Christos Anesti! Christ is risen! Alithos Anesti! Truly he is risen! As the words ring out across the Orthodox Christian world, we wish everyone Kalo Pascha! Happy Easter! This year, the celebration of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection falls on April 8 for Orthodox Christians, while other Christian denominations celebrated on April 1.
Many jokes ensued, especially on social media, about April Fool’s/Easter and that the real Easter is next week. Questions about the Easter date difference also ensued. Usually the reason given has to do with the calculations based on the “old” (Julian) calendar, the first full moon after the first day of spring, and the date of the Jewish holiday Passover. The fact that the Last Supper was a Passover meal seems pretty obvious to the Orthodox Christians, but it doesn’t seem a factor in the calculations other Christian churches made. The date difference always made the holiday seem even more special, inspiring so many to think about the faith in relation to a variety of other faiths. There are other ways of being in the world, and being sensitive to the differences and the similarities reminds us of our humanity. We may have unique traditions but the powerful message of Christ’s Resurrection, the trampling down of death, is something that resonates across two thousand years of history and draws people towards the light in troubled times.
More than ever, we should cherish the time with family and friends during Pascha, participating in church services and being present in the moment. Pascha is a time for church and family, so put the phone away for at least a little while. Celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Anastasi, as the moving experience it truly is. In the Orthodox Christian tradition, Pascha is a much bigger holiday than even Christmas. The days of preparation, the strict fasting of Great Lent, the many church services leading up to the holiday, bringing home the Holy Light to bless our homes, add a distinctive quality that can be quite difficult to explained to those who have not experienced it.
Food is also a major part of the celebration. Inextricably linked with the church-going is the dyeing of red eggs on Holy Thursday and the huge amount of cooking and baking leading up to the feast on Easter Sunday. The baking of lazarakia, koulourakia, tyropites, and flaounes offers the opportunity for family to come together to experience the traditions and recipes that have been passed down through the generations and connect us with our roots. The traditions also remind us of loved ones who are no longer with us, who we know through the Resurrection of Jesus and the trampling down of death, are only asleep.
It brings to mind the reading from the Holy Bible for the Saturday of Lazarus, John 11:1-45, which begins with the news of the illness and death of Lazarus. Jesus and his Apostles then go to Bethany and Jesus speaks to Martha, one of Lazarus’ grieving sisters. “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.’”
The true meaning of Pascha, the basis of the Christian faith, the defeat of death and darkness by the light of faith in Jesus Christ fills the season with hope and spirituality as no other time of year. It may be easier not to believe, not to be held accountable for the way we treat people in this life, not to have to get up early on Sunday mornings and actually attend church. So while we may enjoy the chocolate bunnies, the brightly-colored candies, and Easter egg hunts, the traditions of church and family are what make the celebration of Pascha so extraordinary.
While the crises continue on so many different levels, it is important to remember the less fortunate and to pray for peace in world. Kali Anastasi, Kalo Pascha, and Happy Easter!