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Churches share Orthodox tradition

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.yournorwin.com/norwinstar/article/churches-share-orthodox-tradition Churches share Orthodox tradition Photo by Lillian DeDomenic by Dona Dreeland
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2012
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      Churches share Orthodox tradition

      Photo by Lillian DeDomenic

      by Dona Dreeland Staff Writer
      January 5, 2012

      If Eastern Orthodox Christmas customs seem very "Old Country," it's
      because they are.

      The Ukrainians, Serbians and Carpatho-Rusyns, for example, created their
      at-home rituals in little villages long ago. They celebrated simply in
      their own languages but with deep significance. Each custom was informed
      by their Orthodox faith.

      Some share traditions, such as refraining from eating meat, dairy
      products and eggs for 40 days before Christmas and including garlic and
      honey in the Christmas Eve meal to symbolize the bitterness and
      sweetness in life

      Other Christians mark their Christmas celebrations on Dec. 25, according
      to the Gregorian calendar, which was created by Pope Gregory XIII in
      1582, centuries after the western and eastern churches separated in 1054.

      Serbian Orthodoxy

      Customs are the complement to the real meaning of Christmas for the Rev.
      Dragoljub C. Malich, pastor of St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church in

      "The focus is on Christ and the Christian faith for salvation and
      worship," he said.

      Malich again will lead the Christmas liturgies, as he has during his 42
      years of ministry at the church.

      On Christmas Eve, customs bring families together at a table filled with
      many foods that are free of meat, dairy products and eggs.

      "There is a variety of tastes of everything," Malich said. "Even
      children have a taste of garlic."

      It is a busy time.

      "On Christmas Eve," Malich said, "there is no sitting down with all the

      Families with fireplaces burn an oak Yule log, symbolizing "the scent
      and warmth of God's love for the people," he said.

      Straw is spread on the floor and covered by a sheet. Because straw
      nestled the baby Jesus in the manger, the Orthodox honor its use.

      Malich described the good conversations at past gatherings, "the hot
      toddies of diluted, sweetened brandy; nuts and fruits; carols and prayers."

      Later, in church, Bible readings, special hymns and a special sermon
      spark "a radiant atmosphere," Malich said.

      "It's like everyone was given a shot of spirit, happiness, gladness and

      All of this solemn and jubilant celebration comes after "six weeks of
      fasting, not Christmas partying."

      His congregation sees no reason to join other Christmas revelers,
      including some of the Orthodox brethren, in their December holiday.

      "We're holding on to the old calendar," the pastor said.

      He said some members have told him: "This gives me the opportunity to
      celebrate Christmas spiritually when the noise and commercialism are over."

      To Malich and others of the Orthodox tradition, "the date is not
      important as is the meaning of the day."

      Ukrainian Orthodoxy

      For the Rev. Steve Repa, pastor of SS. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Orthodox
      Church in Carnegie, the story of Christmas is one the world was waiting
      to hear.

      "God had been revealed through natural revelation, then through divine
      revelation in time and space," he said.

      "It's like God said: ‘Hey,ook up. This is what it is. This is who I am.'"

      That was the first Christmas. More than 2,000 years later, the
      Ukrainians bring customs of their peasant pasts to their contemporary

      The white tablecloth that covers the Christmas Eve table represents an
      earth frozen and devoid of life, Repa explained. The straw resting upon
      it brings thoughts of the manger.

      The festive tablecloth that will cover them both celebrates Jesus and
      the people now freed from the chains of sin.

      The meal on Christmas Eve begins with a toast and a remembrance — one by
      one — of those who have died in the past year.

      "Those who were and those who are (still here) are invited," Repa said.

      "In Christ, we are one. We are not separated from one another."

      And at the repast, the 12 foods that traditionally are served represent
      the 12 months, the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles.

      Those foods are wheat; soup; baked, fried or pickled fish; cabbage
      rolls; pyrohy with potato, sauerkraut or prune filling; cooked beans;
      sauerkraut and peas; mushrooms; stewed dried fruit; pompushky, a dough
      with poppy seed, apricot or prune filling; garlic; and honey.

      Many of the preserved foods served on Christmas Eve, such as mushrooms,
      sauerkraut and peas, have been brought back to life, too, Repa said.

      For too many families, there is no church after the Christmas Eve meal,
      which, Repa said, is his biggest disappointment.

      "What if the shepherds had said: ‘Ah, we're too tired. We'll go in the

      On Christmas, the real feast is held, and the celebration continues for
      12 days, until Epiphany.

      Somehow, he said: "We've gotten everything upside down."

      During Advent, the Orthodox deny themselves many foods, while others
      enjoy a calendar full of parties. After Christmas, he said, there's more
      than enough reason to celebrate for many days.

      Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodoxy

      "The children believe in Santa Claus, and so do I," said the Rev. Robert
      Prepelka, pastor of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Ambridge for
      the last five years of a 25-year priesthood.

      His Carpatho-Rusyn congregation and others of the Orthodox faith
      celebrate Santa's giving spirit in the person of St. Nicholas, a
      third-century bishop of Myra in Turkey. His feast day for the Orthodox
      on Dec. 19 is a day for giving presents.

      But as a child, Prepelka remembers having a celebration on Dec. 25 with
      a Christmas tree and presents. The date was close enough to St. Nicholas
      Day, and the United States was the melting pot, he explained.

      On Orthodox Christmas Eve, the father anoints the forehead of those
      present and sing the main hymn of the day. The meal begins with the
      tasting of honey and garlic.

      "These things were explained to the children and guests," Prepelka said,
      "just like during a (Jewish Passover) seder meal."

      Each custom has its spiritual corollary: the breaking of bread
      symbolizes how Jesus is the "Bread of Life," he explained.

      The pastor described the ‘fasting soup' that is served. It could be
      lentil, split pea or mushroom.

      "I'm not a mushroom eater," he said, "so I'm not a good Slav."

      At church on Christmas Day, there is anointing with oil, sharing of the
      blessed bread, carols and a message from the Metropolitan, a regional
      church leader.

      "The Divine Liturgy is one beautiful thing after another," Prepelka said.

      "The highlight is receiving the Eucharist."
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