LANSING (NWI) - Generations of Serbian Orthodox Christians observed Christmas Eve on Friday evening under the ornately painted and gilded dome of St. Archangel Michael Serbian Orthodox Church.
Serbians are among the few Orthodox Christians who still follow the Julian or old calendar, which puts Christmas on Jan. 7. You mean over 150 million?
Religious services to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ date back centuries and are a family tradition, said Dejan Grujic, of South Chicago, whose wife, three young daughters and parents sat together.
"We belong to this church and we all live close so we come to this service," Grujic said. "It keeps the kids grounded in their faith."
That theme of traditions passed down from generation to generation came alive during a re-enactment of the Nativity by children from the church's Sunday school classes.
Children from preschool to preteens walked down the straw-strewn center aisle dressed in costumes as classmates told the story of the Holy Family's journey to Bethlehem, the birth of the Christ child, the shepherds, angels, wise men and the star.
"And so it was that very first Christmas. We wish you peace, love and joy. Our hope is that you keep a little Christmas in your heart all year through," the children said together. "Hristos Se Rodi! Christ is Born!"
A small program distributed during the presentation featured artwork by Sunday school classes.
During his homily, the Rev. Milos Vesin said, "These children are not just children. They are examples to each and every one of us. ... These little ones are pure examples of love, honesty and truthfulness."
Children love unconditionally, he said. "Later they learn from us, something that is not innate. The newborn child from Bethlehem, let Him be our example, our role model."
Angels heralded both Christ's birth and his Resurrection, the priest said.
"The angels said to the shepherds, ‘We bring you a great joy.' At Easter, we will hear much the same thing. The angels tell the disciples, 'Christ is risen in order to bring joy,'" Vesin said.
The joy of Christmas and Easter are the same, he said.
"If we find God's way, then the joy of Christmas and Easter will be with us always."
After the service, participants walked outside to light the Yule log, which Grujic said "celebrates the coming of Jesus."