Orthodox Christians in Slovakia Celebrate Christmas Eve

Orthodox Christmas in Bratislava. (Stock photo by TASR)

Bratislava, January 6 (TASR) – Orthodox Christians (predominantly in the east of the country) and also Greek Catholics in certain villages in eastern Slovakia observing the Julian calendar are celebrating Christmas Eve on Friday.

The liturgical celebrations of Christmas in churches observing the Julian calendar began as early as on Friday morning with prayers called the ‘Royal Hours’. These services are so called because at the time of the Byzantine Empire they used to be solemnly attended by the emperor himself. The services proceed in the evening with Great Vespers, the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great and Great Compline, called ‘Velikoe Povecheriye’ in Church Slavonic.

Orthodox believers (and currently under less strict rules also Greek Catholics) observe a period of 40 days of fasting ahead of Christmas that includes abstention from all animal products, including eggs, and all dairy products. The fasting ends on the evening of January 6, which is Christmas Eve, but supper can also be prepared only from ingredients that can be consumed in periods of fasting.

The Orthodox Christmas Day, corresponding to January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar, is followed by the feast of Synaxis of the Holy Theotokos (January 8) and the feast of Saint Stephen, Archdeacon and Protomartyr (January 9).

Most Greek Catholics in Slovakia also used to observe the Julian calendar before 1950, when the Greek Catholic Church in Slovakia was banned by the Communists with the aim of merging it with the Orthodox Church. After the ban was lifted during the Prague Spring in 1968, most Greek Catholics adopted the Gregorian calendar. Nowadays, the Gregorian calendar is observed by the archbishopric in Presov and both Greek Catholic eparchies in Kosice and Bratislava. Only a few villages in eastern Slovakia still stick to the Julian calendar.