As the world trembles from the catastrophic actions of its human inhabitants, and the question bubbling out of many people’s mouths is the possibility of a third world war, my family and I are snuggled in the midst of our Orthodox Christian Holy Week that leads up to Pascha (Easter for Westerners out there), Christ’s resurrection. After 40 days of abstaining from most animal products (for my family and me), we encounter Christ as we journey with Him through His celebratory entrance into Jerusalem, the sorrow of his crucifixion, and the joy of His resurrection. A plethora of incense, candles, icons, chanting, singing, praying, standing, and kneeling is happening this week — more so than any other week in the year. There are about 23 services in Holy Week, and we try to make as many as we can.
This year, we Orthodox Christians share Pascha/Easter with our Roman Catholic and Protestant Christian brethren. We miss out on the after Easter sales that we take advantage of when our Pascha is weeks and sometimes a month or more after our Western Christian friends’ Easter. Nonetheless, I prefer our Easters falling on the same day. Although our churches are not in communion, we have the opportunity to share the day in which we celebrate the joy of Christ’s resurrection, which has opened the gates to Paradise for us all.
April is the perfect month for Pascha. As we all know, April is the middle month in the season of spring, when renewal and rebirth happens. Animals have their young and flowers and trees bloom. The dormancy of winter is over, and life begins fresh and rejuvenated, just like our faith for us Christians.
On Holy Saturday night, we await the Light of Christ at midnight, which is done by the priest in lighting a candle in the altar and stepping out onto the solea to announce, “Come and receive the Light!” The candles begin to be lit from one person to another until the whole darkened church becomes bathed in the soft glow of the Light of Christ. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom follows. After the liturgy, we receive our red Pascha eggs and head to the church hall for some real food – MEAT and other goodies – somewhere between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m. I eat lightly every Holy Saturday because I’m not a middle-of-the-night nibbler. At this time, we vie for winner of the egg-cracking contest. The red eggs represent the blood of Christ and life. We tap the tips of our eggs together (two people at a time) and whoever’s egg doesn’t crack wins. The cracking of the eggs symbolize Christ’s breaking open the tombs. Ah, traditions are so much fun! We then make for the door so we can get some sleep before we have to turn around and come back to church for Pascha and the agape service at 11:00 a.m. or noon, depending on which Orthodox Church you attend.
As I prepare for the end of the day, tomorrow is Holy Thursday, and we carry on towards Christ’s crucifixion, a somber but moving experience. If you observe and celebrate Pascha/Easter, I wish it to be blessed and joyous.