Christmas

The Christmas Day Liturgy Gospel is the story of the Magi, the astrologers from Persia, who discover the birth of the King of Kings by observing the stars. In this way, they are brought from the pagan superstition to worship of the one true God.
 
The Christmas Troparion is about these Magi: “Your birth, O Christ our God, has shed upon the world the light of knowledge; for through it, those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship you, the Sun of Justice, and to know you, the Dawn from on High. Glory to you, O Lord!”
 
The psalms of the antiphons are chosen both because they are together in the Book of Psalms (Psalms 109-110-111) and because they shine light on the feast. The Entrance Hymn, Psalm 109:3-4) are a prophecy of Christ, “From the womb, before the morning star, I have begotten you. The Lord has sworn and he will not repent: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedek.” Of Melchisedek, because, as the Vigil Ambon Prayer says, Christ is “without father (according to the flesh), without mother or ancestry (in his eternal birth from the Father, though he is born of a virgin mother, and of the house of David).
 
The Ambon Prayer explains, “For in your eternal birth a woman had no part, nor a man in your becoming flesh in time.” People today sometimes have an “allergic reaction” against dogma, but this dogma tells us what the birth of Christ means for us. It is, as St. Paul tells us, “Christ in you, the hope for glory. (Colossians 1:27)” We all come from a human father and mother, we all have a human ancestry, but our lives are limited by these circumstances. We come into the world by birth from a mother, and in the end we all must die, but the birth of Christ now gives an infinite value to the lives of each and every one of us. Psalm 86, sung at the Royal Hours, proclaims, “Zion shall be called ‘Mother’, for all (each and everyone of us) shall be her children (we are children of the one God).” The Psalm continues “It is he, the Lord Most High, who gives each his place. In his register of peoples he writes ’These are her children.’” The census of Jerusalem at the birth of Christ is thus made eternal.
 
We are all now “Christians,” registered in the name of Christ forever. Christmas, therefore, is a baptismal feast, for by baptism we are registered in the name of God, “the servant of God (name) is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” At this Liturgy, then, we sing “All you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ!” Truly “Alleluia!” Melchisedek also means that Christ is our High Priest. It is he alone who mediates between God and humankind, he alone is the Savior who reconciles God and humankind, and he offered the one true sacrifice, now and forever. We see his sacrifice in his death on the Cross and his Resurrection, for sacrifices do not end in annihilation, but in life. Christ’s sacrifice as the one High Priesthood, in which we all share, brings life, and it begins today, for in his very coming into this world, the sacrifice is initiated. Today, he begins to offer himself to the Father, as he prays before his passion, “not my will, but yours be done, O Father.” This is why the dogma that he is “the Transcendent One,” the “Unapproachable,” now made approachable as a homeless Baby in the cave, is essential to an understanding of the feast. It is the way we “come to share in the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)” Christ comes from eternity, “from before the morning star,” he alone is the light of the world, “the Dawn from on High.” All of this, in every detail, is reaffirmed in the Epistle, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
 
The Ambon Prayer is again our profession of faith, “O Christ our God, from before all ages, you shone forth from the eternal Father and were not liable to suffering.” To the one now, “encompassing all things” in his divinity and making it possible for us to be God-like, (though we were in the image and likeness of God from creation) to the one now born in the cave and wrapped in restricting swaddling clothes, we offer our simple praise, like the gifts “of the praise of the shepherds and the worship and gifts of the Magi.”
 
The worship of the Magi is mentioned first, because although they brought very expensive gifts: gold (because gold was a gift for kings); frankincense (for incense is a gift for priests, who offer incense as a sign of mediation before God), and myrrh (because myrrh was used to bury the dead, and Christ was to die for our salvation), their greatest gift is simply their worship and praise. If we can offer Christ the gift of our faith, this makes the expensive gifts of the Magi mere trifles. “O Son of God, born of the virgin, save us who sing to you, alleluia.”
Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Ukrainian Christmas Traditions

Christmas is a very special celebration for Ukrainians. Many traditions and rituals are observed, and each aspect of Christmas has a special meaning. Everyone is wearing their best clothes and the house has been cleaned top to bottom for the day, although all spider webs are left untouched. Legends about the generosity of spiders at Christmas mean they are not to be disturbed. What else is going on in the house?

Icons and Didukh

Didukh is the Ukrainian name for the wheat sheaf brought into the house on Christmas Eve. It is home for spirits of the ancestors for the season and is made of the very best wheat of the harvest.

Icons are a centerpiece of traditional Ukrainian homes and are usually decorated with rushnyky (embroidered or woven ritual towels). Nativity icons have special significance since they represent beliefs surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Sviatyi Vechir (Holy Supper)

There are many dishes on the table. Usually twelve meatless dishes are served during the Christmas Eve Supper or Sviatyi Vechir (Holy Supper). The food vary from region to region and from family to family, the most common include: kutia (wheat and poppy seed dish), borshch (beet soup), varenyky (perogies), kolachi (braided bread). The dishes are all meatless due to the belief that a Lenten meal cleanses the soul in preparation to welcome the Christ child into ones heart and home.

The Table

There are two tablecloths on the table. The plain bottom one is for the visiting spirits of the dead, while the top one is where the family eats. The blessing of straw is placed between the tablecloths and on the floor under the table to represent the manger. Sometimes candy and coins are hidden in the straw for the children to find after the meal. Gifts are received weeks earlier on St. Nicholas Day.

The Oven

The entire meal is prepared that day on a large oven, or pich; none of the food is prepared in advance.

The First Star

When the first star appears in the sky, like it did that first Holy Night when Christ was born, the Holy Eve. Once it is seen, the meal may start, but not a moment sooner! Supper begins with the lighting of a candle.

The Carolers

Caroling is a very important tradition in Ukraine. It is usually done between Christmas and Malanka (New Year’s Eve in accordance with the Julian calendar). Koliadky are sung for Christmas and shchedrivky were sung around Malanka. The lead caroler carries a star, which is elaborately decorated for the occasion. If you listen closely, you may be able to hear a choir singing right now!

Christ is born

nativityMeditation by Very Rev. Dr. David Petras

Christmas is a feast of unity. It is, first and foremost, unity between God and humanity. The Word of God takes the human nature so that the image and likeness of God in us might be restored. Walls are broken, and the first sticheron, the first words, of Christmas are, “Come, let us rejoice in the Lord; let us proclaim the present mystery by which the partition has been broken and the flaming sword withheld.” What God does vertically, he expects us to do horizontally, and so at his birth the poor (the shepherds) and the rich (the Magi) are called to adore. His own people (the shepherds, the Jews) and the outsiders (the Magi, the Gentiles) are called together. Just as God becomes one with us, we become one with God, and with each other, and the last words of Jesus to his disciples before his arrest are a prayer for the people, “the glory which you gave me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one: I in them, and you in me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)” The result of this will be peace on earth, as proclaimed by the angels in heaven and foretold by the prophet Isaiah, “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9, the Fourth Reading of the Vespers of Christmas)” This unity is needed in a world shaken by conflict, by hatred of the other, by racism. It is sad that Christians cannot be united among themselves.

Cardinal Koch, on his visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 30, 2015, said, “The world today has great need of reconciliation, particularly in light of so much blood which has been shed in recent terrorist attacks. May we accompany the victims with our prayers, and renew our commitment to lasting peace by promoting dialogue between religious traditions, for “indifference and mutual ignorance can only lead to mistrust and unfortunately even conflict” (Common Declaration, Jerusalem 2014).”

Christmas Divine Liturgy

nativityDivine Liturgy on Sunday, December 25th, Christmas Day
The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
 
There is only 1 Divine Liturgy on Christmas Day at 10:30 a.m., in English and Ukrainian.
 
At 9:30 a. m. there is a “God with Us” service.