Holy Pascha

Christ's Resurrection

Let God Arise!  Let His enemies be scattered!

When you take the journey with Christ from His entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, praised and honored through the laying down of palms, through the grueling walk to Golgotha, wailing with His Mother, to experiencing the thunderous, earth-trembling from His death, His descent into Hades, breaking the chains and releasing those waiting in the tombs, preaching to those who did not know Him, to witnessing His glorious Resurrection, told to us by an angel at His Tomb, your body, mind, and soul are greatly and positively affected.

Your body aches from the hours of services, for which three quarters of the time you’re standing.  Your mind is filled with the readings of his journey and what it all means.  Your heart is torn into pieces listening, watching, and reading of the scourging, mockings, spitting, and especially the words “His blood be on us and on our children.” Lord, have mercy.  *doing the sign of the cross*  That line always gets you.

swinging censor

You take in the sweet smell of incense that reminds you of the realm of God’s Kingdom, the prayers of the Saints, and that you and your brothers and sisters in the nave of His Church are with Him through all of it.  You’ve heard these passages hundreds of times, but something new and profound hits you every year this is read aloud.  This time, you’re wishing you were the thief on the cross, hoping, praying, pleading, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” and you’re dying to hear Him say, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

You weep when you hear His Mother, the Theotokos, wail and say to Him as He plods to His voluntary crucifixion, “”Where are you going, my Child? Why do you travel along so fast? Would there perhaps be another wedding in Cana, and you hurry there, to turn for them water into wine? Can I not come with You, my Child? Or tarry with you? Speak to me a word; You, Who are the Word. Pass me not by in silence, You, Who kept me pure. For You are my Son and my God.”  In your humanity and being a mother of two sons, the words slice through you, cutting you deeply, and you feel Mary’s pain.

But then the Panagia tells Him to hurry and rise on the third day so that she can see Him glorified:  “O my Son, where has the beauty of Your form vanished?  I cannot bear to see You unjustly crucified; hasten, therefore, and rise up, that I too may behold Your Resurrection from the dead on the third day.”  You realize that the Theotokos knew and understood immediately what Christ had been saying before His crucifixion that He’d rise on the third day, whereas all but one of the Apostles fled in confusion, fear, and sorrow.  Beloved Apostle John stood by the Cross with Christ’s Mother and the other women.

Pictured below:

Christ crucified.  Holy Thursday evening is the Twelve Gospels Service that follows Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.  Our bishop was present for this service, so instead of being three hours, it was four.  This night’s service is the longest, but this was the longest I’ve ever encountered, but it didn’t matter.  When you experience such profound, glorious, and heart-wrenching events, you’re undone, heart, soul, body, mind, but in a good way.

Christ crucified Annunciation GOC

This is the kouvouklion — Christ’s Tomb — that the ladies of my church decorate each year ( took this picture personally on Friday.  It is from my church).  Gorgeous.  It is carried around the church Friday evenings for the Lamentations service, where we join Joseph of Arimathea in carrying Christ’s body to the new Tomb.

kouvouklion Annunciation GOC Holy Week 2018

Video taken by me at our “home” parish back in Colorado Springs, Colorado, (2011) that gives you a glimpse into Holy Saturday morning’s Divine Liturgy where Christ descends into Hades and destroys its chains and gates and opens the tombs.  The pounding we made (and wish all Orthodox Churches did this) is to symbolize the breaking open of the gates and chains and the tombs.  The priest throws basil leaves and flowers symbolizing Christ’s victory and that He is King and Lord. (It isn’t unusual that after the two and a half hour service the night before that this service is less attended, which is unfortunate because it’s such a beautiful and joyous experience).

Holy Saturday evening’s Resurrection Service is held around midnight with a vigil and then the Divine Liturgy.

Here’s a video from an Orthodox Church of a few years ago that shows what happens around midnight when the priest announces, “Come receive the Light,” which the candle represents Christ’s descent into Hades and darkness and through His Resurrection, the Light has come into the world and has trampled down Death by His death.  After His entrance, you, along with your brothers and sisters in Christ, say joyously and triumphantly, “Christ is Risen!” and will chant this verse over and over again that early Sunday morning and the next several Sundays:

Christ is risen from the dead,

trampling down death by death, 

and upon those in the tombs,

bestowing Life.

The Holy Fire descends on the Tomb of Christ inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem every Holy Saturday.  The Greek Orthodox Patriarch receives the Holy Fire that miraculously lights his bundle of thirty-three candles each year).  Here’s a video of this mystical and miraculous event from today:

At the end of the liturgy, you receive a red egg that symbolizes the blood of Christ, and Life.  You gather with your family and brethren in the hall for some food and drink, and crack eggs with them.  The cracking of the eggs symbolizes the cracking open of the tombs.  If your egg survives the cracking contest, you are blessed.

cracking red eggs Orthodox Pascha.jpg

It’s a blessing to return home each night smelling of sweet, heavenly incense, and body wrought from worshiping Christ God in body and spirit.

On Pascha Sunday, you attend the Agape Vespers Service where the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection is read in several different languages.  The most common languages spoken are English, Greek, Arabic, Latin, Albanian, Spanish, German, French, and sometimes Japanese and Swahili.  Others also may be said if there are parishioners who know that language or come from the country that speaks that particular language.  You enjoy hearing the Good News in many tongues, showing this message is universal.

You enjoy a Paschal picnic of lamb and all other types of meat, etc., and Pascha sweet bread, called Tsoureki in Greek.  We got one this year from the women’s monastery a few hours away:

Greek Pascha sweet bread.jpg

 

Christ is Risen!  Truly He is Risen!

 

 

 

Happy Easter to My Christian Friends and a Blessed Palm Sunday to My Orthodox Christian Brethren

palm sunday icon 1

Today is Western Christian Easter, and I wish all my Christian friends celebrating Christ’s Resurrection today a Blessed and Happy Easter.

Today is Palm Sunday for us Orthodox Christians.

palm cross 2

We Eastern Christians are on the Julian Calendar, whereas Western Christians follow the Gregorian Calendar.  If you are interested in learning a little more about this, click on this link.

Tonight (I think technically last night) starts Orthodox Christian Holy Week in which we participate and follow Christ through his Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  It’s the greatest feast and holiday of the year for us.  It’s also a very focused, holy, and busy week for us.  Reading my church’s bulletin, there are around sixteen services for Holy Week.

We call this celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Sunday not Easter but Pascha.  This is the term that’s been used from the beginning, which follows the Jewish Passover (Pesach).  Here’s a couple excerpts of info on Orthodox Pascha and where the word originates from:

Pascha (Greek: Πάσχα), also called Easter, is the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord. Pascha is a transliteration of the Greek word, which is itself a transliteration of the Aramaic pascha, from the Hebrew pesach meaning Passover.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the center of the Orthodox Christian faith. Twelve weeks of preparation precede it. This is made up of pre-lenten Sundays, Great Lent, and Holy Week. The faithful try to make this long journey with repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and study. When the feast finally arrives, it is celebrated with a collection of services combined as one.

One of the hymns we sing on Palm Sunday:

Apolytikion: First Tone

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Your passion, You did confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to You, O Vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!

I’ll try to write a midweek post and one on Pascha to share the absolutely moving, beautiful, and profound services to give you a glimpse into what this week is like for us Orthodox.

Again, Happy Easter to all my friends celebrating today!

 

Pondering 2017 & Anticipating 2018

happy new year clock

 

This year started out rough.  My husband, Troy, had been searching for a job since November 2015, and by the time 2017 ushered in, our hopes were dwindling but not completely gone.  We still held on to our faith that God would lead us toward the right job for Troy and having survived the past year on his small military retirement and disability, God provided for us in our financial and familial circumstances.

In February, I worked for a temp agency to help our financial dilemma.  An architectural firm employed me for a month, and that was fine.  It had been about seventeen years since I’d worked outside the home, and that was a huge step for me and a good experience.  It helped a little when we needed some supplemental income.

But in those many months, I wondered what God ultimately wanted us to do.  What was His Will for us?  Well, it seems, in echoing our priest here at our church in Lancaster, God was teaching us perseverance, patience, and testing our faith in Him.

john 14 18 beautiful verse

And then God provided us a door that opened to the richest of blessings.  A couple weeks into May, the local school district hired Troy as Maintenance Director.  This truly was, as I said, a huge blessing because we had thought Troy would end up having to find work and commute from one of the big cities one to three hours away from our home.   Instead, his office is no more than ten minutes from our house!  God is good.

So, 2017 started rocky, but blossomed into a pretty awesome year.  We got to finally go back to our beloved Colorado for two weeks to spend it in the Rocky Mountains at Estes Park and visit our church family/friends in Colorado Springs.  After being away because of Troy’s schooling in Boston since 2013 and moving to Lancaster, PA in 2015, we didn’t know if our friends had just moved on.  We know how relationships and life can change with time.

Troy & I in Estes Park:Drake, CO June 2017

(Troy and I at our cabin in Estes Park, CO)

But we were pleasantly surprised, overjoyed, actually EUPHORIC, when we visited with our cherished spiritual father, his precious wife, our church family, and friend I have known for thirty-eight years.  My friend, KiMar, and I have managed to keep in touch for that amount of time, in separate states, moving about all those years since both our dads had careers and retired from the Air Force.  It’s the longest friendship I’ve had in my life, and it’s beautiful.

My university online courses have kept me busy throughout the year, and I’ve learned a great deal in those classes, such as nonfiction writing, context of writing, playwriting, literary theory, English language, and modern European history.  It’s been great.  It’s only strengthened my writing skills.

snhu logo 2

Then things started opening up for my writing. In the summer, I got back into revising my novel, Passage of Promise, that I’d written in 2015 and finished in early 2016.  I wrote a couple of short stories, and then I wrote a short play.  By December, as I’ve said in another blog post, that play and one I wrote in my creative writing class back in 2015 were read informally at the local theater.  It was the most wonderful experience, something I hope to never forget.  Thankfully, my dear son videotaped the readings so I can go back and watch them at any point to help raise my spirits if ever I’m feeling down or doubtful about my writing abilities, which happens sporadically.  The three actors who read my short play, “Falling Up Stairs,” will be performing it on the theater’s small theater-in-the round stage January 20, 2018, and I’m really excited about this…to be watching in the audience and getting to hear and see their reactions to this quirky piece.  I hope they like it!  I hope it makes them laugh!  I also began a new story December 7, and am still working on that.  What a way to wrap up the year!

DreamWrights Community Theater

Every New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, it is in our Orthodox Christian tradition to make a vasilopita (St. Basil’s bread).  St. Basil lived in the fourth century.  He believed strongly in helping the poor.  Via Saint Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church’s website, here’s a little excerpt on the life of St. Basil:

During the fourth century, one of the  greatest Fathers of the Christian Church appeared on the spiritual horizon of the  Orthodox Faith. His name was Basil and he was Bishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia (Asia Minor). He was born four years after the First Ecumenical Council held in the year 325 A.D. Saint Basil was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers of the Church (the others were Gregory of Nazianzus, his best friend, and his brother, Gregory of Nyssa).

Saint Basil was the first person in human history to establish an orphanage for little children. He also founded the first Christian hospital in the world. His fame as a Holy Man spread like wildfire throughout the Byzantine world. He was considered one of the most wise and compassionate clergymen in the entire history of the Church. His Feast Day is observed on January 1st, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season. The Church, therefore, in respect for his many contributions to the Church and to mankind in general, combined the joy and happiness of the New Year with the glory of the birth of Christ, and the Epiphany into what is known in the Orthodox Church as the Vasilopita Observance.

st. basil the great

This bread we make is a sweet bread named after St. Basil.  From the same website, here’s some background on why we make the bread and how its made:

Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins.

This original event which happened in Cappadocia of Caesarea in the last half of the fourth century, is very much alive in our Orthodox homes each year the 1st January. According to tradition, special sweet bread (in some areas of Greece, it takes the form of a cake) is prepared both in the Orthodox homes and in the Church community which is called Vasilopita. Sweets are added to the bread which symbolize the sweetness and joy of life everlasting. It also symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, liberty, health, and happiness for all who participate in the Vasilopita Observance. When the Vasilopita is prepared, a coin is usually added to the ingredients. When the bread is cut and the observance begins, the individual who receives that portion of the Pita which contains the coin is considered blessed.

vasilopita

(example of a vasilopita – St. Basil’s bread)

It is rare that I get this coin, and it is pretty rare for Troy, too.  In 2016, our brother-in-law got it and had the best sales record that year where he works.  Lo and behold, Troy got the coin for 2017, and we saw so many blessings spring forth from it!  Secretly, I’m hoping and wishing very much to see the coin in my slice of vasilopita for 2018, so this upcoming year will be the year my books are published, and I am fortunate enough to hear and read the reviews of my readers feeling hope, inspiration, and satisfaction after perusing my book(s).  God willing!  In any case, I’ve got much to look forward to 2018:

  • Finishing up revisions of my first novel and preparing it for a professional editor, submitting a query to a publisher, and hopefully getting a positive response, even though I know to expect a rejection letter!  It’ll be published in 2018, for sure. 🙂
  • Watching my play on the stage!
  • Finishing up my current work in progress.
  • Reading so many great books.
  • Four-day weekend in D.C. (tentative!)
  • Vacationing in Estes Park and Colorado Springs again! (praying!)

 

Here’s to a successful and blessed 2018!

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