Orthodox Easter: ‘Christ is risen!’

Rev. Michael Shanbour, Contributing reader

5/4/13

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

This simple, ancient Christian hymn is sung over and over by Orthodox Christians late into the early morning hours each year on Orthodox Christian Easter or “Pascha.” On that night, brighter than the sunniest of days, Orthodox Christians all over the world begin addressing one another joyfully with the greeting, “Christ is risen!” and with the response, “Truly, He is risen!

For the Orthodox, the Resurrection is not a one day event. The paschal greeting, the resurrectional hymns and the communal celebration continue for 40 days up to the date of the Lord’s ascension.

In the Orthodox Christian Faith, the Resurrection is without question “the feast of feasts” since “if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile … ” (1 Cor. 15:17). The Resurrection is the very atmosphere of the Orthodox Church; it permeates everything, and there are no other holy days without it.

We do not call this day “Easter,” but Pascha, a form of the word passover. No, we are not Jewish. Pascha is the word used from earliest times. The Apostle Paul himself testifies to this when he says, “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been slain” (1 Cor. 5:7).

Pascha — Passover — harkens back to the passing over of Israel from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. But this Passover is “from death to life and from earth to heaven,” from the bondage of sin and death to the kingdom of God. Typically, Pascha does not fall on the western date of Easter, as it cannot be celebrated before the Jewish Passover and the older Julian calendar is used to determine the date.

The service begins in an almost completely darkened church. After initial hymns and prayers, the priest comes out from behind the altar with a single lit candle: “Come, take light from the Light that is never overtaken by night. Come and behold Christ, risen from the dead!” As the hymn continues, all present light their own candle from this one. Then a solemn procession begins outside the church: “Thy Resurrection, O Christ our Savior, the angels in heaven sing. Enable us on earth also to glorify Thee in purity of heart.”

As we arrive again at the front doors of the church, the Resurrection Gospel is read, the first “Christ is risen” is shouted, and the congregation returns to a brightly lit church decked in white. The explosion of joy, song and shouts of “Christ is risen” that follow cannot be described in mere words.

After this spiritual feast, a festal meal is shared of meats, cheese and eggs from which church members have abstained during Lent.

This year, our Holy Week and Pascha are concurrent with Apple Blossom. We invite the good people of Wenatchee to join us on Saturday, May 4 at 10:30 p.m. to celebrate “Great and Holy Pascha!”

The Rev. Michael Shanbour is pastor of the Three Hierarchs Orthodox Christian Church, 112 N. Wenatchee Ave.

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