MERRILLVILLE | Generation to generation, the faith and culture of Serbian Orthodox Christians have survived through the ages, from Eastern Europe to the shores of America.
On Sunday, that faith and those traditions came together at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church to honor the birth of Jesus as several hundred gathered for Badnje Vece or Christmas Eve services. Parishioners of all ages filled the pews and stood four-deep at the back of the church.
Serbian Orthodox Christian churches follow the Julian calendar, said Dorothy Paunovich, of Valparaiso, who writes the St. Sava blog and is the church’s official videographer.
The Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, which was adopted in Europe in 1582. Major religious observations, such as Christmas and Easter, are later than those of western Christian denominations.
The Very Reverend Marko Matic officiated at Great Vespers with families and friends greeting one another with smiles, kisses and wishes for the season, and children re-created the story of the Nativity during a Christmas play.
Later, parishioners gathered outside for the blessing and burning of Badjnak, the oak Yule log. Songs rose with the smoke into the night air as the flames crackled.
To complete the tradition, everyone enjoyed light refreshments back inside the church hall.
It’s all about family and passing on the culture of the Serbian people, said Paunovich.
“During World War II, when our people were displaced in refugee camps, they had nothing, but they kept the culture,” she said. “They kept the music and the tradition of burning the Yule log.”
For Violet Sekulich, of Schererville, the Christmas Eve service was a time for greeting and worshiping with longtime friends and family members.
“I’ve been a member of St. Sava for about 80 years,” she said prior to the Mass. “I came from the Harbor (section of East Chicago). I see most of the people here every Sunday.”