New York – More than 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide will celebrate Easter (Pascha) this year on April 19. Faithful in great numbers, crowd churches for Holy Week services and in preparation for the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of Christ.
“On this Holy Feast of Pascha, as we fill our churches and our hearts with the light and joy of the Resurrection, let us joyfully profess our belief in the Risen Lord, Who is in our midst,” says Archbishop Demetrios, spiritual leader of 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians in America and Chairman of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in Americas, in his Easter Encyclical. “Through faith and our partaking of His body and blood in the Divine Mystery of Holy Communion, let us receive His love and affirm the assurance of His blessings upon us.”
“Let us proclaim,” Archbishop Demetrios continues, “to a world in need that we are people of the Resurrection, that we are people of hope and salvation, and that we are people of faith. And let us invite all to come into the loving embrace of the living Lord Who is Risen and to see Him, experience Him, and find everlasting joy and peace in Him, Who has vanquished the power of death so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Archbishop Demetrios is officiating at Holy Week services in Greek Orthodox parishes in the metropolitan area including Good Friday Lamentations and Resurrection services Saturday at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (319 East 74th St. New York City). Good Friday services will begin at 8:00 p.m. and Resurrection Services Saturday evening at 11:00 p.m.
Centuries-old religious services which recall the passion, crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ are conducted each morning and evening throughout this Holy Week in Orthodox Christian Churches including: Greek, Russian, Romanian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Russian, Albanian, Serbian and Ukrainian, which serve some 6 million faithful in the Americas.
This past Sunday – Palm Sunday – during the Divine Liturgy, palms were blessed and distributed to the faithful commemorating Christʼs entrance into Jerusalem.
Today, Holy Wednesday, the faithful are anointed with the Sacrament of Holy Unction, blessed oil, which cleanses, renews and strengthens both spiritually and physically.
On Holy Thursday evening, the Service of Holy Passion takes place, during which the Twelve Lessons of the Gospel are read. After the Fifth Gospel a solemn litany begins. A large crucifix is carried in a procession led by the clergy as the mournful hymn of Crucifixion is sung.
On Good Friday afternoon, the Vespers of the Descent from the Cross are offered. The Body of Christ is taken down from the Cross, wrapped in white linen and is prepared for burial.
On Good Friday evening, the Lamentations are sung during the Epitaphios Service, which symbolizes the burial of Christ.
On Holy Saturday evening, the Easter Resurrection Service begins with Matins at 11 p.m. At midnight, the Church is completely darkened and the faithful wait in joyous expectation for the Bishop or priest to come forth carrying a white candle, chanting, Come; Receive the Light, the Light of the Resurrection. The light is passed to the congregation until the Church is ablaze with the glow of candlelight. A procession of altar boys, choir, chanters and clergy joined by all the faithful move outdoors where the Gospel proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ is read. The triumphant hymn, Christos Anesti, Christ is Risen is joyously sung by the faithful. At the conclusion of the Resurrection Liturgy, red Easter eggs, which symbolize the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, are distributed to the congregation.
On Easter Sunday, the Vespers of AGAPE (Love) are celebrated with the Holy Gospel of the Resurrection read in several languages emphasizing the universality of Christʼs teaching of love and peace.
The Orthodox date for Easter is based on a decree of the Council of Nicaea, Asia Minor, held in 325 A.D. According to this decree, Easter must be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox but always after the Hebrew Passover to maintain the Biblical sequence of events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The Orthodox Christian churches have adhered strictly to this formula.