While the celebration of the “Winter Pascha” of our Lord’s Nativity is paramount in the lives of Orthodox Christians during the days of the Feast, at St. Stephen Church in Lackawanna, New York, the presence of our Father and Bishop Irinej in our midst for the second and third days of Christmas made the days more joyful, as we experienced the fullness of our membership in the Body of Christ, gathered around our chief shepherd, our Diocesan Bishop.
Parishioners from near and far, as far as 150 miles from the church, and friends from local churches of other Orthodox jurisdictions happily came for worship and fellowship. On Christmas Eve - Badnji Dan, Economos Vladislav Golić served the vespers with the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, and later the Great Compline, preceded by the burning of the yule log. Under the direction of Protinica Victoria Trbuhovich, the parish children sang portions of the yule log service, alternating with the Kosta Manojlovich choir. The parents of the St. Stephen Tamburitzans, serving also as members of the church school parent-teacher organization, prepared a Lenten dinner, after which they treated the children to an array of coins and sweets that they tossed in the straw, following our age-old custom.
On the Feast Day itself, the faithful again gathered for the Divine Liturgy and the lunch that Father Vladislav and Popadija Sara, as has been their practice, offered with the assistance of their helpers.
Remembering that the Holy Orthodox Church considers the entire Nativity-Theophany season to be a continuous celebration, with the “leave-taking” of Christmas on January 13, the second day of the Feast, Sunday, January 8 was as festive, if not more so, than the previous day because His Grace, our Father and Bishop Irinej was among us. Prior to the Divine Liturgy, he set apart three boys, faithful servers at the altar of St. Stephen Church, as acolytes, appointing to them the function of taper-bearers. Natan Golić, Luka Ćulum, and Dimitri Zausen are always ready to assist Economos Vladislav Golić, together with readers Gregory Korbut and Daniel Hawkins. With Bishop Irinej as the main celebrant, Economos Vladislav, together with parish deacon Steven Gjurch and visiting deacons Darko Tripković, who accompanied our Bishop from New York, and Daniel August, who is attached to St. Elias Church in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, concelebrated the Divine Liturgy for the Synaxis of the Theotokos. Reader John Buffalini, from St. Luke parish of Washington, DC, traveled with Deacon Daniel to assist at the Hierarchical Liturgy with the parish readers, acolytes, and other altar servers.
On Sunday, the St. Stephen Patronal Feast Day - slava celebration included the cutting of the Festal Bread - kolach, a festive banquet, and a children’s program comprised of musical selections by the Tammies and individual musicians, as well as a skit depicting a domestic slava celebration.
The faithful of St. Stephen Church did not forget the actual feast of their patron, occurring on the third day of Christmas, January 9. Once again, His Grace, Bishop Irinej served the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy with Protopresbyter Miki Miovski of SS. Cyril and Metody Macedonian Orthodox Church in neighboring Blasdell, New York joining Economos Vladislav and the other clergy. On both Sunday and Monday, His Grace spoke warmly and eloquently, with a message on the feast of St. Stephen reflecting on the kontakion of the day:
Yesterday the Master came to us in the flesh; today His servant departs from the flesh. Yesterday the King was born in the flesh, and today His servant is stoned. For His sake, the Protomartyr and divine Stephen is perfected.
In his homily, His Grace contrasted “yesterday’s” birth of Christ with St. Stephen’s departure from this life “today.” Reminding us that St. Stephen, the Archdeacon, was the first martyr, or witness, to give up his life for Christ, His Grace explained that name “Stephen” derives from the Greek word “stephanos,” meaning “wreath” or “crown,” the crown of martyrdom. He also noted the eventual conversion of Saul, come St. Paul, a cousin of St. Stephen, who stood by during Stephen’s stoning.
As on Sunday, so on Monday, the hosts - kumovi for the parish slava, Ljubiša and Andrijana Ćulum, with their children Nikolina and Luka, hosted a sumptuous luncheon. The faithful of St. Stephen parish are grateful to their beloved Archpastor and Father, His Grace Irinej for spending two full days with them, leading them in worship, instructing them in the Faith, guiding them with edifying conversation, and interacting warmly with the children of the parish. God grant him many years!