Archeparchy of Winnipeg

The Nativity Feast, Malanka, and The Feast of Jordan

rhr_13The Nativity itself, January 7th, should be a day of rest. Everyone who is able to should take the day off from work and school. The family should attend the Liturgy together in the morning, and during the day carollers should visit the houses of as many parishioners as possible. In our Canadian communities we often think of carollers as thinly disguised canvassers, looking for a handout. It’s important to remember that traditionally the most important thing carollers do is announcing the Birth of Our Lord and bringing prayers and good wishes to the members of the community – any type of “fund-raising” activity is secondary. Likewise, though we’ve fasted from meat and dairy for forty days, we are forbidden to fast from Christmas till the eve of the Theophany – so bon appetit!

Where possible, the Liturgies on the 2nd and 3rd days of the feast (January 8th and 9th) should be attended by as many as possible, especially if they fall on a weekend.

st vlads malanka poster

The next big day is the 13th of January – “Malanchyn Vechir”, or new-year’s eve. Virtually every so-called “Malanka” in Canada is nothing more than a thinly-veiled “anglostyle” new-years dance, held on the most convenient (i.e. not the correct) day – and not a true celebration of the “Malanka” festival at all. One thing we might do in our parishes to help correct this is to serve the vespers on the 13th (for the feast of the Circumcision and St. Basil on the 14th) and have a real Malanka – with songs, customs and games in the church hall afterwards. This is especially fun for all the young people – and if vespers starts at 6:00 P.M., the entire evening can be wrapped up by 9:00 P.M., giving even parents of very young children enough time to get home from work, worship, have fun, and still get the children into bed on a school night. The 14th of January, the second great feast of this cycle, should also be set aside as a day to attend the Liturgy for as many as are able to do so.


The third great feast of the winter cycle is the Theophany – “Jordan”. This is technically the second greatest feast of the Church year, after the Resurrection. That’s right, it’s more important both theologically and historically than Christmas. Why? Because every child is born, but not every child has risen bodily from the dead, nor been manifested as God (which is the literal meaning of the Greek word Theophania) by the visible presence of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father at their baptism. This feast was in existence chronologically well before the feast of Christmas appeared, and the Armenians (whose tradition is ancient and venerable) never did accept the “new” feast of the Birth of Our Lord – to this day they celebrate it together with the Theophany, not separately, as we do. Needless to say, the feast of Jordan (January 19th) should be celebrated with full Liturgical solemnity. The eve of the feast, January 18th, is a day of strict fast. As we know, every great feast is preceded by a preparatory fast, but since this feast follows two other great feasts the fast is reduced to only one day. The Liturgical celebration begins with the Royal Hours, Liturgy of St. Basil, and Great Blessing of Waters in the morning. This blessing of waters was normally done outdoors, at the local lake, well or stream. In the early evening the family had a fasting meal, similar to the Christmas eve meal. In most of our parishes this meal has been made into a parish meal – a good and meaningful way of adapting our tradition to our circumstances.

One thing that must always be stressed, however, is that this meal usually follows the Church service – it’s not the centre of the celebration in itself. If we’re not in Church for the services, these holiday meals are meaningless, and are a sign of superstition, not faith. One of the strongest statements we can make regarding our faith is simply attending services on the “high holidays”. The Jews do it, the Moslems do it, and we should do it. This is never more evident than during the Liturgy on the feast of the Theophany – “Jordan” – January 19th. Easter isn’t a problem, for it falls on a Sunday. “Ukrainian Christmas” on the 7th is understandable, because it’s “Christmas”. If we’re really serious about our festal calendar we should take the day (or at least the morning) off of work and school to attend Liturgy on the 19th of January – after all, it is the 2nd greatest feast day of the year! Perhaps the reason that this festal Liturgy followed by the second blessing of waters isn’t well attended is simply that no-one else celebrates it – neither the Catholics, nor the Protestants – and we don’t want the hassle of trying to convince “others” (or even “our own”) of the importance of our festivals no matter how ancient and important they are. It’s true, however, that the more we respect our own calendar and festivals the more the “others” will respect us. In celebrating these three great winter festivals we should definitely make attendance at services our first priority – because this is the raison d’etre for our festivals – without the Church celebration nothing else makes sense, or has any meaning. The second priority should be the social and communal aspects – remembering our seniors and others on Christmas eve, for example. The third (but equally important) priority should be teaching and learning the songs associated with each festival. The common thread that runs through all these festivals (other than our Christian Faith, which is the foundation and cornerstone of them) is song. Ukrainians have been known for centuries as a “singing people”. Ask a Russian to sing you a Christmas Carol and likely as not they’ll sing you a Ukrainian Carol. We’ve got thousands and thousands of songs, enough that other nations have borrowed from us. Every one of these three feasts has its own Carols or Schedriwky (new years or Theophany songs), and we have people in every community and parish who know at least a few of them. If we truly want to pass on our Holy Faith to the next generation, one of the most important tools God has given us is our songs – we should make sure that our children, not to mention every one of us, learn and sing the beautiful songs our ancestors have given us, joyfully celebrating the feasts of God’s incarnation, manifestation, and love.

Fr. Bohdan Hladio December 1998 A.D.

Taken from here


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