Celebrated on the first Sunday after the Spring Equinox after Passover
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life! The celebration of Pascha (called "Easter Sunday" in the West) in the Orthodox Church is not merely a historical re-enactment of Christ's Resurrection as narrated in the gospels. It is not a dramatic presentation of "the first Easter morning," and there is no "sunrise service", since the Paschal Matins and Liturgy are celebrated together in the first dark hours of the first day of the week in order to give men the experience of the new creation of the world, and to allow them to enter mystically into the New Jerusalem which shines eternally with the glorious Light of Christ! The Church teaches that while the body of Christ rested in the tomb on the Sabbath (the day after the Crucifixion), His soul descended into Hades. Prior to the Incarnation, the gates of paradise were closed to mankind. Therefore Hades, not to be confused with Hell, was the place where the souls of all went upon death. It was neither a place of reward, nor a place of punishment. It had been likened to "Death's prison", where the souls of both the just and the sinners were confined. Since Christ actually died upon the Cross, Death claimed His Soul for Hades. However, Hades received more than it expected… it received the Giver of Life, who destroyed the power of Hades. The icon of the Resurrection portrays this concept.
Christ, the central figure of the icon, is robed in white to show His divinity. The aureole (elongated halo) around Him also symbolizes this brilliant Light. At His feet are the demolished brass gates of Hades, with their broken keys and locks. Christ holds the hands of Adam and Eve, depicted to his right and left, as he pulls them from their tombs. Adam is in old man, recalled to his primordial innocence; Eve is also depicted as elderly, and is set free from her sin in Eden by the Incarnation. Behind Christ are aligned the Righteous of the Old Testament (to the left, including Solomon and David) and the New Testament (to the right, including John the Baptist and Joseph the Guardian).
On the Great and Holy Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate the Life-giving Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ. Pascha, which is translated from the Hebrew, means Passover.
For this is the day on which God created the world from nothingness. On this day, He delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh’s hands and led them through the Red Sea. On this day, he descended from heaven and took His dwelling in the Virgin’s womb; now drawing forth mankind held in Hades, He raised them to heaven and brought them to the first to the first-created honor of incorruption. … [W]hile the soldiers guarded the tomb, at midnight the earth quaked, for the angel of the Lord had descended and rolled the stone from the entrance of the tomb, and the soldiers [set to guard the tomb] were so frightened that they fled. The women came to the tomb very early in the morning on the day following the Sabbath — that is to say at midnight on Saturday. Therefore, late on the first day of the Resurrection, the Mother of God was there together with St. Mary Magdalene, who was sitting near the tomb according to St. Matthew. The Evangelists say that He first appeared to St. Mary Magdalene [rather than His Mother]…so that there would be no doubts or suspicions concerning the truth of the Resurrection.
It was St. Mary Magdalene who saw the angel upon the stone; then bowing down, she saw the other angels inside. The angels announced the Lord’s Resurrection to her and said, “He is risen! He is not here! Behold the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6). Hearing this, the women turned to run and announce the Resurrection to the most fervent of the Apostles, that is, to St. Peter and St. John. But when they returned, they met Christ Himself, Who said to them, “Re-joice” (Matthew 28:9).
Translated from Romanian; Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Penetcostarion, pp. 163-166 (Rives Junction, Mi.: HDM Press, 1999).
Attend as many of the Holy Week services as you are able, to prepare for Pascha, including Holy Unction (Wednesday) and Royal Hours and the Taking Down from the Cross on Holy Friday.
Depending on the ages and attention spans of your children, you may want to attend the reading of the Passion Gospels on Holy Thursday.
Pascha is a very special time for children. They should experience this night like no other! You can help them by waking them very early on Holy Saturday morning (5 AM) then putting them to bed at 4 or 5 PM; re-wake them at 10 PM to prepare for the Paschal Matins and Liturgy.
Include the children in your preparations of the Pascha basket, if this is part of your ethnic tradition, which you will take to be blessed after services.
Bring an icon of the from home for them to carry in the Paschal Procession.
Families with especially young children (who cannot attend the midnight Matins/Liturgy) should attend the short Paschal Vespers on Sunday Morning; many parishes perform food blessings following this service as well.
Use the Paschal greeting for Pascha and the 40-day afterfeast: Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
"Collect" versions of the Paschal troparion: as a family, learn to sing in Romanian, Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, etc.
You did descend into the tomb, O Immortal One, You did destroy the power of death! In victory did you arise, O Christ our God, proclaiming "Rejoice" to the myrrh-bearing women, granting peace to your apostles, and bestowing Resurrection on the fallen.
Hymn to the Theotokos
The Angel cried unto her, who is full of grace: Hail, O Pure Virgin! And again I say: Hail! Thy Son is risen from three days' sojourn in the tomb! And with Himself, has raised the dead! Rejoice, all you people! Shine, shine, shine! Shine, New Jerusalem! For the Glory of the Lord has shown on you! Exult and be glad, O Zion! Be Radiant, O Theotokos, in the Resurrection of your Son!
Orthodox Christians throughout the world greet one another with the following expressions during the forty-day period from Pascha to Ascension: