The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 2, 2013

Orthodox observance | Christians are preparing for Christmas

JOHNSTOWN — The luster of Christmas is fading for most people, but Orthodox Christians in the region are preparing for their Christmas observances.

A handful of churches in the region follow the Julian calendar.

The official Orthodox celebration begins on Christmas Eve, which falls on Sunday.

Following the Julian calendar, which was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C., Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas 13 days later than those that use the Gregorian or new calendar, which was adopted in 1582.

Those who follow the Orthodox religion, whether they are Greek, Serbian or Russian Orthodox, declare that “Christ is born” and expect the response of “Glorify him” during their Christmas celebrations.

Orthodox Christians are eagerly anticipating the celebration, said the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Frank Miloro of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, 300 Garfield St. in the West End section of Johnstown.

“Christmas officially begins the morning of Christmas Eve with a vigil Liturgy,” he said.

The Service of Hours also may be chanted.

“However, this year Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, and therefore the Sunday Liturgy takes precedence,” Miloro said.  

Christmas Eve is traditionally a strict day of fasting.

Christmas Eve is not the only day of fasting to prepare parishioners for Christmas. Minimally, Wednesdays and Fridays of the preceding 40 days in Advent are fast days.

“Some people will fast on Mondays, while others may fast the entire time, every day,” Miloro said. “The Christmas Eve meal contains no meat or dairy products.”

Twelve foods containing no dairy or meat are served to represent the 12 apostles.

The Christmas story is retold by the head of the house, and a special Christmas bread is broken and shared.

“None of the dishes are prepared with butter, eggs, cheese or any other dairy product,” Miloro said.

“This is called a ‘strict-fast meal’ and is traditionally served only when the first star has appeared, which now during the winter probably is around 5 p.m.,” Miloro said.

Meat and dairy foods are not eaten until Christmas Day, and the strict fast is broken by the reception of Holy Communion.

In some homes, straw might be put under the table to represent the manger in a stable, and a white linen cloth cover-ing the table is a reminder of the swaddling clothes of the Savior.

“These traditions are important if they are to be carried on by others who will come afterward,” Miloro said. “Once a religious tradition has not been practiced, even for a few years, more than likely it will be gone forever.”

He said traditions tell the story of people and their homelands.

“Johnstown is the home of many ethnic traditions,” Miloro said. “The city would not be the beautiful tapestry of so many peoples without their homeland traditions.”

Bishop Gregory Tatsis has prepared a Christmas archpastoral letter. He has quoted the Christmas message of St. John Chrysostom, an early Christian father of the church.

The letter will be read at each Christmas service.

The Christmas Eve morning service will begin at 9. On the night of Christmas Eve, the Nativity complines are chanted at 10:30, followed by a medley of carols sung by the cathedral choir at 11:45.

The first Christmas Liturgy is sung at midnight.

On Christmas Day, the second Christmas Liturgy is celebrated at 9 a.m.

Leading the Christmas services will be Tatsis, who will be joined by Miloro, the Very Rev. John S. Brancho and the Very Rev. John A. Baranik.

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