After 2 weeks of silence, here is my post about Orthodox Pascha! Sorry about the wait – I got sick right after I went to the service, and that sapped my energy for the past 2 weeks.
The service began at 11:30pm. When I came in, the priest was chanting. Everyone was lined up to venerate the “tomb” and the icons. So I lined up with them. I was pretty terrified actually, not really knowing what I was doing. I watched everyone else and tried to copy them (probably failed, but oh well) and then went to stand off to one side.
I just so “happened” to stand next to a couple who was there with their un-Orthodox friend. They were explaining the service to him. So I leaned over and asked if I could eavesdrop, The guy enthusiastically agreed and I ended up staying with the 3 of them the whole service. The couple was Jason and Kristin, and the other guy (un-Orthodox) was Joel.
The service was extraordinarily long. The entire thing, including Vespers, Liturgy, and Matins, lasted from 11:30pm until 3am. (And I had to work the next morning at 7:30… HA! very funny!)
To begin, the church was dark except for candles lit around the outside walls. The priest chanted for about 20 minutes. The choir then sang a call and response song with the entire church for probably an hour, going through several stories that are types of the death and resurrection of Christ. After this was completed, we all went outside for the procession. Everyone in the church goes outside the church and walks around it once. This was at about 12:30am and the bells were being rung – I’m sure the neighborhood next to the church was thrilled. 😉 A short call and response song was sung again at the door of the church, and then we returned inside.
Going back inside is seen as a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. Therefore when we returned inside, the church was brightly lit, and the huge chandelier was swinging back and forth. Coming back in, there was a lot of call and response both with the choir and with the priest. The priest would shout, “Christ is risen!” and the congregation would respond “Indeed He is risen!” This wasn’t just done in English, but was also said in several other languages, I can’t remember them all right now. You had to guess at which language the priest was saying… several times the congregation didn’t respond because they couldn’t guess! Hahaha… it was pretty funny actually. I think even the priest was quite amused.
This call and response went on for a very long time, until communion was served. I think communion is served at every Orthodox service. It is ONLY for Orthodox members, as I believe I mentioned before. The priest spoons a mixture of wine and bread into the parishioner’s mouth, the parishioner venerates the cup, then moves on. At this Orthodox church, they also serve blessed bread and grape juice to kind of “wash it down.” (That was what Jason was saying the reason of it was, anyway)
The service ended with red eggs being distributed. There is some kind of story that goes along with the red eggs that I believe has to do with a martyr or something like that. Sorry I am not more technically up on this.
After the service, Orthodox Lent is ended, so they have a huge meal. It’s like a potluck party, basically. I was invited to go by Jason and Kristin, so I went for awhile. It was the most interesting church party I’ve ever witnessed. Lots of cheese, meat, and alcohol. I have never seen so much alcohol inside a church before. But it was really wonderful, I was impressed by the community and how everyone knew each other. I enjoyed how welcomed I was by Jason and Kristin. They treated me like I was a part of the church, not just a visitor. I rarely experience such community inside a church. It was really cool! 🙂
To finish off, here is a [not so great] picture of communion: