By Jill Clair Gentry / Baldwin People email@example.com
Most Christians around the world celebrated Easter March 31 this year, but Orthodox Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Christ May 5. Orthodox Easter traditions also differ from other branches of the church, and Father Paul Mayernick of St. Athanasios Orthodox Mission Church in Gulf Shores explains the differences.
Sometimes Orthodox Easter, also known as Pascha, falls on the same day western Christians celebrate, but often, it is weeks later, like this year.
The formula for calculating the date of Easter in the Orthodox church and western churches is the same: “The first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox (the moment when the sun crosses directly over the Earth’s equator, signifying the beginning of spring).” But the churches base the dates on different calendars.
Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, which is most of the world’s standard calendar, while the Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar, which was used in the Roman Empire.
This year, the vernal equinox began on March 21 on the Julian calendar, which was April 3 on the Gregorian calendar.
So for the Orthodox, the Sunday following the full moon has to fall after April 3, and the next full moon after that date was April 25 — that, plus a few other details, traditions and technicalities, made Easter fall on Sunday, May 5.
There has been talk for years about making Easter a set date, but all of the churches — Orthodox or otherwise — would have to agree to make this a reality, Mayernick said.
Midnight service: At midnight, congregants gather at the church to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Clergy is dressed in all white. Everyone receives a candle, and the priest brings out the only lit candle. All the candles are lit from the flame of the single candle, signifying Christ’s light being spread around the world. Hardboiled eggs dyed red are passed out to all of the congregants, and the traditional Easter greeting, “Christ is risen,” “Indeed, he is risen” is shouted joyously.
Agape Festival: At noon on Easter Sunday, the congregants return to the church for a feast to celebrate the resurrection and to break their 40-day Lenten fast. Greeks usually bring roasted lamb, while people of Slavic descent provide ham and kielbasa sausage, Mayernick said. “Everyone is in a joyous mood, and there’s procession around the church singing, Christ is risen,” Mayernick said.
“These family traditions are very important, and it’s an educational thing,” Mayernick said. “They look forward to the celebration of Easter because of all those nuances. You’re actually participating in all this because you’re holding candles, making food, yelling and all this stuff. It’s life changing.”
Greeting: The traditional greeting on Easter is “Christ is risen,” and the response is always “Indeed, he is risen,” Mayernick said. In Greek, the greeting is “Christos Anesti, Alithos Anesti.” The church is always filled with a chorus of greetings in several different languages, like Russian, Greek, English and Romanian, to name a few.
Fasting: Many Orthodox Christians fast from meat, meat products, fish, eggs, dairy, wine and oil during Lent, the 40 days before Easter.
Easter eggs: At Easter, many Orthodox Christians boil and dye eggs red to signify the pain and grief of the Virgin Mary. At the midnight Easter service, the eggs are passed out to the congregants, and people begin tapping their eggs together, seeing which person’s will break — one person saying, “Christ is Risen,” and the other replying, “Surely, he is risen,” said Ann Mentis, a member of St. Athanasios.
“The egg has represented life for centeries,” Mayernick said. “When it is broken open, it signifies the resurrection of life.” Russian Orthodox Christians often decorate the eggs with beeswax instead of dyeing them.
Easter baskets: Many members of the Orthodox Church bring Easter baskets to the midnight service filled with food they have abstained from for the past 40 days. The priest blesses the food.
Mayernick said all of the traditions facilitate fellowship.
“Our church always emphasizes fellowship,” he says. “Fellowship isn’t doughnut hour; it’s getting to know your neighbor. We are united in finding Christ, and this is our whole objective.”