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Orthodox Easter (Paskha)

 

Services during Holy Week have led up to this moment. Indeed, it has been a long and laborious journey leading up to this. Ten weeks, if the pre-Lenten period is taken into account, of fasting, and of lengthened services and expanded vigils. The fast is now complete. Bells will ring. Visitors from Las Vegas and elsewhere will join a procession around the exterior of the church three times (to symbolize the doctrine of the Holy Trinity) and back inside to joyfully affirm that “Christ is Risen!” This occasion is Pascha for Orthodox Christians, also known as Paskha or Orthodox Easter.

The preceeding days leading up to Pascha, Holy Friday and Saturday, have placed our attention to the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are confronted with the extreme humility of our suffering God. Then comes Pascha: the feast of universal redemption.

Pascha often comes later than that of western Easter as it is calculated by the Julian calendar. The forerunner of Pascha is the Jewish Passover (pesach – pascha - passover), the festival of the deliverance of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. Our Lord was crucified and buried on the day before the Passover and rose again the day after it in the year which we have traditionally come to number 33 A.D. On that year the Passover was on a Saturday. And according to the Gospel accounts, the crucifixion occurred on a Friday and the resurrection early on Sunday morning.

The great Easter sermon first delivered by St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, is now proclaimed during Matins in every Orthodox church on Pascha morning (shortly after midnight), while all the faithful stand in attendance:

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at

the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, 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 slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your 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 the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Then the priest proclaims 'Christ is risen!' And the people respond ‘Indeed, He is risen!' Also sung throughout the service is The Paschal Troparion, also known as the great hymn of the Resurrection of Christ. The words to this are: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, He granted (or Bestowing) life!” This great hymn of Pascha will be sung repeatedly in the weeks to come.

After services, the people typically gather for a meal, and the priest blesses food baskets. Meats and dairy products can now be eaten once again. Traditional Pascha/Easter delicacies served on this day include richly colored eggs, a sweet, high-domed (Russian) Easter bread and a sweet cheese spread called paskha.

 

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