Festive joy is totally Orthodox


IT’S not just children who look forward to Christmas in Monica Mikhail’s family.



Her male relatives had been counting down the hours until they could break the 43-day fast that preceded Christmas celebrations for some Eastern churches yesterday.

Members of the Coptic Church try to avoid eating meat and dairy products during this period, Ms Mikhail said. The fasting period culminated in a three-hour Mass, predominantly in Arabic, at St Mary’s and St Mina’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Bexley.

”You tend to develop a tolerance for long services,” Ms Mikhail said.

But the reward for religious piety was waiting on the dinner table at the family’s home in Sylvania. After Mass ended at midnight on Friday, the family broke their fast with the traditional fattah, a rice dish of slow-cooked meat dressed in vinegar and garlic-flavoured broth, and kaak, a sweet shortbread.

On Orthodox Christmas Day, Ms Mikhail said, children would return to church to play, sing carols and eat chocolate until it was time for a feast of kofta, lamb, chicken schnitzel, roasted duck or turkey stuffed with burghul, or cracked wheat, ”and a salad or two”.

Ms Mikhail said Coptic Australian families observed traditions such as gift giving and putting up a pine Christmas tree. But her family had decided on a more sombre celebration yesterday out of respect for Coptic Christians suffering persecution in their homeland.

”We recognise that people in Egypt are persecuted for their faith while we have the freedom to celebrate the birth of Jesus and our faith,” Ms Mikhail, a member of the Australian Coptic Movement, said.

Some Eastern churches, including the Serbian Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Macedonian Orthodox and the Coptic Church, follow the Julian calendar, which places Christmas on January 7, 13 days after it is observed in Western churches.

At St Michael the Archangel, a Serbian Orthodox church in Homebush, Father John Vesic led his congregation through an English-language service on Friday night followed by a divine liturgy yesterday.

Parishioners were presented with a blessed oak branch decorated with hay to represent Christ’s humble beginnings.

Father Vesic said pinewood was a Germanic tradition, whereas the oak tree represented Christmas for Serbs. There were also other subtle differences in the way Christmas was observed in the Serbian Orthodox churches.

”We still use a lot of incense and decorate our churches with icons,” he said. ”We think of them as windows into heaven.”

Full Article: http://m.smh.com.au/nsw/festive-joy-is-totally-orthodox-20120107-1pp75.html

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