Icon of the Holy Resurrection
(Christ storms the gates of Hades)
Today the Orthodox Church celebrates Pascha, Easter, and we're riding the high that accompanies a solid week of "marathon church," as Stephen likes to call the various Holy Week services. (If you're curious about why we're a week late, read this.) We were able to attend Wednesday evening's Holy Unction service and one of Holy Friday's services. Both times we took our kids, and they performed admirably, considering we were asking them to quietly sit (or color, which Jack did on both the liturgy book and the pew) through services that routinely lasted almost 2 hours. We avoided Thursday evening's service, the one where the crucifixion is recognized, because we were warned that it lasts 3+ hours.
Marathon church, indeed.
Saturday night we stayed up late, watching a movie with my sister and brother-in-law, before dressing up in our Sunday finest and leaving for church at 10:30 PM. To say this was a surreal experience is putting it lightly. It didn't help that the movie was Donnie Darko, which doesn't exactly conjure up feelings of penitential worship. Rather, we felt kind of lost and driftless as we left the house (my sister and brother-in-law stayed the night with the kids) and made our way through our city's dark streets. Things snapped back into focus as we entered the sanctuary. We were early enough for the 11 o'clock service to see the priest and chanter preparing things, seeming less dignified than usual outside of the context of the liturgy. Throughout the service we were again struck by the paradoxical nature of the formality of the Orthodox Church: tons of icons, incense, vestal robes, and centuries-old chants mingle with altar boys waving from the front, men thanking one another out loud for helping blow out candles, and the priest hollering at our friend Jason, who helps up front, to come get the censer. All of this in the middle of the Resurrection Sunday service. A little strange for us, still.
Once everything was in place and the sanctuary was nearly full, it started. The culmination of the Christian calendar year was finally upon us; Lent was almost over, and we were ready to celebrate Christ's resurrection. I'm not going to try and explain what all happened. To be honest, I was left a little dizzy by the whole thing. There was a lot of everything. A lot of scripture, a lot of chanting, a lot of standing up, sitting down, a lot of singing, a lot of candle lighting, a lot of repeating, a lot of Greek, a lot of acknowledging the mystery that is Christianity. If you're interested in a well-written and not-so-overwhelming description of just what happens, see what the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has to say about it. Our parish church is Greek Orthodox, too. That meant that there was a larger proportion of "Christos Anesti!/ Aleithos Anesti!" to "Christ is Risen!/ Truly He is Risen!"
We just meekly try to say it in Greek without too ridiculous of an accent.
The height of the service was, after waiting in a dark church lit only by the light of candles for some time, when the priest finally began the hymn of the Resurrection. The church's lights came back on, and there was a perceptible shift in the tone of the service. We were joyful, not somber; victorious, not beaten. We sang, over and over, about Christ's resurrection, His conquering of death, and our promise of eternity with Him. The celebration was palpable. Everyone shared in His defeat of death. Everyone held their candles high, representing their faith, and everyone sang loudly.
Even after this point we still had a full liturgy, which was broken up with several hearty rounds of the Paschal hymn. Stephen and I worked hard to balance the liturgy booklet, the Paschal services book, and our candles in our hands while following the phonetic pronunciation of the Greek. I nearly burnt Stephen's hair on a couple occasions. Clearly we have some coordination issues to sort out.
After Eucharist was served and the homily was read, we filed up front to receive the traditional Easter eggs dyed red, and then we all tripped downstairs, where the church council had prepared a full lamb meal for us. Yes, we all sat down and happily broke the Lenten fast together. At 1:30 in the morning. I told you it was surreal.
And that, in a nutshell, was our Pascha celebration. We slept in this morning (the kids miraculously didn't begin to stir until about 8:40) and I took a nap this afternoon, so I think we'll probably recover from our late night church activities. We can hardly believe our luck that we're able to eat meat again. I had a Jaenicke's deluxe hot dog (with onion rings and a Coke!) this evening, and Steve ate leftover tacos. I know you don't really care about what we had for dinner, but we've just gotten done fasting meat for over 40 days. This is big news for us. Humor me.
And without any transition whatsoever, I'd like to leave you with the greatest news I've ever heard: Christ is risen. We are free from sin. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are real, active, and at work in our lives. Death has no victory.
Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!