It's Christmas for some Ukrainian Orthodox
FOR THE VALLEY NEWS DISPATCH (Pittsburgh, PA)
Saturday, January 6, 2007
For most Valley residents, the holiday season has come and gone with
the passage of Christmas and New Year's Day. However, according to
the Julian calendar, today is Christmas Eve for Orthodox Christians
across the Valley and around the world.
Although many Orthodox churches have adopted the more widely accepted
Dec. 25 service, members of Holy Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Church in
Arnold will gather today at 4 p.m. to celebrate Christmas Eve with a
service, followed by a traditional supper.
The service, called the Grand Compline, will be overseen by the Rev.
Paisius McGrath, newly appointed priest at Holy Virgin Ukrainian
Orthodox Church. The service -- which combines a series of prayers
and biblical verses that focus on the birth of Christ -- also
features special hymns and Christmas carols.
"At the end of the service, we have what is called a litiya," McGrath
said. "It is a series of prayers that begin at the back of the church
and progress toward the front."
Parishioner Jan Jennings said that he converted to the Orthodox
denomination 40 years ago from a Protestant faith and finds the
Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas service very fulfilling.
"It's a remarkably different experience," Jennings said of the Grand
Compline. "It's a very intimate, sweet, spiritual family affair."
Parishioner Walter Sakal, a lifelong member of the church, is also
the congregation president and choir director.
"We sing traditional Ukrainian carols that were brought back from the
old country," Sakal said.
Following the service is the Sviata Vechera -- the Holy Supper --
which is served in the basement of the 81-year-old parish.
The supper includes 12 dishes, representing the 12 apostles. All are
traditional Ukrainian foods such as kutia (wheat, honey and
poppyseed), kolach, knish, pickled herring, pidpenky (mushrooms in
gravy), pirohi (pierogies), and various potato and sauerkraut dishes.
There is no meat or dairy products, said member Rochelle Sakal, Walter's wife.
"It's a very spiritual, traditional dinner," she said.
Parishioner Richard Zack said that about 25 people are members of
Holy Virgin Ukraininan Orthodox Church, and many are elderly.
Zack's father was a Ukrainian immigrant whose family helped found the
church in 1925. Zack said that although the parish is small, it is
very important to the members to carry on the traditional Orthodox
rituals of Christmas.
"Although we're small in number, we're significant in stature," Zack
said. "This congregation works very hard to keep the tradition alive."
McGrath divides his time as priest between Holy Virgin Ukrainian
Orthodox and St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Lyndora
-- which has chosen to celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25.
On Christmas Day, Holy Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Church members
celebrate with a Divine Liturgy, followed by a brunch hosted by a
parishioner in her home.
Why some celebrate Christmas today
The Julian calendar was introduced in 46 B.C. by Julius Caesar in an
effort to bring uniformity to the process of counting days, months
and years throughout the sprawling Roman Empire. Although it was an
improvement over the former Roman calendar -- which was difficult to
follow because it was reset with the reign of every new emperor --
the Julian calendar still contains an error of one day every 128
years -- meaning the day for Christmas will continue to drift.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced what became known as the
Gregorian calendar. In predominantly Catholic countries, such as
Italy and Spain, the Gregorian calendar gained relatively quick
acceptance. For non-Catholic nations, such as Britain and its empire,
acceptance of a Catholic invention would not take place until 1752.
And in Eastern Europe, with its close ties to the Orthodox Church,
acceptance of the Gregorian calendar took even longer. Russia, for
example, continued to use the Julian system until the Bolshevik
Revolution in 1917. The last European country to adopt the Gregorian
calendar was Greece in 1923.
Although countries may have adopted the Gregorian system, none of the
Eastern national churches adopted it. Instead, many of them adopted a
revised Julian calendar, which dropped 13 days in 1923, and kept the
Julian and Gregorian leap years in synch until 2800.
These so-called New Calendarists include the Orthodox Churches of
Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland -- all of which celebrate the
Nativity on Dec. 25.
The Old Calendarists, including the Orthodox Churches of Russia,
Serbia, Ukraine and Jerusalem, continue to use the old Julian
calendar, which has Dec. 25 falling on the Gregorian calendar's Jan.
7 -- that is, until the year 2100, when it will drift a day further to Jan. 8.