“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:5b-6a
In the Orthodox Church, Pascha (Easter) is kind of a big deal. Actually, it is a huge deal. It is the brightest and most beautiful day of the year. It is known as the Feast of Feasts and the end of the fast (Lent + the week before Pascha), with the feasting period lasting a full forty days [and I am not kidding about the feasting part]. It all starts around 11:00 PM on Saturday night. Yes, you read that right. The church is completely dark, and after a few prayers, the priest lights his candle with the flame from the altar, and from that light, all of the faithful light their candles; all the while singing a hymn about the Light of Christ. Everywhere you look, people are grinning from ear to ear, the children are too excited to stand still. But we’re not there yet.
There is then a procession around the church singing hymns, everyone with candles lit. Then everyone gathers at the closed doors of the church, the Priest reads from the Gospel, and for the first time, sings the Paschal hymn:
Then the congregation sings this hymn together, and we enter the sanctuary again. It is now brightly lit, with white adornments and lilies, to match the white robes worn by the clergy. There are various other hymns, all about the Ressurection and the victory it offers the world.
It is througbout this time the priests will walk quickly through the center of the aisle, swinging the censer (full of incense) and exclaiming”Christ is Risen” as loud as they can. The people shout out the response to the Paschal greeting: “He is Risen indeed!”. Often this is done in a variety of different languages. This is one of my favorite parts of the service, because it is the first time a true celebration breaks out: shouting, beaming smiles, and candles raised. We have arrived. Truly He is Risen.
After Communion, the central point of the service, it’s time to go to the fellowship hall for the feast.
All the families in the church have brought baskets full of food they’ve missed during Lent (think every imaginable thing you could make with meat or dairy involved and you begin to get some idea). By this time, it is around 2:00 AM. Even though we are all exhausted, the joy is palpable. We eat and drink our fill of everything-from fine wine to deviled eggs and Bacon Wrapped Anything- and we rejoice together. Later the same afternoon, we come back for prayers of thanksgiving, the reading of the Gospel, and another huge meal.
As a newbie, I often struggle with talking or writing about my new expressions of Faith. Because there are so many layers, and so many questions I still have, that I feel like I don’t do it justice. But I just wanted to share some of the unique and beautiful highlights of a day that is so very joyous and sacred to so many people. I hope all of you had an Easter full of blessings, peace and light.
I wanted to leave you all with the amazing Paschal homily, which we hear each year before Communion as part of the service right before the feast. I hope it encourages you. It’s springtime. It is a time of growth and starting over. It is a time when everything is made bright and new. For He is Risen indeed!
- If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
- If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
- If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
- Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
- Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
- Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
- Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
- Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
- He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
- It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
- “O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?”
- Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
- Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
- Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
- Christ is risen, and life reigns!
- Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
- For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
- To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.