AN INTERVIEW WITH FR. MICHAEL FRITZ
First published in print: Saturday, January 17, 2009
The Rev. Michael Fritz:
Assistant priest at Church of Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God Russian Orthodox Church in Colonie.
Background: 55, born and raised in Albany. Graduated from Hudson Valley Community College and Holy Trinity Orthodox Seminary in Jordanville, Herkimer County; Master’s in Education from Rutgers University while he worked in St. Spyridon Russian Orthodox Church in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, for seven years. A special education teacher at Hoosick Falls High School, he and his wife live in Valley Falls and have two adult daughters who live in Albany.
The gold-domed church on Sand Creek Road is fairly new.
Where was your church previously located?
It used to be an old brownstone on South Pearl Street in Albany. The neighborhood became violent. We sold the church and merged with a small church in Schenectady. We built this church. It took many years to raise money. We have been here a couple of years.
We have about 120 parishioners. They are very dedicated people. It is a mixed parish. Some are immigrants. Many of our congregants were born here but are from different ethnic backgrounds. They all get along. The majority are bilingual. Unfortunately, I am not.
What influenced you to take up priesthood?
I never thought I would be a priest. I wasn’t raised in religion. Ours wasn’t a regular church-going family. We only went at Christmas and Easter. I began to research different Christian groups. Over time, I felt this was the holy faith.
I began to take life more seriously in college. At HVCC, I was majoring in geology. I enjoyed it but felt it wouldn’t help others much. Ultimately, I felt this was the way I could help others.
What distinguishes the Russian Orthodox Church from other churches?
The Orthodox Church is very traditional. We don’t believe that over time Christian theology or basic worship can change. We believe God established these and we maintain them. We don’t change morals. We separated from the Roman Catholic Church around the 8th or 9th century, We don’t believe morality changes when society changes.
Our is not a different religion, but the church is different. There are no pews, only some seats and benches on the sides. Traditionally, churches didin’t have pews. Most people stand during the entire service.
Jan. 7 was Orthodox Christmas. Tell us about your congregation’s observance.
Our Christmas is like anyone’s Christmas. We celebrate Christ’s birthday with a church service, a Christmas tree, gifts. Leading up to it, we have a fasting period when we abstain from meat and dairy products for 40 days. It is called the Nativity fast. We do it to prepare spiritually.
At the time of Christ’s birth, the Western world used the Julian calendar, named for Julius Caesar. Back in the 16th century, one of the Pope’s scientists realized the calendar had a flaw: every 130 years or so, it drifted off by 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII ordered the calendar to be advanced by 10 days in 1582. The Russian church never accepted the Gregorian calendar, so our Christmas comes 13 days later, which is Jan. 7.
When I was growing up, many churches celebrated Christmas on Jan. 7 and some radio stations played Christmas music on that date. A lot of Orthodox churches have changed because of “peer pressure.” We have no intention of changing. If there was a theological reason, we would have changed.
— Azra Haqqie