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Friday, January 6, 2012

Orthodox Christmas: Winter Pascha

(Three-Bar Russian/Ukrainian Cross)
According to Time News Feed, December 25th is not always Christmas Day.  For approximately 200 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, Christmas Day is instead January 7th.   That is because Orthodox Christians tend to follow “the old Julius Caesar calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the more modern Gregorian version.”

This difference between Orthodox and Western Christmas traditions is only one of many.  In fact, Orthodox Christmas tends to resemble Western Lent far more than it does Western Christmas.  It is sometimes even referred to as the “Winter Pascha.” Pascha is derived from the Hebrew root of Pesach, meaning “to pass through, to pass over, to exempt, or to spare” – and is usually used with direct reference to either Passover or Easter. reports that Pesach “is also the name of the sacrificial offering (a lamb) that was made in the Temple” on Passover.  Christians often refer to Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, Agnus Dei, or Lamb of God.

The mood  of Orthodox Christmas is often solemn - in sharp contrast to the festivities which have grown up around Western Christmas.  The BBC reports:  “In the East, Christmas is preceded by a 40 day fast beginning on November 15.  This is a time of reflection, self-restraint and inner healing in the sacrament of
confession.”  Even on Christmas Eve, “observant Orthodox Christians” fast until the first star appears.  Christmas morning is not spent tearing open piles of gifts, but is instead spent in divine worship and water-blessing ceremonies.  The BBC concludes that Eastern Orthodox Christmas “lacks the commercial side that is typical of the West.”  
George Hawkins reports that Orthodox Christmas was not originally celebrated on its own as the Feast of the Nativity, but was instead “part of the Feast of Theophany or the Baptism of Christ which is celebrated on the 6th of January (19th of January on the Gregorian calendar).”  Father Illtyd of the Orthodox Research Institute states that the Feast of Theophany (Epiphany) “is – after Easter and Pentecost – the greatest Feast of the Orthodox Church.”  It honors “the baptism of our Lord by John,” as well as “the public manifestation of the incarnate Word to the world.”  Eastern Orthodoxy therefore prefers the specific term Theophany (“manifestation of God”) to the more general term Epiphany (“manifestation”).


Copyright January 6, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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