Experiencing the nativity story in Ukraine
What would be your reaction if you saw a group of devil’s minions, a huge star and a goat on your doorstep? Shock? Fear? Bewilderment?
In Ukraine this is normal during Christmas festivities and here is why.
We all are used to trite and trivial Christmas drama but I bet you haven’t experienced a Ukrainian one in full, with the colours, beautiful voices, costumes and deep symbolism behind every action. I just described what is called “Vertep”. It is a mini travelling theatre with amateur actors who, to the best of their abilities, try to act/sing/dance out the Gospel. They are normally members of a local church.
The main attributes of every theatre are:
- The 8 point star — the symbol of sun, God and light. It is said it also illustrates that very star which signified the birth of Jesus and led the wise men to Bethlehem. The 8 points symbolize the eternal reign of Messiah.
- All the actors , dancers and singers symbolically represent the shepherds and wise men who came to see the King.
- The goat means wellbeing — the more goats in your flock, the wealthier you are. At the same time, the animal is an allegory for the Devil or as a scape goat used for sacrifice.
The Vertep travels from house to house and from apartment to apartment, dramatizing the Gospel story and proclaiming the Birth of the King. “The Christ has been born!” — declares the Vertep in songs, poems and drama, “all praise to the King” — replies the master of the household.
For us, evangelicals, Vertep is an invitation into the symbolic world of the Gospel, a drama that encourages our faith in the world that often limits the truth to propositions and creeds. The Vertep calls us to join the wise men in their travel to the manger, the travel, where true faith begins.
O come, let us adore Him!
Sergey Lebedev, CCX Ukraine campus staff in Kyiv