Easter by an Eastern name: Millions celebrate Pascha

SUNDAY, MAY 5: Starting Saturday night, May 4, millions of Eastern Christians will begin their celebration of Easter, which Orthodox churches usually call Pascha.

For many years, the world’s top Christian leaders have tried to negotiate a single, unified method for setting the date of Easter—but those long-running discussions have never been resolved. So, Easter often is marked on two different spring Sundays. In 2014, the two Easters will reunite on April 20. They will diverge after that and won’t unify again until 2017.

Unlike Western Christians, Orthodox congregations focus most of the celebration on the vigil leading up to Easter. Then, the holiday is celebrated in the early hours of Easter. While Western Christians focus on huge Sunday-morning worship services—the best-attended Eastern liturgies unfold through the night. Orthodox families tend to celebrate with feasting, family and music on Easter Sunday.


The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America provides extensive, colorfully illustrated guides to major holidays—and Pascha is the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. Read the entire Greek Orthodox story of Pascha, which includes this description of the vigil:

This liturgy “begins in complete darkness. The priest takes light from the vigil light and gives it to the faithful, who are holding candles. The priest sings: ‘Come ye and receive light from the unwaning light, and glorify Christ, who arose from the dead.’ All the people join him in singing this hymn again and again. From this moment, every Christian holds the Easter candle as a symbol of his vivid, deep faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as Savior. In many churches the priest leads the people outside the church, where he reads the Gospel that refers to the Angel’s statement in Mark 16: ‘He is Risen; He is not here’

“Then comes the breathless moment as the people wait for the priest to start the hymn of Resurrection, which they join him in singing repeatedly: ‘Christ has Risen from the dead, by death trampling upon Death, and has bestowed life upon those in the tombs.’ From this moment, the entire service takes on a joyous Easter atmosphere.”


Want to see some of the gorgeous sights of this season? The Baltimore Sun gathers 28 photographs from around the world and posts them in an online gallery.

Food traditions? Culinary Backstreets is a guide to finding great food while traveling, and a special Easter column does a great job of capturing holiday traditions. Warning: Especially if you love the full range of Greek cuisine, including traditional meats, this column will make you hungry! At one point, the columnist writes: “It usually takes hours for the lamb—which is regularly doused with olive oil, lemon, thyme and dill—to cook through, so the process starts as early as 7 a.m. on Easter morning. The typical Greek family enjoys Easter outdoors next to the spit, a scene rounded out with traditional music, wine, children playing and male family members arguing over who should be in charge of turning the spit.” Can’t you picture that scene?

A glimpse of American Orthodox families: The New Haven Register profiles an Orthodox church preparing for Easter, this year, with high hopes for the future. The congregation is breaking ground for a new church. These ancient Eastern traditions aren’t fading in America; in many communities, they are growing.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cultural diversity.)

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