Friday, April 17, 2009

King and Lord of Days: The Eastern Orthodox

A dear friend and proud congregant of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church located in Pottstown has asked that I post a new thread on Orthodox Easter written by Father David Mahaffey.

Thank you for sending the article, and God bless Father Mahaffey, you, and all the Eastern Orthodox as Easter is celebrated on Sunday.


King and Lord of Days: The Eastern Orthodox
Celebrate the Resurrection of Christ

By Fr. David Mahaffey

Many Christians in the West have no idea that the Eastern Orthodox Church exists. Orthodox Christians in North America — home to only about one percent of the world's 300 million Orthodox — are accustomed to answering big questions: What is Orthodoxy? Do you believe in the Bible? And maybe the most common question: How come I have never heard of you before?

This year Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday, April 19. In the season of Holy Week and Easter, Orthodox churches everywhere play host to folks who are checking out these services for the first time. They often find themselves echoing Philip's plea to Nathaniel: "Come and see!'' The doors of our Orthodox churches are always open to all, and not just at this time of year. But one's first experience of any Orthodox service can be pretty overwhelming — and the Holy Week and Easter services can be overwhelming even by Orthodox standards! Here are just a few things to help you as you attend your first Orthodox "Easter'' service.

Not Easter, but Pascha

Chances are you will not actually hear the word "Easter'' in Orthodox churches. The Orthodox will almost always use the word Pascha for the feast of the resurrection of Christ, as we have since about the time of the Lord's ascension. "Pascha'' is the Greek transliteration of Pesach, which is the Hebrew word for Passover. From apostolic times the Orthodox celebration of the resurrection has been framed within the story of the Passover in Exodus.

This is big. Really, really big

There are 12 major feasts celebrating Christ in the Orthodox year — and Pascha is not among them! Pascha is too big. Pascha is the Feast of Feasts! It gives meaning to everything else we do and believe. So like the woman in the Gospel pouring costly oil on the Lord's feet, we spare nothing in our love and response to Christ's resurrection.

We fill our churches with flowers, strew the floors with basil leaves and rose petals, clad the clergy in gleaming white embroidered vestments, sing heart-aching theological poetry set to beautiful music, process out into the night with candles, incense and icons, issue wall-shaking cries of "Christ is risen,'' and read aloud the Gospel in many languages, our hearts radiant in the presence of the risen Lord.

Then there is the fellowship meal after the paschal services, which often continues into dawn — tables laden with food and drink, red-dyed eggs and decorated bread, and everyone in bright (or white) festive clothing. No other feast of the Church comes anywhere close to the extravagant, colorful and loud celebration of Pascha.

Pascha, a New Passover

The original Passover is the prophecy for the true Passover, which Christ would accomplish through His death and resurrection on the third day. This is why Christ died during the Passover, and why He celebrated the Passover supper with His disciples. Christ was saying, basically, that this event is only a prophecy, a model of the event that I am now bringing to reality before you.

As the Israelites were enslaved to Pharaoh, the world was enslaved to sin; as Moses came to be the deliverer, so came Christ, God himself, Immanuel. As the lamb slain and its blood saved the Israelites, so Christ slain saved the world from sin
and death. Moses was the type; Christ is the fulfillment.

The eighth day

From about 70 AD the Orthodox have called the day of Pascha" the eighth day." This day quickly came to be experienced as the first day of the new creation, (after the seven days of creation in Genesis). Pascha is the day which has no evening, the day of the Kingdom, the everlasting day of God.

For the Orthodox, the resurrection is not a postscript to the crucifixion, and the crucifixion not just about His suffering. Christ's suffering without death is meaningless, and His death without the resurrection is empty. But God raised Jesus on the third day, and this changes everything. Now His birth unites God and man in Himself, since He is perfect God and perfect Man. Now the word of the Cross has become the word of love. Now His death on the cross has "put death to death,'' since death "took in a body and encountered God" as St John Chrysostom says in his exquisite Paschal Homily. Death itself is abolished, and Christ has become the first fruits of the new creation.

We can preach and celebrate all of this not because it happened once upon a time, but because it has been accomplished for all time. Thus, when the Orthodox speak about Pascha, the resurrection of Christ, it always is in the present tense. "Christ is Risen!" the priest cries out. The people respond joyously, "Indeed, He is risen!"

The Paschal celebration at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church begins Saturday, April 18 at 11:30 p.m. with Nocturnes, Resurrection Matins, and Divine Liturgy. An agape meal will follow the services. Visitors are welcome.

On Friday, April 17, 9 a.m. Royal Hours; 3 p.m. Vespers of Holy Friday and Burial; 7 p.m. Matins of Holy Saturday with Praises and Procession; Saturday, April 18, 9 a.m. Holy Saturday Divine Liturgy; 11:30 p.m. Nocturnes, Resurrection Matins, and Divine Liturgy of Holy Pascha (Easter); Agape meal after the Liturgy. Visitors are welcome.

Sunday, April 19 11 a.m. Vespers of Holy Pascha (Easter).

For more information about where and when to attend the Orthodox Services of Pascha, call 484-624-4036, or visit


Anonymous said...

I just spent a wonderful Friday evening at the Good Friday services at St Andrews Russian Orthodox Church in Phila. The drive was over 30 miles- just a little far.
I will consider going to Pottstown in the future.
Thank you for this post.

Karen said...

You are welcome, Anonymous 11:16 p.m.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful positive article for this day and age. The description of tradition and reasons this faith celebrates make me want to stay up that late and join them. Do you dress in your Easter best and how long is the service? Is there a fee to share in the meal?

I saw that the Othodox Church in Phoenxv celebrated the holiday last. Are they on the same calendar as I live local to both in Spring City?

Karen said...

I cannot answer your first questions, Anonymous 7:17 a.m., but I do know both Churches are Orthodox and on the same calendar.

Anonymous said...

7:17 am

Yes the majority dress in Sunday Easter dress for the services in the Orthodox Church however everyone is welcome.

The meals after services are not for a fee however everyone usually brings a side item, or a basket of items to be blessed of which you can find by google search of traditional Orthodox Easter Basket food items: Easter Bread, Ham, Kolbasi, butter in shape of lamb, cheese, eggs, salt... each having a meaning and covered with a cloth as the priest will bless with Holy Water prior to everyone sharing and breaking bread for this Resurrection Service.