Christmas comes ‘late’ for local Orthodox

For many people Christmas has come and gone. The stockings are down, presents exchanged and the wilting tree, whose boughs were once heavy with…

For many people Christmas has come and gone. The stockings are down, presents exchanged and the wilting tree, whose boughs were once heavy with tinsel and bulbs, is now on its way to the wood chipper.

But for at least one international group of believers, the time to celebrate has not yet arrived.

This weekend, followers of the Christian Orthodox faith will meet to celebrate the birth of Christ on their Christmas Day, which falls on January 7.

It’s beyond the gifts and the trees and the turkey, said Father John Bingham from the St. Nikolai Orthodox Christian Mission in Fort Langley, BC.

“With Christmas you usually have a sort of birthday party for Jesus.

“But we want to take it away from that aspect and see it as God himself becoming man.

“And make a way for us to become whole humans.”

Bingham has been ministering to the Whitehorse mission for the past year — a responsibility given to him through the Orthodox Church in America.

The Whitehorse parish has been building support over the past decade. Now it draws between 12 and 25 members to its prayer services.

This weekend, Bingham will come north to Whitehorse to hold two days of Nativity Vespers and Liturgy celebrations at the faith’s makeshift church at Maryhouse in downtown Whitehorse.

Currently the mission is looking for a more permanent place to hold services, although with its small following it will be some time before it could afford to buy or build a church of its own in the territory, said Bingham.

The Orthodox celebration comes nearly two weeks after the conventional Christmas date, December 25, because the church follows the Julian calendar, which runs 13 days behind. (So, in the Julian calendar January 7 is December 25.)

So Orthodox followers live by the secular calendar in their daily lives and follow the Julian calendar in their spiritual lives — a feat that proves difficult for some to juggle.

“The time it most matters to people is when we have to work instead of being at a particular feast or celebration,” said Bingham.

Following the Julian calendar, created by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, this is just one example of how the Orthodox Christian faith is unchanging in its tenants and beliefs.

Its unflappable stability is what first attracted Bingham to the religion. He converted nearly eight years ago.

Bingham noticed some churches were changing and trying new tactics to get people interested and in the door.

But the Orthodox Church has not changed its tenants to be more appealing or easier to follow.

“The Orthodox Church says: ‘This is what we’ve believed for 2,000 years; this is how we do it; please come and please be part of it,’” he said.

“These are the things that I think people are looking for — something that’s solid, and stable and has been that way for a long time.”

The church’s main book is the Bible and its hymns are drawn almost exclusively from The Book of Psalms.

And its worshippers stand, if possible, during the services.

“To stand in God’s presence seems like the appropriate thing,” explained Bingham.

There are both Eastern and Western Orthodox designations, but both follow the same basic set of beliefs.

The weekend’s celebrations will start with vespers on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. and continue Sunday with a full liturgy at 10 a.m. at Maryhouse in downtown Whitehorse. For more information call 393-2615.

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