Thursday, January 8, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Central mosaic on facade of St. George Ukrainian Church

Dear Postcards from New York Reader,

Merry Christmas to our Orthodox Readers!

The twelfth day of Christmas, the Epiphany, when the three wise men from the East presented their gifts to Christ, is the day Christmas is celebrated in Eastern Rite Churches.

"Now I feel I've celebrated Christmas," a fellow Roman Catholic whispered to me as we left the impressive Byzantine domed church of St. George in the East Village early Christmas morning. In a reflective mood, after the incense, the music, the beautiful sung service, I could only nod in silent agreement and smile.

Invited by a NYU classmate a few years ago to join him for Christmas Vigil at St. George, I hesitated a moment before accepting his invitation, as the unpleasant memory of the extremely long (3 hours!) Orthodox wedding Liturgy of several Greek and Russian college friends crossed my mind. If you saw the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," you know what I mean.

Well, just like Toula by the movie's end, comes to appreciate her Greek heritage, I am now ashamed when I recall my reaction that day, as I now look forward with eager anticipation to the 3 hour Liturgy each year at Easter and Christmas.

Fourth century Constantinople, not Rome, was the Capital of the Roman Empire; The Orthodox Liturgy by St. Basil the Great (330-379) dates back to those early days. It predates the Latin Mass, as it is now celebrated, by several centuries. Abridged by St. John Chrysostom (347-407), it is solemn, rich with prayers and ritual, elaborate, ornate and opulent, designed to humble and enthrall a Roman Emperor and his attending court.

The service begins with Compline (the last prayer of the night in the Liturgy of the Hours), followed by an entirely sung Liturgy, where everyone sings--Deacons as well as Priests, not just the choir.

In an ethnically diverse city like New York, the pleasant chance to peek into the world of another culture, like this area of the East Village known as "Little Ukraine," is always present; one can easily experience life in any number of different countries without leaving town.

For a beautiful liturgical celebration of history, tradition and ceremony, consider attending an Orthodox Liturgy this Easter (April 19, 2009) or next Christmas. (Have no fear of the language, missals have English translations.)

Happy New Year to All!

Jacqueline Cable
For Postcards from New York

Address to Remember: St. George Ukrainian Church, 30 East 7th St., New York, NY 10003, 212-674-1615,

Directions: From Times Square MTA N, R, W to 8th St/NYU, walk east to Astor Pl, south to 7th St.

Photo by Vasyl Lopukh

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