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Supper marks beginning of Christmas
by Jean Blum - Correspondent.
Source: Lemont Reporter/Met (Page 16) - Date: Thursday, December 25, 2003

Sharing a unique supper together Christmas Eve marks the beginning of Christmas celebrations at St. Luke the Evangelist Orthodox Church near Lemont.

The Holy Supper is a tradition, said the Rev. Andrew Harrison, pastor of the 20-year-old faith community that evolved from an evening Bible-study program. People in that first Bible study class decided to deepen the experience of their Orthodox faith by starting a church without ethnic boundaries.

The fledgling community first rented the tiny unused Sacred Heart Church on 107th Street and Kean Avenue from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, purchasing the property in 1980. The church borders the unincorporated Cook County forest preserves at the east end of Lemont. Since then, the building has been renovated completely. Beautiful icons flow across the altar arch and an education center/fellowship hall has been added.

Even though the congregation is diverse, all services are held in English, Harrison explained.

"Approximately one-third of our congregation comes from the Greek Orthodox tradition, one-third from the Slovak-Russian-Ukrainian tradition. The rest are people interested in learning more about the Orthodox Church. Our members come from many towns including Lemont, Palos and Lockport; Cook, DuPage and Will Counties."

"Everyone is invited to attend our services and fellowship activities. We welcome those who decide to stay with us as they grow in their knowledge, understanding and Christian lifestyle in the Orthodox Church." He added.

Before supper, the believers will sing Christmas carols (for an hour, some in Greek, others in English). During the dinner, Harrison will sing as people gather around the Holy Supper table.

Joining Harrison, the community sings, "Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One. Angels with shepherds glorify him! The wise men journey with the star. For our sake, the Eternal God was born as a little child!"

"The Holy Supper is an Old Testament-based celebration," Harrison said. "The Christ Child has not yet been born, we are waiting for him to come just as the people in the Old Testament waited for the Messiah."

Harrison said the Holy Supper is strictly vegetarian, with parishioners cooking wonderful varieties of the 12 foods to be served. Dairy products also are forbidden.

The night is one of peace and love; therefore, salt, pepper and knives are not used. Pepper symbolizes arguments and knives the cutting of friendship, Harrison said.

As the meal begins, a bit of honey is placed on each person's forehead, representing love of one another. Wine is passed around for each to drink, uniting all in faith and love. Also, each person takes a piece of bread and dips it into honey to encourage all to love one another. Cloves of garlic are cracked with tooth, the strong taste reminding participants of the evil in the world, from which they ask God to spare them.

Warm fellowship and fun are included during the Holy Supper. While blindfolded, those who dare try spearing prunes with a fork. If two prunes are speared, it is a sign a single person will get married, and those married are predicted to become new parents. Other players will gently blow a candle out; if the smoke floats straight up, good luck is their destiny for the coming year.

The church celebrates the holiday with other activities as well. The children in the church performed a nativity play December 21st. Dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds, the three kings, angels and animals, they sang their songs and welcomed the baby Jesus.

After the play, St. Nicholas made an appearance - but his bag was empty. The children and their parents happily filled St. Nick's bag with cans of soup and other non-perishable foods to be given to area food pantries. The children learn early the joy of giving.

As the two-hour meal ends, Harrison again sings, "May he who was born in a cavern and lay in a manger for our salvation, Christ our true God, through the prayers of the Holy Theotokos (the Blessed Mother - Greek for God carrier) of the Holy Apostle St. Luke and all the saints, have mercy on us and save us. He is good and loves mankind."

Gradually people leave fellowship hall to gather in the nave of St. Luke's, already filling with people coming for the Sacred Celebration welcoming the child king. The a spiritual celebration, glorious music and joyful singing gives participants the feeling of the peace on earth, good will to men promised at Christmas.

For more information about St. Luke the Evangelist Church, call (708) 974-1188 or (630) 243-0893.

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