STEUBENVILLE – Today is Christmas for the Serbian Orthodox community, a time to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus and an opportunity to relax and feast with family and friends.
Wednesday, however, was a time of last minute preparations for a small group of members of the Eastern Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Resurrection, located at 528 N. Fourth St., Steubenville.
Church executive board members Gary and Charlene Stanich from the Pittsburgh area, Sandy Connell from Weirton, Harold Strohmeyer from Wintersville and Frances Wasko from Bellaire had three things on their to-do list for the holidays: decorating the shrine with poinsettias for Christmas Eve and Christmas; bake bread used as part of the Nativity Vigil service; and prepare 100 symbolic badnjaks, or Yule logs, for parishioners serving on Christmas Eve.
A sort of assembly line in the communion hall of the church bore the fruit of their work in progress with the combination of straw symbolizing the manger where the baby Jesus was born and oak branches representing the cross. Both were secured with red, blue and white tricolor tape.
Having the small versions of badnjak went hand in hand with the Christmas Eve tradition of burning the Yule log outside the church in the evening.
“Last year our new priest, the Very Reverend Stavrophor Rajko Kosic, when he came to us, he brought this new tradition, which is almost like a small play, like a small ceremony that also goes with it. the (burn of) yule Journal, “ Charlene Stanich explained.
The Serbs are the only Orthodox to have the Yule log / Badnjak tradition.
Orthodox Christians celebrated Christmas Eve Thursday and Christmas today because they follow the Julian calendar, which was used during the lifetime of Christ and which is currently 13 days behind the most commonly used Gregorian calendar. .
“On Christmas Eve, which is January 6, you burn the Yule log, which we have always done outside near the church steeple. It’s a big bonfire, and it has sort of evolved over the years from a log to an oak branch, like a bunch of branches. I guess logistically it burns better and faster, and it’s usually very cold. And a lot of times it’s cold for us, we’re outside, so rather than waiting for a big log to catch up, we are now using the oak leaves. Charlene Stanich said.
“These are small versions of badnjak”, she said about what the band members were doing, “And what’s happening is everyone’s out there and someone walks in with the big badnjak, wearing it.” The bearers of the badnjak bring it and the choir sings like a hymn. Then there is a flag bearer that says, “Good evening, O hosts, and a happy and happy Christmas Eve to you and your household members. And then the host sprinkles the standard bearer and the badnjak with a little wheat and says, “The Lord be with you and may we have a happy and blessed Christmas Eve and Christmas the ‘next day’.
“The priest says’ blessed and sanctified are these oak branches as a symbol of the tree of the cross of life and of the resurrection in remembrance of the birth of Christ and for the sanctification of our houses by the grace of the Holy One. Spirit and by sprinkling this blessed water in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ‘, so this is what he does when he blesses them so that it symbolizes not only the birth with the straw but also the cross with the oak branches ”, she added.
“I consider this a symbol of the badnjak that the father blesses, and then everyone can take one home” she said.
“We put it next to our icon. You have a corner or an icon table or a place where your icon is located. So it goes through your icon and then, when you say prayers, it’s almost symbolic ”, she continued. “It’s a new beginning, a new year, a new badnjak for your house and after the whole year has passed you kind of say goodbye, old year, and who is not ready to say goodbye to 2021, right? “
Church members worked in unison to make the small badnjaks, with Strohmeyer cutting off the branches. This year they came from the church yard.
“It was practical this year”, Strohmeyer said, “but normally someone goes and walks in the woods and cuts down a sapling and saves the limbs, and we bring them in and start pruning them.”
Respect for customs is important.
“It is wonderful to perpetuate these traditions which have been imported from Europe after these many years” commented Gary Stanich. “We love to do it, it’s fun. We get together, we joke, and we do the job, and the parishioners appreciate it ”, he added.
“I think the reason people cling to the Serbian church is because it has a lot of traditions in the things you do,” Charlene Stanich said. “Unfortunately, as people get older and the children move away, some of these things are not preserved as much, so we like to keep those traditions when we can. “
Wasko was happy to be a part of it.
“Our grandparents and great-grandparents brought these traditions, and we want to keep doing them for as long as possible in remembrance of them because the traditions are very important.” said Wasko.
“I know how important it was to my father. My grandparents died when I was a baby and so it was so important to him that it brings me closer to him when I do that. Wasko added.
“Our parents are smiling up there” Gary Stanich said.
(Kiaski can be contacted at [email protected])