The Rev. Matthew Harrington, rector of St. John the Theologian Orthodox Mission Church in St. Francsiville, encouraged his congregation to “fight to continue to live a spiritual life” during a Jan. 7 service celebrating Christmas.

Unlike the many churches that celebrated the birth of Christ on Dec. 25, St. John Mission Church in St. Francisville celebrated Christmas services Jan. 7.

“We follow the old calendar, the Julian calendar,” said Harrington, a husband and father of three. “The celebration is our Christmas and Christmas Mass, but 13 days later.”

The Divine Liturgy service was celebrated by a small congregation of about 12 adults and children, who stood for most of the nearly two-hour service.

There was lots of singing and prayers, all of them sung a cappella, and the sign of the cross was made frequently, several times in a row.

When entering the candlelit sanctum, members of the congregation, including the children, honored saintly icons by kissing every image within reach.

Icons of St. John the Theologian, the church’s namesake, Lady Theotokos (Virgin Mary), Saint Nicholas and many more adorn the walls. Prayers were also offered up to the many saints requesting intercession.

“The icons are considered sacred images, windows into heaven,” Harrington said.

Incense is waved with a censer and Eucharistic bread and wine — or the body and blood of Christ — was offered.

Other than celebrating Christmas, St. John Mission celebrated for other reasons on Jan. 7.

“Two years ago, we started services here at St. John,” Harrington said. “So today, we celebrate.”

Orthodox Christians believe Jan. 7 is a time of reflection, inner thoughts and healing, and many Orthodox fast for 40 days so they can share the day feasting with friends and family members.

“For 40 days, we’ve fasted, giving up meat, dairy and eggs so I guess we’re a little hungry today,” Harrington said.

Following the liturgical service, the entire congregation moved from the sanctum through a foyer and into a country kitchen for a feast that included homemade biscuits and marmalade, made by Harrington’s wife, quiche, casseroles, mimosas, coffee, chocolate milk for the children and much more.

“We welcome any and all,” Harrington said.

A native of Oregon, Harrington graduated from Eastern Oregon University with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.

He is a graduate of the ROCOR, Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, Chicago Diocese Pastoral School and holds a Master of Theology degree for the Euclid Consortium.

Harrington has worked as a police officer, probation officer and hospital chaplain.

Ordained to the priesthood in 2012, Harrington served the community of St. Silouan Orthodox Church in Walla Walla, Washington, where he was asked to take over as headmaster of St. Basil Classical Academy.

While there, Harrington taught a full spectrum of classes from kindergarten through the eighth-grade, but left the Pacific Northwest for Louisiana in 2013 to start St. John Mission, which is under the Omophorion of Bishop Peter of Cleveland.

Harrington teaches elementary education for St. Raphael Orthodox Online Homeschool.

To learn about St. John the Theologian Orthodox Mission, 4603 Old Highway 61, visit www.saintjohnmission.org or call (225) 635-6787.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Jan. 14, 2015, to clarify some language and to make some spelling corrections.