In the six Russian Orthodox parishes the celebration is a little later. For some Berliners, this marks the end of a 40-day fasting period.
It smells like incense. The floor is covered with red-grey patterned carpets. In front, at the altar, stands the priest, holding his hands bent in the air and praying in Russian. Next to him is a manger on a red velvet cloth. There are many small figures in it: sheep, shepherds, ox and donkey. The chancel of the Cathedral of the Resurrection is decorated with two Christmas trees.
About 50 people have come to the church on Hohenzollerndamm: Women in headscarves or caps, men and children – they all seem to be waiting for something, because Christmas is still ahead of them. The Russian Orthodox community in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, like all other Russian Orthodox believers, celebrates Christmas on the 6th of December. and 7. January.
Six Russian Orthodox parishes in Berlin
The reason: the Russian and Serbian Orthodox churches calculate the feast, unlike all other Christians, according to an older calendar, the Julian. They celebrate the birth of Jesus thus 13 days later. Priest Evgeny Murzin also came to church the day before the festival. The Muscovite has been living with his family in Berlin for a year and a half. "Especially important at Christmas for me is the service", says the 38-year-old priest. In his church in Marzahn he will give the sermon.
According to the embassy, about 300,000 people of Russian origin live in the capital region. Half of them are Russian Orthodox, estimates Murzin. And of these, about 1000 believers regularly come to church. There are six Russian Orthodox parishes in Berlin. The largest is the one in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, which includes the Cathedral of Christ the Resurrection. The big Christmas mass with Archbishop Feofan will also take place there on Friday.
Fasting is meant to purify the body and soul
"Sochelnik" – that’s how Christmas Eve is called among the Russian Orthodox. The name comes from the court "Sochiwo", That consists of rice and dried fruit, a simple meal. Because of all times, the Christmas season is also Lent in the Russian Orthodox Church. 40 days before christmas believers start to give up meat, dairy products and eggs. Fish is only allowed on weekends. "With this we want to purify our bodies and our souls and thus prepare ourselves for Christ", explains the Marzahn priest Evgeny Murzin.
Only after a festive, four-hour service on the 6. January is allowed to be strong. "When it is over around two o’clock in the night, there is a big feast table in the church with all the things we were not allowed to eat during Lent."
On the first day of Christmas, on Saturday, it is customary to invite relatives and friends and to eat together. Of course, Irina Lesova will also have a Christmas tree in her living room. Together with her family she celebrated it on 30. December, just in time for New Year’s Eve.
Because in the Russian Orthodox faith, the customs of Christmas and New Year are mixed – a remnant from the Soviet times. The communist government had banned all church festivals. In order to create an acceptable non-Christian substitute for the population, it moved many Christmas traditions and customs to New Year’s Eve and modified them somewhat. That’s why there is still the New Year’s Eve tree and "Father Frost", which already brings the majority of the gifts. "Even though we celebrate on New Year’s Eve, no one is particularly boisterous", says Lesova, who was born in Crimea 43 years ago and has lived in Germany for the past 15 years. "After all it is still Lent."
Gifts are also available on New Year’s Eve
A highlight for her children, she says, is going to church on the morning of 7. January. Then her two three- and five-year-old daughters get candy from other parishioners and visitors, everyone sings and dances together. "We are then happy and glad because we have kept the fast," says Lesova, tells Irina Lesova. Her children do not have an Advent calendar. "But we make crosses in the calendar until Christmas", Irina Lesova adds with a laugh.
More on the topic
Russian Orthodox Church Ukrainians and Russians – united in Berlin
Archpriest Georgiy Antoniuk of the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ distributes the hosts for communion the day before Christmas Eve. "For me Christmas also means community and unity. We should be there especially for each other and do something good for our neighbor", says Evgeny Murzin, referring to the age and Christmas trees. Outside on the lawn in front of the white church there is a thin layer of snow – so Christmas can come.