Nativity just beginning in Old Town

Russian Orthodox Church celebrates holy season with weekend events

Posted: Friday, January 06, 2006

For most Westerners, Christmas has come and gone, presents have been opened and the decorations are coming down.

Some religious folks hold out for Sunday to celebrate Epiphany — the commemoration of the arrival of three wise men to Christ’s birthplace.

For members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai, though, the celebration of the birth of Christ is just beginning.

Members of the Orthodox Church adhere to the old Julian calendar, which places Christmas on Jan. 7.

To mark the holy season, members of the church will attend Royal Hours at 8:30 a.m. today, followed by vespers and liturgy at 10 at Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church in Old Town.

The Royal Hours service, which includes singing of Psalms and reading of Epistles and Gospel passages, derives its name from the customary attendance of the entire service by the Byzantine emperor.

Nativity is celebrated Saturday with a divine liturgy service at 10 a.m., followed by Starring, a procession beginning at the church, going to the priest’s house or rectory across the street and then to individual members’ homes in the Kenai area.

“Starring is actually a Ukrainian custom,” said Father Thomas Andrew, pastor.

“We sing liturgical and Eastern secular music — something like caroling,” he said.

One member of the church carries a star, fashioned out of a piece of painted plywood with the Icon of the Nativity in the middle of the star.

“It’s like following the star as the wise men did,” Andrew said.

“While it’s not part of the old traditional way, it is a good, social activity,” he said.

In earlier times, the Starring procession would go into the homes of all members, but Andrew said today, members call the church to indicate if they would like their homes to be visited.

The Nativity celebration Saturday concludes with a vigil service at 6 p.m.

Services continue on Sunday with divine liturgy at 10 a.m. and vespers at 6 p.m., and on Monday with divine liturgy at 9 a.m.

Andrew said some complain that the services — usually 1 1/2 to 2 hours in length — are too long.

“We believe that heaven, or even hell for that matter, are eternal. One or two hours a week are not much in comparison,” he said.

“We don’t believe heaven to be an eternal Disneyland; we practice here to prepare for eternity in heaven,” Andrew said.

Although the priest has an obvious disdain for the Western commercialization of Christmas, calling it “the season of greed,” he said the Russian Orthodox Church does have a custom of exchanging gifts.

The gift exchange, done at the church, is on St. Nicholas Day — Dec. 19 on today’s Julian calendar — and is kept distinctly separate from the celebration of the Nativity.

The Orthodox Church also separated the Nativity and Theophany, or Epiphany, which were once celebrated together. Now Theophany is celebrated Jan. 19, Andrew said.

The church in Kenai has an active membership that varies in size from five to 50, and a total membership numbering “probably a couple hundred,” Andrew said.

“It used to be all of Old Town, all of Kenai, was Orthodox,” he said.

Nativity celebration

Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai will hold the following Nativity events:

Today

· 8:30 a.m. — Royal Hours, followed by vespers; and

· 10 a.m.— Divine liturgy.

Saturday

· 10 a.m. — Divine liturgy followed immediately by Starring; and

· 6 p.m. — Vigil service.

Sunday

· 10 a.m. — Divine liturgy; and

· 6 p.m. — Vespers.

Monday

· 9 a.m. — Divine liturgy.



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