I have celebrated Easter my whole life. Even
as a child, our family always got dressed up in
our Easter Sunday best, and went to church to
celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Yet somehow,
here at nearly thirty-two years of age, I feel
I have experienced my first Easter. I am moved
like never before, and have such a deep sense
of what that very first “Easter” was all about.
It is my first Orthodox Easter. It is Friday evening,
and the church is quiet and sad. A cloud of grief
hangs over us, and many people place flowers at
the front of the church near the cross. I know
what is coming, yet I feel unprepared for what
will happen. Sorrow fills our hearts as we wait
to begin our solemn ceremony. This is so different
than the relatively light-hearted ceremonies in
the Protestant churches which I grew up in. Somehow
time and eternity meet here, and the result is
“remembering” the crucifixion in a way that pierces
First, we remember the crucifixion of Christ.
I see my Saviour hanging on the cross, and the
reality of what He did for us crashes down on
me. The songs tell the story, and beautifully
express the deep theology of what God accomplished
through His precious Son, on our behalf. “Conquering
death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing
life”. What kind of love is this? It is Love that
saw us fallen, and reached down to “raise us up
We witness the sorrow of the disciples, and of
the Blessed Mother of God. After all has been
accomplished, and Christ has cried out his last,
He is taken down off the cross and wrapped in
a shroud. There is an icon of Christ in the tomb,
which we then carry around the church in a funeral
procession. The icon is placed near the altar,
and we all go to it and place flowers on it. We
kiss the body of our precious Lord, and go back
to our seats. My heart is filled with grief and
The evening is solemn, and much deeper than any
Easter ritual I have ever seen. There is nothing
empty or boring about it, and I have a sense that
it will only deepen with meaning after ten, twenty
or fifty years of being part of the Orthodox faith.
This night holds a special significance for me.
In the morning, I will be baptized into Christ
and into His church. I am witnessing what He suffered
and accomplished on behalf of humankind, and I
realize that it is only because of His Passion,
that I am able to partake of Life again.
On Saturday morning, I am ready and filled with
anticipation. I have been longing for this moment,
and I feel like a bride waiting to be joined to
her dearest Love. The baptismal ceremony in the
Orthodox Church is vastly different than in the
Protestant churches I had attended in the past.
I have a deep sense of my unworthiness of being
inscribed into Christ, yet my heart is overflowing
with thanksgiving and joy at being redeemed by
the only One who could conquer death. I can understand
now why Baptism was historically performed during
Pascha. It is the fulfillment of what Christ accomplished
for us. The “fullness” of what being a “Christian”
really means is just beginning to become a reality
I am deeply moved by the cries of Hades when it
realizes that the One it sought to put to death
has conquered Death itself. The words are powerful,
and teach more theology in a few verses, than
I learned in twenty years of Sunday school and
Baptism is all I hope for and more. It truly is
salvation. Our salvation from death; it is a new
life within the Life of Christ. I weep as I am
raised up into that new life, and I know that
what is taking place is truly a heavenly mystery.
It is not only a beautiful tradition, something
merely “symbolic”, nor is it simply a public confession
of a personal commitment, but it is reality; an
existential change taking place within my body.
I've never felt something was more “real” than
this. All things of earth pale in comparison with
this mystical reality.
After the Baptism and Chrismation have been performed,
we all leave the church. In the Orthodox tradition,
Easter Sunday begins in the afternoon on Saturday,
which is the beginning of the new day. We gather
back at the church around 8:30pm on Saturday evening.
This is what we have been waiting for. We listen
to the songs about the women going to the tomb
to anoint the body of Christ, only to be greeted
by the angel who asks, “Why do you seek the living
among the dead?” What begins as a mournful lament,
quickly turns into rich and joyful celebration.
Our beloved Lord Jesus is not in the tomb! He
has risen. Our Lord is alive! He has risen, and
breathed Life into us again! What possible darkness
or threat can this life hold when Christ has conquered
the power of Death? I weep with joy that He is
alive and in our midst.
After forty days of fasting during Great Lent,
we are ready to eat. Father Jonah gives the invitation
to all who have fasted, but not only to those
who have kept the fast, but also to those who
have arrived late, or even neglected to keep the
fast at all. This invitation is yet another display
of God's great mercy and love for all of mankind.
The lamb has been prepared and the food is ready.
The great feast can begin. It is clearly not just
another church dinner! The word “potluck” could
never do this justice. Rather, it is an outpouring
of celebration and joy. It is participation in
the gift of Life. As food sustains our physical
life, so Christ's Life sustains our spirit by
I feel as if the scales have fallen from my eyes.
The Truth I have so long been seeking has revealed
Himself to us. “Easter”. “Pascha”. I now understand
much better that we participate in the whole Easter
celebration, not only once a year, but weekly,
and even daily, as we partake of Christ's death
and resurrection. What Love is this! Christ is
risen! Truly, He has!