Saturday, January 5, 2013

Christmas time in Russia

The interesting bit about these articles is the idea of moving Christmas celebrations to January 1st. This isn't a welcome notion to me, but then again I'm not Russian and have no context other than my own American experience to judge from. Thoughts?

Moscow (AsiaNews) - 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 Divine Liturgy, 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."
And also...
Moscow, January 3 (Interfax) - Protodeacon Andrey Kurayev, a professor at the Moscow Spiritual Academy, believes Orthodox Christmas should be celebrated at the same time as the New Year, on January 1.

"I hope our church will have the courage to make a radical decision to join Christmas and the New Year into one holiday and mark both holidays on January 1," he told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Fr. Andrey believes any other Christmas date leads to questions we can't answer. "If we have Anno Domini, why is it not calculated from the birth of Christ? If the big calendar, i.e., A.D., begins from the birth of Christ, why is the small calendar, the days inside the year, is calculated from some other point? It's not logical," Kurayev said.

"For this reason, if we have to change our calendar at some time, I think it's better not to move it to December 25, before the New Year. What's the difference, one week before the New Year, one week after the New Year. It's a little strange," he said.

Fr. Andrey admitted that people really loved the New Year holidays in the USSR and they love it in Russia because "it was the least politicized holiday in the Soviet Union." "That is, unlike May 1, March 8, and November 7, it was not an ideological holiday, it was a family holiday with some old Christmas aftertaste. Now all people's celebration energy goes to that [New year celebrations] and very little energy is left for Christmas," he said.

Kurayev said he does not regret that much because "for religious people, Christmas will always stay a holiday and there is no point to force it on everyone."

Kurayev said that a new tradition of "church New Year celebrations" is beginning, at least in Moscow.

"You know why that is? Not all of us are 17 years old. This New Year night becomes a difficult thing overtime. Sociologists say that the most suicides among old people are committed this night, when people are alone, hen no one comes to congratulate them, when no one calls. Heavy thoughts. You can't go to sleep because of the noise. We are a little tired of 'Irony of Fate,' as much as we love it, or olivier salad. We are no longer young enough to go to the Red Square, Vorobyovy Mountains, or see the New Year in the metro, like we did when we were students," Fr. Andrey said.

"That led to proposals to pray in that night, i.e., a night church service, like Easter services," Kurayev said. After the service, the priest could bring out a box of champagne [which Kurayev said could be allowed in small quantities], some fasting pie, etc. People could have all that food in church and go home to sleep. It's a totally different experience. You go around the dead, vomit- and gunpowder-smeared Moscow early in the morning. And we prayed for that Moscow. And it's good that you feel some sobriety," protodeacon said.

"God will have enough wonders for New Year and for Christmas," Fr. Andrey said.


  1. This was just a crank idea of Deacon Andrei. No one has echoed it and he was immediately slapped down by Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov, who is the head of the Synodal Department for Relations with the Armed Forces and law enforcement agencies.

    Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) also had an interview, published in the main Patriarchal website, where he maintained that there was no need to change the date of Christmas. Kuraev is not mentioned but the message is clear.

    AsiaNews' reportage of Russian Orthodoxy is extremely tendentious. There are many wonderful things happening in Russian Orthodoxy but no one ever talks about it in Orthodox websites in the West. I pray that the Moscow Patriarchate get around to publishing an English language version of its website, which is so rich in reports about the new initiatives, documents and works of the Patriarchy. That way people will have a healthier view of what is really happening in Russia instead of relying on biased and narrow reporting in English-language websites.

  2. Well, the is their primary effort there. The Patriarchia website is a much more "full" version of their news and I hope they establish a Vatican-style translation team for their websites.

    As for AsiaNews, I probably would not have posted had Interfax not picked up the same story.

  3. In my Russian class we were discussing this, and basically my teacher echoed the sentiments of the article - the New Year celebration would trump both the feast and the fast.
    Interesting, thanks.