On the heels of the Greek Parades held across North American cities (with all their shortcomings and organizational missteps accompanying genuine displays of enthusiasm and pride), and the review that follows (or usually doesn’t, necessitating that the same mistakes will be repeated year after year), the community gears up to authentically manifest the quintessential spiritual/cultural praxis of Hellenism: The celebration of Pascha central to our spiritual and ethnic identity as an outpouring of popular devotion, shared mentality and unity of purpose, devoid of any artificial ideologies, and continues to represent the compass that leads into the heart and soul of our people.
Holy Pascha is often called “Lambri” or Brightness in Greek, to signify the radiance and joy of this “feast of feasts,” which proclaims that Christ is Risen and that the age-old enemy of mankind – death – can now be trampled down by death! As Greek literary great Alexandros Papadiamantis noted, “The Church removes its mourning garments and dons a bright and radiant vestment, as if the brightness and radiance of the angel who rolled away the stone of the sepulcher was shining upon it. The sunless depths and dark domes of the Christian churches are lit up as on the day of the unwaning light, and the fragrant and cool flowers, which were brought from the meadows and gardens to adorn Christ’s burial shroud still retain their delicate grace and the hint of their worldly enchantment inside the church setting, which has been surrounded in incense. And the Church sends forth its blessing for the Resurrection on this day in a manner unlike the usual; in a language filled with almost childlike tingling of elation and childlike meekness. It invites everyone – those present and those missing, those who fasted and those who did not, those wearing a wedding garment and those clothed in everyday garb – to the great feast of the Resurrection. O intoxication of the Bride at the recovery of the Bridegroom; o thrice-holy and inexplicable intoxication!”
Papadiamantis added that the “Greeks feel this sublime intoxication in their hearts like no other people. No other Christian feast holds the place that Pascha does among them. The Westerners have Christmas. We have the Resurrection. It is the queen of feasts, the festival of festivals. The Westerners celebrate the Birth of Christ with a host of touching and beautiful traditions, in family unity and revelry of people who have been gentrified for quite a long time. But the Lambri of the Greek People rises and sets in boisterous dispersion and extreme elation of people in whose veins flow drops of blood of our wild and unbridled fathers who were lulled by the love of freedom.”
The fasting and spiritual exercises of Great Lent, which were meant to strengthen our souls and show us the vanity of the secular, now yield their place to the true light, which emanates not from the sun, but from the Risen Savior. And the hope that accompanies this feast wells not from some human device (money, false promises, relationships of convenience), but rather from the empty tomb of Christ, which testifies to the complete and final victory over death.
Following the Lenten preparatory period, we are now ready to enter into Holy Week and watch the divine drama unfold – an event that leaves none disinterested, since it mirrors life itself and allows us to participate in the ineffable joy of the Resurrection!
Hellenism, inspired by the labors of its heroes since antiquity, has found its greatest hero in the person of the Savior. As Christ is crucified on Holy Thursday evening, we venerate His Cross and draw strength from the crosses we too must bear in this life, looking to the grace and mercy of the Lord, who ushered the penitent thief crucified alongside Him into Paradise. On Good Friday, as the muse of the holy hymnographers exhausts all its talents to rival in words and music the beauty of nature, which offers the flowers of the earth and sweet fragrances of spring to adorn “Life in the Tomb” Who “is worthily magnified” and “praised by all the nations,” we cannot help but remember our loved ones during the Epitaphios litany and place our trust in the Lord – who descended into Hades to defeat death and free mankind from the bondage of the enemy – to raise them up together with Him. And on Holy Saturday night, when the church bells happily ring in the Resurrection, Papadiamantis reminds us that “spring celebrates along with the Church, nature rejoices together with the faith… Spring, like one of the myrrhbearers, as a sister of Mary Magdalene, proclaims through a myriad of mouths that ‘it has seen the Lord.’” The saintly Skiathite beckons us: “Come, let us exit the dark domes of the churches, which do not allow our joy to explode uncontrollably. Come, let us sing hymns to the Lord under the dark blue star studded sky, receive the unwaning light, and await the first smiles of the yellow-veiled dawn. At this moment, Christ has Risen ‘granting life to those in the tombs.’ And to those of us in this world, may He grant life from life! Christ is Risen! Let us gather round the roasting lamb and accompany its roasting, skillfully spun around the coals, with the sound of fireworks. May the gunpowder symbolize the Resurrection and may kisses symbolize Love. We cannot conceive of the brilliance of the Resurrection without the sound of gunpowder and love without a kiss is like a flower without fragrance.
This is how the Greek people welcome and conceive of Pascha. These names with which Pascha is signified are used to inspire enthusiasm in the people and uplift them to a world of dreams unlike any other feast. When the Greek people say Anastasis (Resurrection), a hidden chord is struck in the depths of their hearts, also reminding them of the Resurrection of the Nation, and Christ and the Homeland meet there, both having equally suffered and being equally sacred.”