Overnight into January 7 a night office of vigils is celebrated in Orthodox Christian churches. Belsat.eu journalists have visited St. Michael the Archangel and talked to senior priest Ihar Halak and deacon Dzmitry.
On this day, Orthodox believers refrain from eating until the first star, appears in the sky, which is the symbol of that of Bethlehem.
The lectern (a tall, narrow table where an icon, a cross or Gospel can be laid) is one of the main places in the church. Today there is Christmas icon depicting the sacred moment of the birth of Jesus Christ.
When the star of Bethlehem began to shine in the sky, the Magi headed for the place where Christ was born. The Jews were waiting for an earthly King who could deliver them from slavery and help to establish their own state. But the newborn was Heavenly King. The wise men gave him frankincense, myrrh and silver – the symbols of wealth and reign – as a gift.
Baby Jesus was born at night, that is why the feast liturgy is said overnight into January, 7. The icon of Nativity is placed on the lectern for the period of January 6-13. Before the evening service it is decorated with a fir wreath.
The feast of Nativity lasts until the Circumcision of the Lord, then Epiphany comes. All these festivals are associated with the life of Christ and cover the period from 7 to 18 January, which the Orthodox church calls ‘good tide’. The way the priests’ are dressed during the great holidays is different from that of daily services. For example, on Easter clothings should be red; when priests celebrate Christmas serviice, black robes are replaced by white ones.
There are cribs with figures of the Baby, Virgin Mary, St. Josef, lambs and three Magi in some churches.
In the run-up of the feast of Nativity some believers keep 40-day Christmas fast.
Traditionally, the holy Doors are open during the Orthodox Christmas service so that all celebrants could see what happens in the chancel.
The bread which is used for communion in the Orthodox church is called ‘prosfora’. It is made of flour, baptismal water and yeast. First leaven is made, then dough is mixed and prayers are said. On Nativity Day special Christmas bread is baked.