By George Aspiotes, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh, PA, Wednesday, January 7, 2004
Christmas without presents or Santa Claus? For the members of St. Vladimir's
Ukrainian Orthodox Church, it's the perfect way to celebrate one of the
holiest days of the year.
The Eastern Orthodox faiths celebrate Christmas today, in accordance with
the Julian Calendar.
"Ours is unique," said Judy Phillips, 32, of South Fayette, a member of St.
Vladimir's on the South Side. "Our Christmas is not about gifts. This is
purely a religious celebration."
The Eastern Orthodox celebration began last night with a Christmas Eve feast
consisting of 12 meatless dishes in honor of the 12 apostles. The feast,
which begins when the first star comes out at night, is traditionally
followed by a special Mass and caroling by the parish's children.
While many other Orthodox denominations switched in the early 1900s to the
Western, or Gregorian, calendar that marks Christmas on Dec. 25, members of
the Ukrainian, Russian, Armenian and Serbian Orthodox churches have adhered
to their original beliefs.
St. Vladimir's is one of only 20 churches in the region whose parishioners
observe Christmas today, according to the Glenmary Research Center, which
publishes church counts of their religious membership for the United States
every 10 years.
"This is all about tradition," said Olga Burik, 79, of Carrick [PA], who has
helped prepare the Christmas Eve meal for the past 30 years. "Once you lose
tradition, you lose your religion."
While presents have no place in the Orthodox Christmas, Burik and her
companions said that the children of their church are some of the strongest
supporters of maintaining the church's tradition.
Children are not left out of the giving season, though. St. Nicholas -- not
Santa -- brings children gifts on Dec. 19.
Although these Orthodox parishioners hope their church will hold onto its
tradition, all realize that change is always possible.
"You never know what the future holds," Burik said.
George Aspiotes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7982.
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