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7 October 2015

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Russian Orthodox Christmas

by Linda DeLaine

Mother and ChildSince the fall of the Soviet Union, January 7th has become an official national holiday. This is the date of the Russian Orthodox Christmas; Nativity of Christ; celebration. Many Orthodox Christian traditions have adopted December 25th for their Nativity or Christmas celebration which culminates with the observance of Theophany (Feast of the Manifestation), the Baptism of Our Lord, on January 6th; January 20th on the old calendar.

In the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, January 6th, is acknowledged as the Epiphany; the time when the Christ Child was visited by the Magi from the East, or Three Wise Men. The Baptism of Our Lord is celebrated the following Sunday.

During the ages of the early Church, there was one celebration for Christ's birth (nativity), acknowledgment as the Divine (visit of the Magi) and the onset of His ministry (Baptism). This was the Theophany celebrated on January 6/7th. Later, the West divided this celebration; Nativity (Dec. 25), Epiphany (Jan. 6 or the proceeding Sunday) and Baptism (Sunday following Epiphany). Today, many Eastern Churches celebrate the Nativity on December 25th and the Theophany or Baptism on January 6th. They do have a feast for the appearance of the Magi. The differences between East and West evolved after the Great Schism of 1054.

The Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian or Old Calendar. Thus, the Orthodox Church Feasts and Holidays of January are:
Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas) ~ January 7th
New Year's Day ~ January 14th
Theophany (Christ's Baptism) ~ January 20th.

The celebration of the Nativity begins the day prior with the readings of the Hours. These nine sets of Scripture lessons include passages from the Old Testament prophets followed by readings from the Epistles and Gospels. Vespers, in this case Vigil, features the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil. The liturgy for the Feast of the Nativity itself is that of St. John Chrysostom.

Readings for the Hours and Vespers:

Old Testament readings include: Micah 5:2-4; Baruch 3:36-4:4; Isaiah 7:10-8:4 and 9-10. Additionally, Genesis 1:1-13 and Numbers 24:2-3, 5-9 and 17-18 are read in the ninth hour, just prior to Vespers. Vespers includes Isaiah 11:1-10; Daniel 2:31-36 and 44-45.

New Testament readings include: Matthew 1:18-25, 2:1-23; Luke 2:1-20; Hebrews 1:1-12, 1:10-2:3, 2:11-18 and Galatians 2:23-29. At Vespers, Hebrews 1:1-12 and Luke 2:1-20 are read.

On the day of the Nativity, Galatians 4:4-7 and Matthew 2:1-12 are incorporated into the Divine Liturgy.

The Scripture readings for the Hours and Vespers proceeding the Theophany are as follows:

Old Testament readings: Isaiah 35:1-10, 16-20, 23:3-6 and 49:8-15. Additionally, Genesis 1:1-13, Exodus 14:15-18, 21-23, 27-29 and 15:22 - 16:1; Joshua 3:7-8, 15-17, II Kings 5:9-14 and Isaiah 1:16-20 are read at Vespers. A second series of readings include Genesis 32:1-10; Exodus 2:5-10; Judges 6:36-40, I Kings 18:30-39, II Kings 2:19-22 and Isaiah 49:8-15.

New Testament readings: Acts 13:25-33, 19:1-8; Mark 3:1-6, 1:1-11; Romans 6:3-11; Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Matthew 3:13-17 or Luke 3:1-18. Vespers includes I Corinthians 9:19-27 and Luke 3:1-18.

The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is celebrated at Vespers. The feast of the Theophany features the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The readings include Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 and Matthew 3:13-17.

The Divine Liturgy of the Synaxis (Sobor) of John the Baptist is celebrated the day following the Theophany. The Gospel passage is John 1:29-34 and the Epistle is Acts 19:1-8.

Terminology . . . .

Vespers: from the Latin, vesper, meaning the evening. Refers to evening prayer, usually at sunset. Vespers is one of the two primary periods of daily prayer. The other being morning prayer or Matins.

Vigil: From the Latin vigilia; meaning a night of watchfulness. Prayer service which combines Vespers and Matins. Vigil is observed on the eve of Sundays and Feast Days. In its purest form, Vigil lasts all night, usually 12 to 14 hours.

Hours: From the Greek, hora meaning a time or season. Refers to the various observances of daily prayer; aka the Liturgy of the Hours.

Synaxis: Greek word meaning assembly. This is any gathering of the faithful for non-eucharistic worship. The Synaxis usually includes psalms, Scripture lessons and prayers.

Mother and Child Russian Lacquer egg is part of the Artshop of St. Petersburg collection.

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