At 11:30 last night a congregation sat in the dark chapel lit only by a few dim candles. The eager crowd observed the chants which went on until midnight. At the hour, the priest blessed a candle and lit it; he then turned away from the altar and lit the candles of those at the front of the pews who then turned and lit the candles of their neighbors.
In a wave, the patrons passed the flames to the back and flooded the chapel in the white, twinkling light. After 40 days of preparation, the Greek Orthodox Christians welcomed the resurrection of their savior, Jesus Christ, with joy and celebration.
“They’re all carrying candles and everyone is singing songs, and it’s really a beautiful way to cherish the moment,” senior Maria Kalaitzandonakes said. “You’re surrounded not only by your entire church but also the angels, also the saints that have gone on, and also all of the deceased that you miss from your church.”
The Easter service, or Pascha in the Eastern Orthodoxy, took place today at Saint Luke, 1510 Audubon Dr., the only Greek Orthodox Church in Columbia. For many Western Church Christians who celebrated Easter in March this year, this is two months late. The date is different for the two denominations because the two churches follow different calendars and moon cycles. The date is not the only distinctive aspect of Eastern Orthodox Easter either.
While the devotional core of Easter is the same for both religions, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, cultural and ritual variations between religious sects make the Easter traditions diverse.
For the Greek Orthodox, a 40 day period prior to Pascha consists of a period called Lent. Preceding these 40 days, Orthodox Christians celebrate four preparatory Sundays to transition to the season of fasting and waiting, Kalaitzandonakes said. Orthodox Christians are encouraged to give up certain things such as tobacco, alcohol and oil along with meat products, dairy products and fish. This period of preparation and self examination, according to goarch.org, allow the faithful to evaluate their faith and strengthen it through more prayer and a devotional life.
“Eastern Orthodox Easter is something that you prepare for for a long period of time before hand,” Kalaitzandonakes said, “You have to fast, and you have to say your daily prayers, as you should already be doing, but you know, up that to a higher level. You spend a lot of your day thinking about what’s to come and cleansing yourself and trying to push yourself to be a better person so when it (Easter) comes you are deserving of it or closer to be deserving of it, of the gift of Jesus coming back.”
Through the lenten period, five Sundays are celebrated before the final Sunday marks the start of Holy Week. Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday are celebrated by daily masses and lead up to the Resurrection Mass on Saturday night. After the resurrection mass, the fast is broken on Sunday. Easter Sunday is a day full of exhilaration and joy.
“On Easter Sunday when Holy Week’s finally over we roast a goat on a spit at a house, whoever volunteers to host it, and we eat the goat,” freshman Kat Sarafianos said.
Along with goat meat, there is also mayiritsa soup and tsoureki bread, all traditional components of the Easter meal. There was mayiritsa soup prepared in the church’s kitchen for the congregation and Tsoureki bread was being sold at the front of the church. The tsoureki bread often has a red egg in the center, and red eggs are also used in an a traditional Easter game.
The game, called tsougrisma, involves red dyed eggs being cracked against one another, the red symbolizing the blood of Christ, the egg representing the sealed tomb, and the cracking of the egg representing the resurrection. Each person has a red dyed egg and they tap it against other people’s eggs with one person saying “Christ is risen” and the other responds “truly risen”. At the end, the person with the least cracked egg is the winner, and they are considered lucky.
In 2014, the Easters of all Christian denominations will coincide on April 20th. Saint Luke Greek Orthodox Church will once again hold their Holy Week services and celebrations.
“Any day of the year, any time we’re having a service, anybody is welcome,” Kalaitzandonakes said. “We welcome visitors.”
By Sophi Whyte and Emily Franke