NPR wrestles with Orthodox calendars

It must be so confusing to try to cover the churches of the East in the context of North America. Things are so complicated here in the New World. Which brings us to a lovely little NPR story about that wonderful intersection between faith, family and food that is so common in the various ethnic branches of Eastern Orthodoxy and, of course, most other forms of religion around the world. Think Garrison Keillor and sweet corn or, even better, that cheesy broccoli-and-rice casserole (often with chicken) that is so important in Wednesday-night church suppers across the Lutheran Midwest. Or cue up the Jon Stewart jokes about Jewish foods (or not-so-Jewish foods).

One of the many reasons that the Orthodox are known for lively feasts is that fact that we spend so much time during church year in various kinds of fasts. At the end of Great and Holy Lent, people are going to want to eat meat and dairy early and often. And the same goes for Nativity Lent.

This brings us to NPR and its story about pierogies -- those wonderful dumplings that you can fill with veggies, with cheese, with the meats of your choice or any combination of the above. Thus, in this lovely (and lengthy) chunk of this tasty story we are told:

Many Americans are busy sweeping up tinsel, but Ukrainian, Russian and other Orthodox churches are preparing for Christmas this week. And at the Christmas Eve feast, most of the faithful will eat pierogies. These dumplings are traditionally prepared at home, but recently they've become something of a parish industry.

Myra Petrouchtchak sets up shop in the basement of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Church, a small parish of about 50 people in Southeast Portland. She's sitting with a few dozen others, stuffing and shaping potato pierogies by hand -- more than 2,000 pierogies. They've developed a following in the neighborhood.

"People come here and say that those pierogies remind them about their childhood," she says. "Not only Ukrainian people -- some German people, Polish people. And it's like, 'Oh, my grandmother used to do that.' "

Petrouchtchak and her husband, the priest at this parish, started weekly pierogi sales when they came to the church five years ago. They've raised enough money to renovate the church basement. But from the beginning, this was more than just a fundraiser.

"It was good for the parish as a community," says Petrouchtchak, "because many young women didn't know how to make pierogies or didn't have time to make pierogies at home. But here, all children can learn how to do it and carry on the tradition."

Please note that the word "tradition" has a small "t." That matters to the Orthodox. Still, it's nice to see this kind of practical, affectionate nod to the small-t traditions that are handed down from generation to generation to generation, often in kitchens (at home and at church).

But I digress. The problem is right there in the lede.

To see if you can spot it, consider the top of this localized Orthodox Christmas story from Kitchener, up in Ontario, Canada.

WATERLOO REGION -- Christmas may be over for many of us, but for some Orthodox Christians, the holy day is yet to come.

Many Eastern-rite churches mark Christmas on Jan. 7.

Note the presence of the word "some," as in "for SOME Orthodox Christians, the holy day is yet to come."

That's right, some Orthodox Christians celebrate on Jan. 7 according to the old Julian calendar. But many more -- at least here in North America -- celebrate Christmas from Dec. 25 until Jan. 5, following the newer Gregorian calendar used in the West. The Orthodox worldwide still use the Julian calendar for Pascha (known as Easter in the West).

Thus, the lede in the NPR story should be corrected. It needs some kind of qualifier to let listeners know that some Orthodox believers (even some Russians) ate their pierogies early, early on Dec. 25th. Others will do so -- as the story says -- on Jan. 7th. It's a small mistake, I know. But you will see it crop up in more than a few news stories in the next day or two.

Meanwhile, lovers of pierogies also need to know that it is highly unlikely that they will find them in the parish halls of Greek churches, whether we are talking about old calendar folks or new. Pierogies at a Greek feast? That just wouldn't be traditional.

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