Orthodox church prepares for Christmas
Members of Hillsboro’s Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church are preparing to celebrate Christmas in keeping with the traditions of the Orthodox Christian Church.
Father Isaac Farha said Orthodox preparation for Christmas lasts a month and 10 days, and is observed Nov. 15 through Dec. 25.
“The Church prescribes a fast from both dairy and meat products,” Farha said.
On some days, fish is allowed.
Fasting is a tradition passed to the early church from Jewish practice.
Church services reflect nativity characters during the period as well.
“We sing lots of hymns dedicated to Christ and his birth,” Farha said. “A lot of it also goes to his mother because his mother is also important at this time.”
On Dec. 25, fasting ends and feasting is celebrated for days afterward.
During that time, Orthodox Christians do a lot of caroling and the Hillsboro church carries out an eastern tradition called “Starring.”
“We go from house to house within the congregation and sing Christmas carols,” Farha said.
The celebration of Christmas continues until Epiphany on Jan. 6.
Holy Transfiguration Church tradition offers evening vespers service, held Wednesday and Saturday evenings throughout the year.
Orthodox churches trace their roots to Pentecost in 33 A.D., Farha said.
“We have a direct line all the way back to the apostles,” he said.
The Roman Catholic Church parted paths with Orthodox Christianity in 1054, Farha said. The split was caused by an alteration in church creed.
There are nine Orthodox parishes in Kansas, one of which is Holy Transfiguration.
“There’s a saying that the Orthodox Church is the best-kept secret in America,” Farha said.
The congregation’s journey to Orthodoxy began in 2000, when John Baize, then the minister of a semi-charismatic congregation and now an Orthodox priest, felt called to the orthodox tradition.
Don Ratzlaff, a founding member of Holy Transfiguration, said the congregation learned along with Baize, who gave them church history lessons and information on Orthodox traditions.
“The congregation decided if this was the church and it was continuing, who were we to say it isn’t right?” Ratzlaff said.
Opening the door to a different view makes it easier to take a new path, he said.
“There was a strong push to create an American Orthodox church,” Ratzlaff said.
The congregation officially became part of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in 2002.
At that time Baize, not yet ordained as an Orthodox priest, could not continue to lead the congregation. Priests came from Wichita, Topeka, and Salina to assist with the fledgling Orthodox congregation. Baize now serves St. Mary Magdalene Orthodox Chapel in Manhattan.
Farha, a native of Wichita and the first priest in his family, has been at Holy Transfiguration five years.
“I had served in Alaska for five years,” Farha said. “I came here Sept. 1, 2013.”
Ratzlaff, his wife, Marilyn, and their grown children came into Holy Transfiguration at its formation.
Ratzlaff likes both the liturgical worship style and the congregation’s connection to the original, early-day church.
One distinction visible from the street is the Orthodox cross at the top of Holy Transfiguration. Instead of an upright post with a single crossbar, the Orthodox cross has three crossbars. The one at the top signifies the sign hung over Jesus’s head during the crucifixion and the other signifies the broken bar where his feet were nailed.
A distinction not quite so visible is that Easter may be celebrated on a different Sunday from the one celebrated by other denominations. The date is according to the old calendar, not the calendar used by most churches.
Last modified Dec. 6, 2018