It's Christmas For Serbs Here -- But War's Savagery Brings Note Of Pain To Orthodox Rites Outside Issaquah

In a field south of Squak and Tiger mountains outside Issaquah, human silhouettes flickered in the glow of a brightly burning log.

The scene last night harked back almost 2,000 years, to when shepherds watched over their flocks by night and the angel of the Lord appeared, bringing "good news of great joy for all the people":

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.

While much of the world marked Christmas on Dec. 25, today is the day Orthodox Christians who follow the old Julian calendar celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The yule-log burning last evening was part of the traditional Christmas Eve observance at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church, a small congregation south of downtown Issaquah.

Instead of decorating a Christmas tree, members of St. Sava spread hay and gathered around a fire to remember Jesus' birth in a manger.

But this Christmas is mixed with joy and sorrow.

"It is a very difficult time for us," said Michael Jankovich, immediate past president of the congregation.

The war in the former Yugoslavia and sanctions by the United Nations and the United States against Serbia have engulfed the Serbian people in suffering, including friends and relatives of church members, said Jankovich.

"The sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Serbia outside Bosnia has just destroyed the people. They have no heat, water, food or gasoline," he said. "Each week we pray for peace, everywhere."

In a Christmas message that was to be read at St. Sava's service this morning, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Pavle of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, said, "Instead of joyful Christmas carols of glory and peace, today we bring to Christ the Rachel-like wailing of too many mothers for their children who have been killed, afflicted, maimed, starved, taken ill, made homeless, orphaned or made refugees."

Jankovich said Pavle was an outspoken proponent of peace in the fighting that has raged among Serbs, Croats and Muslims the past two years.

Jankovich said approximately 10 Serbian refugees who fled the fighting in former Yugoslavia are now taking part in services at St. Sava.

Jankovich said St. Sava was established six years ago. At first, members met at Jankovich's home. Then they began meeting in Greek and Russian Orthodox churches in Seattle.

They moved to a former Pentecostal church in Issaquah two years ago, establishing the only Orthodox church on the Eastside, said Jankovich, a Seattle attorney. The congregation numbers about 100 families. It is predominantly Serbian but also draws Greek, Lebanese, Romanian and Russian Orthodox Christians.

The Rev. Lawrence Janjic (pronounced "YAN-yich") said the Orthodox Church traces its roots in a direct and unbroken line to the first-century Christian church.

The Divine Liturgy he is to celebrate today is the same as what priests said in the fourth century, said Janjic, 32, who came to the U.S. from Bosnia five years ago.

Today, after the Christmas service, members will break a fast they've been observing during the five weeks of Advent. Refraining from "heavy" meat and dairy products, practicing good deeds and praying help "lift our spirit up close to God," Janjic said of the fast.

Other Orthodox churches that mark Christmas today include St. Nectarios American Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Amanuel Ethiopian Orthodox Church, all of Seattle.

Today is Dec. 25 under the old Julian calendar.

Luigi Lilio Ghiraldi, a 16th-century astronomer, contended the Julian calendar was based on too long a year.

Pope Gregory XIII abolished the old calendar in 1582 and replaced it with what is now known as the Gregorian calendar, based on Ghiraldi's time calculations.