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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Orthodox Christmas in Full Revival




For many of those celebrating Russian Orthodox Christmas on Wednesday, the date is largely another opportunity to stay home from work and overindulge in food and drink.


But for pensioner Yelizaveta Doro-shayeva, 63, and thousands like her, the holiday symbolizes the revival of an Orthodox tradition that was very nearly killed off in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution.


The next few days will be busy ones for Doroshayeva, a pale and fragile woman who once was the editor of a literary magazine and now helps out at the Small Church of Our Lord's Ascension in downtown Moscow.


At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Doroshayeva will go to the church for a six-hour liturgy after which she will decorate the church for the holiday with flowers and spruce branches. At 10 p.m., she will go to confession. Then, at 11 p.m., she will attend the main Christmas service. Finally, some time after 3 a.m., there is the highlight of Christmas night: a celebration meal with priests and special guests of the church.


Tuesday is also the day when Doroshayeva can break her 40-day fast during which she has abstained from meat, eggs and dairy products. On the final day, Russian Orthodox strictures forbid her to eat at all until the first star appears in the evening sky.


"And then all week there will be services, there are really a lot of them during the holiday week," Doroshayeva said. Cathedrals and churches across the capital will follow a similar schedule.


Under Communist rule, Jan. 7 was not officially celebrated, and it was gradually replaced as the most important feast in the calendar by the secular New Year holiday. Like most of her compatriots, Doroshayeva followed Soviet rules and ignored Orthodox Christmas. "Until the age of 40 I did not even concern myself with issues of religion," she said.


However, since 1992, when Jan. 7 was reinstated as a national holiday, millions have begun attending church on Orthodox Christmas. In a sign of the newly enhanced status of Russian Orthodoxy, politicians have jumped on the bandwagon. High-ranking government officials will be on view Tuesday night in prestigious Moscow churches clutching candles and crossing themselves.


"Belief is like a platform on which we all stand and this platform was pulled away," said Doroshayeva, as she arranged a bunch of flowers in the church Monday afternoon.


Doroshayeva said she was particularly heartened by the fact that the younger generation could now go to church without fear of reprisals by the authorities. "They are getting used to [services] from early childhood. Everything we were deprived of in our childhood opens up for them," Doroshayeva said.


"People come to church because of different reasons but the majority because of personal loss or pain," Doroshayeva said. In her case she became a devout believer after she made a surprise recovery from illness, she said.


Doroshayeva's holiday closely resembled the traditional Orthodox Christmas that was lost with the arrival of Soviet rule. The majority of Russians, however, have still not managed to recover from 70 years of religious oppression.


Nadezhda Surikova, who sells books in a subway crossing under Pushkin Square, said that she will have a quiet gathering with her family Thursday. She wasn't sure yet whether she will go to church or not. "I only started to celebrate Christmas two or three years ago and for us it is an opportunity to gather together with close friends and family," she said.


The younger generation also seemed to have strictly secular plans for the holiday. "Yeah, we'll pop some pills and go clubbing and dancing," said Yevgeny Lyubimov, 17, whose friends enthusiastically nodded in agreement. "By the way, do you have 1,000 rubles?" he added.