The celebration of Easter brings to mind a plethora of memories of crowded church services and large gatherings of family and friends. The pandemic brought a terrible perspective to those memories and highlighted how lucky we were to have had those Easter celebrations in the past. When so many people were battling the virus last year, it seemed like things would never get back to normal. Many would recover from COVID, while others sadly died, leaving behind family and friends to mourn as much as they could amidst the restrictions. The lockdown led many to watch services online, but, of course, it is not the same as being there and participating.
As the restrictions are lifting and people return to attending church in person and to gatherings with their loved ones we can once again celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord with at least some of the enthusiasm we had in the past. It might be difficult for those who are still grieving a loved one, but we can draw support and comfort from our family and friends, even if the gatherings might still be socially distanced this year. We can still share and cherish our memories of happier times and look to a brighter post-pandemic future.
Celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Anastasi is a much bigger holiday in the Orthodox Christian tradition than even Christmas. The days of preparation, the strict fasting of Great Lent, the many, beautiful church services leading up to the holiday, bringing home the Holy Light to bless our homes, add a special quality that cannot quite be explained to those who have not experienced it.
The 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 tremendous amount of cooking and baking leading up to the feast on Easter Sunday. The roasting of the lamb, the baking of lazarakia, koulourakia, tyropites, and flaounes brings families 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.’”
During these difficult times for so many people, when we hear about continuing crises, families divided, it is also important to remember the less fortunate, to pray and to be active in our faith, doing good deeds and making the world a better place for everyone.
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.
Though this year’s celebration may not quite be back to normal, we wish everyone Kali Anastasi, Kalo Pascha, and Happy Easter!