Monday, January 07, 2013

Caught between faith and superstitions, Russians prepare to celebrate Orthodox Christmas

Russians are preparing to celebrate Christmas on 7 January in accordance with the Julian calendar still used by the Russian Orthodox Church. 

It remains unclear where President Vladimir Putin will attend Christmas Eve Mass, but some in the Moscow Patriarchate would like to move Christmas Day to 1 January, New year's Day, because the religious occurrence is only marginally followed.

On 6 January, Orthodox Christians stop their fast for Sochelnik, Christmas Eve. According to tradition, people fast until the first star is visible, which, according to tradition, is the star of Bethlehem that announces the birth of Christ.

Fasting is broken with sochivo, a vegetable dish made from scalded wheat grains, or rice, mixed with seeds, juice, and honey, a humble dish symbolising Jesus' coming into the world to suffer for us and save us, hence the name Sochelnik

After that, the dinner table is covered with all sorts of food for Christmas dinner attended by the whole family.

At this time, women, especially young, meet for various rites about the future, most often about marriage. They write the name of the men they would like to marry on pieces of paper, which they place in their pillows. In the morning, the first name they pick will be that of their future husband.

The 'Divine liturgy' will be held in the evening of 6 January, Christmas Eve. The patriarch will officiate in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, with Dmitri Medvedev, who is prime minister again after a mandate as president, and his wife Svetlana in front row.

President Putin usually attends a Christmas service in a provincial parish without his family. 

This year, he will probably be in Krasnodar, in southern Russia, which suffered from heavy flooding last summer.

During Christmas Eve Mass, Rozhdestvo tvoe, Christe bozhe nash (Merry Christmas has come) is sung as a Christmas icon and a candle, symbol of the start of Bethlehem, are carried to the centre of the church.

In a recent survey, some 80 per cent of Russians said they were Orthodox, but only 8 per cent take in religious services on a regularly basis.

In view of this, Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev, a professor at the Moscow Theological Academy and a top ranking official in the Russian Orthodox Church, proposed to combining Christmas-marginally celebrated after 70 years of State-imposed atheism-with secular-oriented New Year (Novi God) celebrations, which are the most important on the Russian calendar. 

The goal is to reduce the gap Russia's secular and religious cultures.

Under Soviet rule, Christmas was banned and Novi God was the most popular festivity, celebrated in family, around the dinner table with gifts exchanged, and everyone waiting for the arrival of Old Man Frost.

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the possibility of unifying the Catholic and Orthodox liturgical calendars has been discussed so that the two sister Churches might celebrate together at least the main festivities that the two traditions share.

However for Kuraev, it makes no sense for Russia to adopt 25 December. 

Russians love New Year celebrations because it was the least politicised festivity in Soviet times. "Everyone's energy goes into celebrating 31 December," he said, "and little is left for Christmas."

No comments: