Orthodox Christmas enlightens hearts

Christian Orthodox believers across the world are preparing to celebrate Christmas. Following a 40-day fast, the festivities will start on the eve of January 7 and will continue for almost two weeks until Epiphany.

Although the message of Christmas mainly focuses on the birth of Jesus Christ, that does not preclude the children of the Savvino-Storozhevsky monastery’s orphanage 50 kilometers west of Moscow from believing in some basic Christmas magic.

"One Christmas night when nobody was at home, suddenly under the Christmas tree a box full of presents appeared,” said Kolya, an orphan. “It was a true miracle, as I still don’t know where it came from."

The kids at the orphanage are hard at work, preparing a puppetry pageant to perform on Christmas Day.

"It’s a fun for me, because I feel hilarious when I manage to perform well,” said another foster child, Pavel. “I like nice decorations. It’s also interesting to see how people look at your performance."

Hieromonk Fiofil says that the children feel joy not only because they perform for the orphanage, but because they also play for the whole nearby town of Zvenigorod.

“When our orphanage was open, nothing special was organized on Christmas in the town, so their celebration was rather lean and dull,” Fiofdil recalled. “And we decided to make their feast brighter. And so our children present their performance to the town."

As with many Orthodox denominations, the Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7, and while Western celebrations have grown to include some more commercial aspects of the holiday, Christmas in Russia remains more of a religious event.

"Modern Orthodox Christmas is not much different probably from Catholic celebration, as we also have fireworks and so on,” said Fiofil. “However, our Christmas is a more cozy and warm family holiday. Even our Christmas carols have the spirit of home."

The difference in dates for Christmas lies in the calendar the two denominations use.

"Catholics, in contrast to Orthodox Christians, celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced later,” explained Father Valentin. “When the Orthodox believers celebrate Christmas, one can feel that the Son has indeed risen. All over the world, the counting goes according the Orthodox calendar."

Now as the Orthodox Christmas meshes with the modern Gregorian calendar, both New Year and Christmas fall into one comprehensive period of celebration for all of Russia – a time when communities all over the country can come together.