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Ventura County Religion

Greek Orthodox Celebration Set at Harbor


For Ventura County's sole Greek Orthodox church, January holds two religious holidays: the Epiphany and Agiasmos.

On Tuesday, Archimandrite Cyril Loeb of St. Demetrios Church in Camarillo led worshipers in a liturgy celebrating the Epiphany in both English and Greek.

The holiday--also known as Twelfth Day--includes a ritual blessing of water that signifies the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, he said.

On Sunday comes Agiasmos (pronounced ah-ge-as-mo), which also features a blessing of the waters--but on a much larger scale.

Congregants will meet at 1 p.m. near the Greek restaurant at Ventura Harbor, Loeb said, to see the priest bless the channel.

"Following the service, we throw a cross into the water," he said. "Some of the parishioners then dive in to retrieve it. That's a Greek custom."

Afterward, many participants will celebrate at the restaurant with lunch "and enough pastries for a year's worth of cholesterol," Loeb said.

Water is a part of both celebrations, he said, because it is an outward sign of bodily cleansing and spiritual purification.

The two January holidays are important in the Eastern Orthodox church.

The rest of the year, Loeb said, "We celebrate the same principal holidays as other Christian churches, although the date of Easter is different because we use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian."

The Greek Orthodox church was formed in AD 1054, when Greek and Eastern Orthodox Christians split with what is now the Catholic Church, Loeb said. "Eastern and western Christians separated over mostly doctrinal, but also political and cultural differences."

Also known as the Great Schism of 1054, the split came about when the western half of the old Roman Empire gave the pope supremacy over other bishops.

"In the east, there was never a concept of universal jurisdiction by a pope," Loeb said. "We've also preserved a married clergy."

Today, Greek Orthodox Christians recognize Patriarch Bartholomew as the church's spiritual leader, whose authority is that of a first among equals.

His full title is His All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome.

Patriarch Bartholomew's visit to Southern California in November "was a major event for our parishioners," Loeb said. "We went to the symposium in Santa Barbara, and on the Sunday of the patriarchal liturgy at the Los Angeles Convention Center, our church closed for the day. In fact, all the Greek Orthodox churches south of Bakersfield were closed. We all went."

Loeb said that St. Herman's Orthodox Church in Oxnard is an Eastern Orthodox church that, while interchangeable in belief with the Greek Orthodox Church, "is Russian, or Slavonic. Their cultural background and customs are Slavic instead of Hellenic, or Greek."

About 135 families--many of Greek descent--worship at St. Demetrios Church at 400 Skyway Drive in the Camarillo Airport area. Regular Sunday services are held at 10 a.m.

For information about services, call 482-1273.

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