Pascha – Its Orthodox Easter
The Feast of Feasts, starts about 11pm. We will all dress up and go to the church. Little children are holding their lambatha (λαμπάδα), a colored candle ornamented with flowers or other spring and Easter art craft, a gift from the godparents. The adults will have to be contented with a plain white candle from the church – a discrimination I never comprehended.
Just before midnight the celebration begins with the singing of the Odes of Lamentation. As the Resurrection Vespers begin, the church is in complete darkness. A little before midnight, the priest takes the Holy Light from the altar and passes the flame to the faithful singing
Come and receive light from the unwaning light and glorify Christ who arose from the dead.
Then the priest leads the faithful out of the church to a Crucession (a procession with the cross) around the temple chanting:
By thy resurrection O Christ our savior,
the angels in heaven sing,
enable us who are on Earth
to glorify thee in purity of heart.
This procession re-enacts the journey of the Myrrbearers to the tomb of Jesus “very early in the morning”. Then the priest reads a selection from the Gospel (Luke 24:1) and makes the sign of the cross with his censer in front of the closed doors that represent the sealed tomb. Exactly at midnight we have the most joyful announcement on Orthodoxy:
Christ is risen from the dead
By death trampling upon Death
And has bestowed life upon those in the tombs.
At this point all of the bells and semantra are sounded along with crackers and fireworks that light up the sky. Everybody is exchanging the Kiss of Love (as we call it here in Greece) and say to each other: “Christ is risen” to receive the answer “Truly He has risen”. Then it’s time to chink the red eggs – the symbol of the tombs that cracked when Jesus arose. After that, the congregation enters the church for the remaining part of the Vespers and the Divine Liturgy. The high point of the liturgy is the delivery of Paschal Homily of St. John the Chrysostom, a truly motivating and heart-warming speech.
After the dismissal, friends and family gather at houses to break the fast with the Agápẽ Dinner (the Dinner of Love), with mageiritsa being the queen of the meal.
The morning after, there’s no Divine Liturgy but somewhere around 12 am we have the Agápẽ Vespers that end with the priest giving red eggs to the faithful instead of antidoron. This is extremely precious to all those who can’t follow the service at night, e.g. mothers with small children. In some churches it has become a custom over the last centuries to read a portion of Gospel of John (20:19-25) in many languages, thus showing the universality of the Lord’s resurrection. Afterwards people tend to go to the graves of their beloved ones and leave lighted candles and red eggs.
The Paschal celebrations begin early in the morning and last all day, with friends and family gathering to eat, drink talk and dance. The traditional food of the day is the lamb, in remembrance of Jesus that willingly went “as a lamb to the slaughter”. In many regions of Greece it is a custom to punish Judas Iscariot somehow, by shooting or by burning his mock up.
To the orthodox world, Pascha discloses the mystery of the eighth day. It is so much more than a reenactment of the Resurrection. It is the way to experience the new creation of God, the rising of a new day. This new day is imparted to the faithful in the length of the Paschal services, in the repetition of the paschal order for all the services of the Bright Week and in the special paschal features retained in the services for the forty days until Ascension. Forty days are, as it were, treated as one.