01/15/2021, 12.22
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Orthodox New Year celebrations: 'from the star to the water'

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Following the Julian calendar (and not the Gregorian one, like the West), the New Year was celebrated yesterday. The days between Christmas and the Baptism of the Lord (Theophany), full of dances, traditional costumes and folklore: from the star (of Bethlehem) to the water (of the Jordan). This year swimming in the frozen waters of lakes and rivers will not be held in many parishes due to the pandemic. The patriarchate of Moscow exalts the churches of Turkey under its jurisdiction.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Yesterday, January 14, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the Circumcision of the Lord in the Octave of Christmas, together with the memory of Saint Basil the Great, on the day that corresponds to January 1 according to the Julian "old calendar", which the Orthodox liturgy adheres to.

This date is referred to as the "old New Year". The days between Christmas and Theophany (the Baptism of the Lord) which falls on January 19 (January 6 in the old calendar) are also called the days of the "Santerelli" (Svjatki), which corresponds to the Latin Carnival given the tradition to wear masks and costumes and diffusion of folklore (including auspices, horoscopes and group dances). These are the twelve days "from the star to the water", from the comet of Bethlehem to the waters of the Jordan.

In reality, the "old New Year" is not commemorated by the liturgy, according to which the year begins on 1 (14) September, at the beginning of the new liturgical cycle, but in Russian churches the prayers and moleben of thanksgiving and greeting both the “Gregorian” and the “Julian” January 1st. This period is one of the few in which all fasts are suspended, which in the Eastern liturgy accompany the faithful for almost the whole year. It serves both to prepare for feasts and to exalt Eucharistic spirituality, which requires fasting to "make room for the Bridegroom" and the sweetness that He dispenses for the soul. During the Svyatki, children are taken to the church to receive Holy Communion in a festive atmosphere.

Protoierej Maksim Kozlov, president of the Educational Committee of the Moscow Patriarchate, wanted to underline the importance of these calendar deviations from the West in an interview with the Ria Novosti: "If the old new year reminds someone of the existence of an older and more adequate calendar, such as the Julian one, there is nothing wrong with that. Perhaps, in the context of the current tendencies to overcome the pseudo-globalism of the civilized West, we can testify to the authenticity of ancient traditions."

The traditions of the Svjatki masks and jokes want to express the joy of the presence of the Child Jesus, living in a spirit of "infantile" lightness, but also the revelation of the Holy Trinity in Baptism, which imposes a completely new and multiform vision of reality. The circumcision of Jesus is not remembered in the Latin tradition, and the Orientals consider it a confirmation of the incarnation and acceptance, by the Saviour, of the human dimensions and earthly laws according to the designs of divine Providence, later transfigured in Baptism.

The feast of Baptism at the River Jordan includes one of the most striking gestures of Orthodox devotion: bathing in icy waters through an opening in the shape of a cross, practiced in lakes and rivers. This year, due to the Covid-19 prevention measures, many parishes have announced that they will renounce the outdoor rite, limiting themselves to the liturgical part, but certainly there will be sacred immersions especially at the monasteries, which are very reluctant to submit to the sanitary measures.

The patriarchate of Moscow also announced on January 13 the largescale observance of the Christmas liturgies in many places around the world, emphasizing above all the places where the faithful were first entrusted to the care of the patriarchate of Constantinople, with which ecclesial communion was interrupted. In particular, the patriarchia.ru website highlighted the liturgies held in Turkey, the canonical territory of the ecumenical patriarchate, in Istanbul (at the Russian consular residence), in the province of Antalya, in Alanya, Kemer, Side and Manavgat, in Izmir. (Smyrna), Eskisehir, Samsun and the Aegean seaside resorts, where many Russians reside.

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