Q&A With Father Michael Trefon On Slaviq Celebration

Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Christmas isn’t over yet, as many on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta know. The Russian Orthodox Church is preparing for its big celebration, which includes Orthodox members and non-members going door-to-door, singing and feasting with neighbors. KYUK’s Krysti Shallenberger talked with Father Michael Trefon about what to expect this year, and about some of his favorite memories from past Slaviqs. 

Krysti Shallenberger: "What will Slaviq look like in Bethel, and do people come from surrounding areas to celebrate it? You mentioned when we were just talking earlier that there is not always priests in every community, but people still uphold the tradition of Slaviq. So could you kind of talk about that?"

Michael Trefon: "There is at least over 100 parishes that don't all have priests. So these people who were taught by the priests, by the church leaders, by the elders of the church, they are taught on what to do, on what to sing, and so these are traditions that we uphold. Not only will they stay in their place, and their parish, and their village, but some other places in different regions in Alaska they'll kind of go to every house who accepts them, and they would sing and proclaim 'Christ is born,' and spreading the good word. And then sometimes in some villages, like in my hometown [of Bristol Bay], we would switch and go to another village. And this would happen for six days, and we would sing songs vocally, and there’s no instruments being played; it's just all of our voices. Yes, once the singing is done there's a prayer said to bless the food, if there's any, and people eat, you know, because it is a festivity and, you know, giving gifts is a big part of our tradition as well."

Shallenberger: "What is your favorite Slaviq memory?"

Trefon: "One particular story: when I first met my wife, I had gone to her village [Nunapitchuk] and this was my first time ever experiencing Slaviq tradition up here in the Kuskokwim. And my wife, at the time my girlfriend, she was explaining to me how they do Slaviq. And so I was kind of picturing in my head, but you know, once you go to a place and you have a different picture, it's totally different how you thought of it, you think of it would be. And so we end up having Christmas at her hometown [Nunapitchuk] and we had divine liturgy. And we went to one of the houses and there was no priest at the time, and they all looked at me and said 'Would you bless the food?'  I said 'Okay. I'm not a priest, but I'll give the blessing, sure.' Well I went in there, but I didn't realize I would get stuck by the table, by the food table where they have all the food and things like that because when people go into a house, it's packed. It's shoulder to shoulder, chest to back. That's how packed a house can get. And so I was making my way over to the table to say the prayer and once the prayer was done, everybody sat down right where they were standing and I could not move. My wife [said to me] 'I told you, I told you, I told you.'" 

Here's the Slaviq schedule for Monday, January 7:

Divine Liturgy - 9:30 a.m.
Alex Nick - 5706A Kasayulie
Balassa Larson - 5418A Kasayulie
Elena Isaac - 132 1st Road Housing

Church - 5:00 p.m.
Martha Beaver - 448 City Sub.
Trim Nick - 514 City Sub.
Ana Hoffman - 221 6th Ave.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.