Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas “Main Course” Served in Church

Sviata Vecherya.” Just the mention of the traditional, 12-course, meatless Christmas Eve meal enjoyed by Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox worldwide, evokes warm memories of familial gatherings. For many, this culturally rich Holy Supper is the central highlight of Christmas (Rizdvo). In reality, though, it is only the beginning.

The true “main course” of the celebration of the birth of Jesus is liturgical and takes place in church. There, after the Holy Supper we join our Christian family for the Christmas Vigil: Povecherie (evening service), Matins and Divine Liturgy.

How many of us get to church on Christmas Eve to welcome the Christ Child as a community and hear at Vigil the musical dialogue between priest and choir announcing the joyous news that “God is With Us” (z namy Boh!)? After the Holy Supper, are you too tired from cooking, too full from feasting or too tipsy to attend services?

The beautiful cultural practices of Ukrainian Christmas traditions are important to observe. Yet, it is critical that we do not divorce cultural practices from the liturgical. If we focus mainly on the Holy Supper, then we are on the slippery slope of taking Christ out of Christmas.

Sanctifying your Holy Supper with prayer and Sacred Tradition can help prevent the creeping secularization of Christmas. Start the meal by praying and singing the Nativity Tropar and Boh Predvichnyj. Include the departed in your family by setting an extra plate at the table and place food on it in their remembrance. Sing Christmas carols between courses or ask children to read the Nativity Story to emphasize that this meal is not a regular party, but the prologue to the main event.

Iryna Galadza is Director of the Toronto Eparchy Catechetical Resource Centre, a teacher, mother, grandmother, and wife of Mitred Archpriest Roman Galadza, pastor of St. Elias Church, in Brampton, Ontario.

Related Links

“God is With Us” (z namy Boh) during Povercherie
Litany and Tropar during Povcherie

As we stand beside the manger of Christ, let us ask for the gift of gratitude to God, since everything that we have, our life, our environment, our salvation, is God’s gift to us.” – Patriarch Lubomyr Husar

What we can learn from St. Nicholas

The dilemma facing some parents at Christmas – whether to reveal that Santa is fictional – becomes moot if we focus on St. Nicholas. Not only was St. Nicholas real, he left us a priceless gift: a shining example of generosity, courage, compassion and faith.

According to a famous legend, St. Nicholas anonymously tossed sacks (or stockings) of gold coins into the home of a destitute father who was about to sell off his daughters because he had no dowry for them.

His charity was selfless and thoughtful. St. Nicholas knew what the girls needed and provided it. Children can be taught that similarly St. Nicholas will bring them what they most require. In this way, the materialistic wish-list that promotes covetousness becomes unnecessary.

Another of St. Nicholas’ positive traits, courage, was displayed when he saved three prisoners wrongly condemned to death by grabbing the sword with which the executioner was to kill them.

The many legends of his miraculous interventions also demonstrate his compassion. Sailors who were caught in a storm in the Mediterranean and called on his intercession were saved and, upon reaching land, saw a vision of St. Nicholas.

Though the mythical Santa does also show generosity, he is a figure that promotes commercialism and consumption. In contrast, St. Nicholas spreads the message brought to us through Christ’s Nativity, that of goodwill and love towards all.

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