by the Late Very Rev Nicon D Patrinacos
Easter is the celebration of the day of the Resurrection. It is the greatest and oldest feast in the Christian calendar. Especially for the Orthodox, there is no greater feast than Easter including the feast of the Nativity (Christmas), which in the Western Church appears to be the chief feast of their ecclesiastical calendar. The reasons for the preeminence of Easter among the Orthodox are many, all based on a particular passage of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, “if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” ( 15:14). Characteristic of the importance of the Resurrection for the Orthodox is the fact that Easter is also called in Greek ‘Lampri’, the brightest day of all. The Resurrection light that is brought to the Orthodox home from the midnight service of the Resurrection is taken to be the visible symbol of a new life in the resurrected Christ, a life of joy after the sorrow of the Cross. And though the Passion is observed with the depth and significance it befits the supreme sacrifice of Christ, it is His Resurrection that seals the redemption issuing from the Cross. Without it, the Orthodox feel, the divide drama would have remained unfulfilled in terms of the experience of human life by which a triumphant katharsis must follow all sacrifices including that on Golgotha. Every Sunday Liturgy of the year is devoted to the Resurrection rather than to the suffering Christ. Hence the joyful tone of the Orthodox Eucharist and the underlying victory against the forces of evil implied in the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. In this respect, the etymology of Pascha claimed by some as deriving from the Greek verb ‘paschein’ (to suffer) is erroneous. The name Pascha is merely the approximate rendering by sound of the Hebrew name for Passover.
A long period of fasting preparation precedes the week of Passion, the Great Lent and the Holy Week leads to Good Friday. All together lead to the joy of Resurrection which lasts liturgically for forty whole days after it to the day of the Ascension of the Resurrected Christ. In the ancient Church, those who were preparing to be accepted in the life of Christ by Baptism were allowed to attend the service of Saturday night and were baptised early on Easter day and received Holy Communion. Homes and entire towns were illuminated with the light of Resurrection taken from the celebrant after he proclaimed Christ resurrected at the Saturday midnight service before the Paschal Liturgy would begin. The famous Orthodox proclamatory hymn, ‘Christ is risen from the dead by death trampling on death….’, remains for the Orthodox not only the crown jewel of the entire Orthodox hymnology, but also the symbol of national liberation of more than one of the Orthodox countries. The Saturday night vigil of the early Church has been retained by the Orthodox Church while in the West it was moved first back to the afternoon and later to the morning of Holy Saturday so that the first Easter Mass came to be celebrated on Saturday. But since 1950 the Orthodox and ancient custom of holding the first Liturgy of Easter at midnight on Saturday – Sunday is being gradually restored in the Roman Church.
from The Orthodox Messenger, v. 7(3-4) published bi-monthly by the SA Central Youth PO Box 269, GLENELG SA 5045 AUSTRALIA