Orthodox families awaiting Christmas

Posted On January 6, 2007

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Their celebration is this weekend

“Merry Christmas” greetings are still in order this weekend for thousands of Armenian Americans and Egyptian Americans across metro Detroit.

Many metro Detroit Armenian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox families exchanged gifts and sang Christmas carols on December 25. “Our kids are growing up in America, so we celebrate that part of Christmas with other Americans, but our religious celebration is this weekend,” Mounir Sharobeem of Shelby Township, a member of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Troy, said Thursday.

The Coptic Christmas liturgy begins Saturday evening and continues into the wee hours of Sunday morning, which is Christmas Day in the Coptic calendar.

“We’re really rejoicing this week, because this will be the first liturgy we’ve ever held inside our new $5-million church,” the Rev. Mina Essak, pastor at St. Mark, said Thursday. “Until now, we’ve been using space in the foyer of our new church, getting everything ready in the main part of the church. Now, we finally get to go inside.”

More than 500 families belong to the church and are expected to fill the 770 seats to overflowing. Meanwhile, thousands of members of St. Sarkis Armenian Orthodox Church in Dearborn and St. John Armenian Orthodox Church in Southfield will celebrate their holiday tonight and Saturday morning.

The centuries-old Armenian custom is to combine a celebration of Jesus’ birth with a celebration of Jesus’ baptism, which the Bible says took place when he was a young man.

“Our focal point on Friday evening is Christ’s nativity,” the Rev. Garabed Kochakian, pastor of the Southfield church, said Thursday. “But then, we also celebrate Jesus’ baptism, too. It was in Jesus’ baptism that the world came to know of his divinity, so we celebrate that on Saturday with a liturgy we call the blessing of the waters.”

After services, Armenian families carry home small containers of the blessed water mixed with a tiny portion of holy oil, “and people do different things with this water,” Varsenick Apkarian, a member of the Southfield church, said. “Some people drink it; others use it in their cooking.” Many traditional recipes are associated with the season, she said, including a traditional Armenian treat made of wheat, nuts and dried fruits cooked to a pudding consistency.