Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

12 November 2014. A View From the East… Spying on Santa (Luo Jie/China Daily)

00 Luo Jie. Spying on Santa. 2013

Spying on Santa

Luo Jie

2013

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Yeah… it’s almost American Christmas season… that is, from American Thanksgiving to Catholic Christmas on 25 December. Unlike trad Christians in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformation Churches, Anglo Americans have a holiday season that PRECEDES the holiday (I shit you not). There ain’t no “Twelve Days of Christmas”… there’s four weeks of utter commercialised madness starting with Black Friday (the Black Mass of this “holiday”)… then, Catholic Christmas… and all Anglo Americans collapse in a stupor, glad that the “holiday season” is over for another year. There’s not even a New Year’s celebration of any note! It’s not like the Russian holiday of New Year’s-Christmas-Epiphany… nineteen days of partying hearty and fun (including jumping in an ice hole on Epiphany… no lie, I’ve done it… don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). It has none of the hearty exuberance of “c’était un Noël au Québec” (grand-père has to come and give the family bénédiction for the coming year first)… NOBODY decorates for the season “comme le font les québécois” (must be that Caribou that they drink… half moonshine and half homemade wine). It isn’t the Sicilian midnight feast after Christmas Mass… nor is it the homely joy of an English Christmas Cake… it’s a deadening exercise… so much so that I wonder why they even engage in it.

Keep your wits about you and stay out of the malls from Black Thursday until Catholic Christmas. Then… CELEBRATE… feast, feast, feast, like real men and women and kids should. Pass me the roast beast, please… I WILL take seconds, if you will.

BMD

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Patriarch Irinej’s Christmas Epistle Emphasised Kosovo

00 Patriarch Irinej of Serbia. 09.01.14

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In his traditional Christmas epistle, Patriarch Irinej Gavrilović put special emphasis on the position of Serbs in Kosovo, saying that suffering and injustice persist there. He noted, “Unrest and violence rule in Kosovo and Metohija. For decades and centuries, they’ve robbed us of that province, of historical Old Serbia”. The patriarch wrote his message ahead of Christmas… celebrated by Serbia‘s majority Orthodox believers according to the Orthodox calendar, on 7 January. He said, “To our brothers and sisters in Kosovo and Metohija we say, ‘Be aware that you aren’t alone and forgotten, the entire Serbian nation and justice-loving people of the world are with you’”, calling on Kosovo Serbs to live in peace, harmony, and love, both with each other and with everyone else.

Patriarch Irinej also touched on the position of Serbs in former Yugoslav republics, noting that a campaign against the Cyrillic script is “used as a cover to continue the exile of Serbs from Croatia, to intimidate them, to prevent them from coming back”. He appealed to the Macedonian authorities to immediately release Archbishop Jovan Vraniškovski, head of the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ohrid of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who’s “unjustly held captive, his flock is denied freedom of faith and conscience”. He also urged the international community to prevent further discrimination. Vladyki Irinej also protested incessant “attacks of the authorities in Montenegro on the identity, status, and freedom of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and its attempts to interfere with its internal affairs and canonical structure”. In his epistle, the Patriarch wondered why the ideologues of the schismatic Montenegrin Orthodox Church don’t require a similar thing from Roman Catholics as well, to ask them to move their seat from the Vatican to Montenegro.

3 January 2014

B92

http://www.b92.net/eng/news/society.php?yyyy=2014&mm=01&dd=03&nav_id=88872

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Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić sez “We’ll Never Abandon Kosovo Serbs”

00 Tomislav Nikolić with Patriarch Irinej. 09.01.14

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Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić delivered Christmas greetings to Patriarch Irinej Gavrilović and to all Orthodox Serbs on Monday, Orthodox Christmas Eve. In his Christmas message, the Serbian president’s press service said that President Nikolić wished a most joyous Orthodox holiday in peace and happiness to all Serbian citizens and to all Orthodox believers, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, citizens of Serbia, Serbs in the diaspora, Christmas is a symbol of joy, unity, peace and gentleness. This is a holiday that brings together the family, sets up strong ties through the force of faith and love, and it brings together all Serbs”. The president wished a happy Christmas to Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, going on to say, “Rest assured, we’ll never abandon you, we’ll never turn you over”. He added that this was an obligation and legacy from our ancestors, who gave their lives selflessly in the fight for this spiritual and ideological symbol of the Serb people.

Then, he pointed up, “It’s unimportant that those who spent their whole existence dedicated to materialism, who seek to satisfy their spiritual hunger by amassing wealth, mock our spiritual striving. What matters is that we, who have our essence, origins, and spirituality, persevere on the road of righteously maintaining our identity, origins, and culture”. Nikolić emphasised that this made us who we are… “a brave and just people, special, and noble”. Then, he said, “I wish a merry Christmas to Serbs in the region and Serbs in the diaspora, who know how hard it is to live outside the mother country, and how hard it is to earn your daily bread and prove that you aren’t second-class citizens. Our thoughts and love are with you”, adding that although physically far apart, Serbs would stand together in love and unity on this most joyous Orthodox holiday, saying in conclusion, “Dear brothers and sisters, the challenges ahead are great, but unity is something we should all strive to achieve. We should overcome personal vanities and animosities, and work together because we share the same goal”.

6 January 2014

B92

http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics.php?yyyy=2014&mm=01&dd=06&nav_id=88892

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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

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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