s cred. Instead, the Greeks shit all over them and laughed.

The following higher clergy officiated at the service:

The following heterodox clergy were present:

The above list is the official list on acrod.org, click here for the original.

The above abortion was obviously a Greek production from stem to stern. They invited heretical Uniate imposters (who attack the Church in Zakarpatiya and Galicia)… but they put out the “Not Welcome” mat for faithful Russian Orthodox believers, clergy, and hierarchs (if Russian Orthodox people were invited, but refused because of the participation of Uniate quislings, they should have gone “public” with such a confession of faith). I’ll be blunt, they had the obligation to invite Bishop Melchisedek Pleska of Pittsburgh, Archbishop Yustinian Ovchinnikov, and a delegate from the ROCOR… but they didn’t. That’s how I know that the po-nashemu people didn’t put this Dixie Fry together or write these news releases. This fries my ice but good. If this is what the Greeks want… if they invite Uniate poseurs and kick real Orthodox in the face, I’ll not set foot in an EP parish. They’re telling me that I’m not welcome unless I kiss Bart’s and the Pope’s arse, and I won’t do either.

Another one of the Cabinet opined:

My guess is that [Tatsis] is a trusted “company man” and he’ll make sure that the Carpatho-Russians stay under Greek dominance.

I replied:

It means that the Greeks are SCARED shitless. Note well that the TV station that interviewed attendees at the liturgy in Johnstown talked to Greeks (including a so-called “Archon”), not real po-nashemu people. That’s a sign that the Greeks don’t trust their “little brown brothers” (I always get the impression that EP Greeks always look down their noses at everyone else).

If that ain’t all, I found the following in my “Alerts”:

Holy Journey: Bishop Gregory of Nyssa Follows God’s Path

Just about a decade ago, George Tatsis went on a mission trip to the wilds of Alaska. He watched Yup’ik Eskimos live simple but harsh lives, surviving on animals they harvested from the land and water. Tatsis admired the way the men and women practised an Orthodox faith, originally brought to them by Russian missionaries and hunters in the 1800s. There, amongst the natives, he once again felt a calling to join the priesthood that, for decades, he denied. Soon afterward, Tatsis entered Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2003. Now, only five years after officially becoming a priest in 2007, he’s the leader of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese of the USA with the name Bishop Gregory of Nyssa (sic!). On Tuesday, He was consecrated during a nearly four-hour ceremony at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Johnstown’s West End. His meteoric rise from student to bishop all started with the trip to Alaska.

The new bishop said in an interview after the ordination, “They were very pious people, humble people, and they have their little churches and their little villages. They’re very faithful. Just being around them, with the struggles that they have to maintain their faith (was very impressive to me) because it’s harsher… Alaska’s harsh… the environment’s harsh. … You have to fish and hunt to eat in those areas. I felt some kind of presence. It opened a new window, a new door if you would to consider the priesthood again. So, I took it. I went through the door”. Hundreds of well-wishers, including members of the Christ the Saviour flock, priests from across the country, and Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak, attended the ordination.

Philip Yamalis, an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the highest honour {it’s NO honour… you get it for fronting at least 10 Gs to Bart personally: editor} for a layperson in the church, said, “It’s pretty historical. It’s pretty awesome to be a witness of this type of event”. Tatsis, 53, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology. He previously spent 21 years in cardiovascular research at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte NC. Tatsis said, “I was called to the priesthood as a teenager. In my senior year of high school, I denied that calling, if you will, and decided to study to be a doctor. I went to undergraduate school. I tried to get into medical school three years and was denied. Then, I told myself, I think God doesn’t want you to be a doctor, maybe there’s something else. … When God wants you to be somewhere, he’s going to take you there. You may delay the plans because you think you know something better, but, in the end, he puts you where you’re supposed to be”.

27 November 2012

Dave Sutor

Johnstown (PA) Tribune-Democrat



BISHOP GREGORY OF NYSSA!?! That’s impious. There’s only ONE Gregory of Nyssa, and he’s a saint. That tells you right off the bat that this jabronie is either full of himself and deluded, or he’s a spineless weakling. I’ll say this… if he admired the Russian Orthodox Alaska Natives so… and they make it quite clear that they’re RUSSIAN Orthodox… why weren’t there any Russian Orthodox hierarchs at his consecration? Uniate imposters got invites, but believing Russian Orthodox clergy didn’t even get sloppy seconds. This is proof, even for the dullest amongst us, that Bart’s up to no good, and that he’s ready to sell out to the papists at the soonest opportunity. This is enough to make any decent person hurl in disgust. I always liked the po-nashemu people… why did you do this? Why did you turn away your brothers in Christ and why did you embrace those who hate Christ’s Church and wish to replace it with an “infallible” papal monarchy? This is too much, truly…

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Thursday 29 November 2012

Albany NY


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