Friday, January 15, 2010


It's late to keep talking about Christmas, but that was just a week ago here in Ukraine and I want to tell you about it. Ukraine's history is intertwined with the Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been here for more than a thousand years. In 1988 it celebrated 1000 years here. In Orthodox tradition Christmas is celebrated on January 7. And although some Protestant churches may celebrate on December 25, it really isn't Christmas to Ukrainians. Here in Berdyansk our churches planted by World Gospel Mission celebrate Christmas on January 7.  When communism took over in Russia in 1917, the leaders wanted to end the celebration of Christmas, but they knew that the people would be very reluctant to give up this important part of the Orthodox calendar.  So the communists were very tricky.  They encouraged the people to stop celebrating St. Nicholas and Christmas, and instead began to promote a legendary character, Grandfather Frost.  Grandfather Frost would come and leave presents and check to see if the children were good or bad, and in both Russia and Ukraine the real reason for Christmas was slowly pushed into the background.  Even now, many people are not aware of the birth of Christ in a very personal way.  It is just another holiday to give them a break from their hum-drum lives. 

Our Christmas here really started just before December 25th when the children at the First Stage Orphanage put on a program for us and a few other friends. This program was centered around the stories of Saint Nicholas, whom the Ukrainians call Mikolai. One of the matrons at the orphanage dressed in a long red and white robe and hat (sort of like Santa, but not totally). The children recited poetry and sang songs which were traditional for them. I wish I could have understood it all, but I think they were all about St. Mikolai. WGM in Ukraine had purchased a tall live tree for the orphanage, and the children had decorated it with shiny paper ornaments, balls and garlands. Some of the little girls were dressed up to be stars, but usually the small children sat very, very quietly on their little chairs and watched along with us. This program was interesting to us because among the guests were the representatives of a political candidate who is running for President of the country. (Ukraine has national elections on Jan. 17). The representatives distributed toys and candies to the children, but they wanted to make sure that everyone knew it was from this candidate! The CEO of a large company here in Berdyansk was also there with his wife, and they distributed toys to the kids. We sat back quietly and watched. There wasn't very good light to take pictures, so I really didn't get much to show you. Oh yes, I mustn't forget that two TV channels sent their cameramen to film the program. I hope it got on TV, but we didn't see it.

The children did another program on January 5th, just before Orthodox Christmas. The attendees were fewer in number, but the children were just as adorable as ever. This time they were dressed in traditional Ukrainian outfits and the program was about how Christmas was celebrated in Ukraine. There was a table with examples of the special foods that were prepared and the children sang and recited again. Most of the singing and recitations were done by the older children. . But the little ones were dressed up too and looked beautiful. They were eager for their presents. WGM in Ukraine had brought along toys and candy for the kids this time, and they were distributed to big smiles and eager hands. We were glad to be a part of this day, and hope that Christmas day itself was just as happy for them.

On Christmas Day we attended two church services, one in Berdyansk in the morning and one at Primorsk in the afternoon.  I'm just putting in some pictures, first of Berdyansk, to show you some of the people.

The Berdyansk program was rather traditional with the kids singing and reciting and the few youth who were there doing some musical numbers.  Gifts were distributed and everyone seemed to have a great time. 

In Primorsk it was quite different.  The people of the church put on a big Christmas play which was based on the early life of Mary up until the birth of Jesus.  One young woman in the church had written it, arranged all the music, directed it, and probably collapsed when it was all over!  Most of the church people were in the play, and the church was packed with visitors and friends to watch it.  I must mention that the Primorsk church is not heated, so it was cold inside, but the spirit was warm and exciting. The following are just a few of the pictures I took that day.

For some reason, these ladies have taken me to their hearts.  They insisted I must be in a picture with them, and they were hugging me.  I love going to Primorsk!

This little babushka was sitting at the back of the church.  She was so much like my stereotyped image of what a Russian/Ukrainian grandmother should be that I couldn't resist taking her picture.  But she wasn't very happy with me for doing it.

Finally, on the next Sunday one of the young women in the church testified that a large group of the church people had gone out on the main street in downtown Primorsk, stood on the corner and began singing Christmas carols.  People were curious, stopping and asking them what this was all about.  And the church people began to tell them about the real Christmas and the birth of Christ.  What a wonderful evangelistic outreach to people who don't know the love of God.  We were totally impressed with these people!

1 comment:

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It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.