Easter on Crete
A brief journal of the Orthodox Easter
According to the Christian Orthodox faith, man's journey from birth until death, is at once a crossing and a resurrectional journey through life. Pain cannot be separated from happiness. Both coexist and are mutually understood as a deeper entity. Christ's, the Virgin Mary's and the Saints' lives were an endless journey of sadness and happiness combined.
Easter, (Pascha: a Jewish word meaning crossing) means the continuous crossing from corruption to incorruption, from darkness to light, from pain to happiness, from death to life and this continuous crossing enriches man in all aspects of life.
Ιn the Orthodox East, devotees don't just celebrate Resurrectional Easter, but Crucifixional Easter also. This double character of the Orthodox Easter exists in a negative but at the same time positive state in the world and in our lives.
With these introductory thoughts we will attempt a brief journey through the Holy Week of Easter, having as our aim the understanding of the importance of these Holy Days.
We begin the week with the prospect of following Christ's sufferings as if they were our own because on the night of Palm Sunday, the Church beckons us to “make the journey of Christ and be crucified like him...”. Holy Monday's theme is the story of Joseph of Pagalos and the cursed, dried up fig tree. This story emphasizes, as we enter the Holy Week, that we mustn't be indifferent towards good deeds, but that we should play an active role in helping our fellow man and in being considerate.
The church service on this day concerns the parable of the Ten Virgins and teaches us vigilance. We should all shake off laziness and be resurrected from the deep sleep of sin, because the powers of darkness are vigilant. We should also be vigilant, holding in one hand our decorated candle which represents our true faith, our qualities and good deeds which God gave us.
Αn Orthodox devotee experiences intensely the mystery of Remorse and forgiveness. During the spring afternoon one can listen to the hymn of the Cassian woman, in which the tears of this sinful woman are entwined with the myrrh of her love. Sin is slavery. Love frees people. Α person's freedom to love without restrictions meets with God's willingness to forgive and unites with His unrestricted love.
This is the last evening, when Christ participates in the secret dinner with his disciples. Two main issues are raised by church on this day:
a) The Holy Basin. Α feeling of great humility spreads through the devotees' hearts, when He who created the sources of water, lakes and seas bends down and washes His disciples' feet. He did this so as to teach everyone that our place next to each other isn't a position of superiority and rank, but a position of humility and sharing.
b) The Secret Dinner. After Christ washed His disciples feet, He cleansed their hearts, minds and consciences. However not with water, but with His own blood. In this way, he gives His disciples and His Church the Holy Communion.
On this day we celebrate Christ's holy and immaculate sufferings. On the previous night, the twelve Gospels are read, which describe the extent of Christ's Sufferings so we can get into the deeper meaning of Christ's death. After the fifth Gospel the cross portraying the Crucified Christ is taken out of Church.
The Chorus chants “Οn this day he is crucified on wood…” and the devotees are called to live the most dramatic moment of Crucifixional Easter. However, through the passion and anguish of the Crucifix of Christ ligers alight and the joy of Resurrection.
This is the confirmation of Lent and the beginning of the Easter period. It is the celebration of the Burial of Christ and His descension to Hades. On the night of Holy Friday, the Eulogies which are sung have a resurrectional character. On the morning of Holy Saturday we have the Vespers of the Resurrection.
The priest, dressed in white robes, spreads bay leaves in the temple and chants the glorious hymn about the resurrection while the bells ring joyously. On the night of Holy Saturday we all savour the big victory. We have already begun Holy Sunday by the end of the evening. We participate in the big joy, the big victory, surrounded by the light of the Resurrection.
We have already entered the next Day of Christ, the Sunday, the eighth eternalday.
This synopsis of the Holy Days helps the true devotee experience and celebrate the Orthodox Easter, meaning the Crucifixional and Resurrectional Easter. One shouldn't be restricted just to the formal, distant participation in such events, nor should one concentrate solely on folk traditions which are often influenced by superstitions.
Easter in the Orthodox faith isn't just eating Easter lamb on the spit, the Easter sweet bread, the red eggs and holding the white candle, even more so it isn't the burning of Judas and the deafening firecrackers which damage our hearing and destroy the atmosphere. It is the sacred taste of the transformational dynamism of the Holy Days and each and everyone's personal contact with the Resurrected Christ that is the spirit of Easter. It is the passage from loneliness to companionship, from selfishness to interactive communication, from stress and the uncontrolled behavior based on instincts to free spiritedness and joy of creativity and love. Furthermore, it is the exit from life's restrictions and the entrance into life's happiness, which is reflected in our souls when we cry out the answer to “Christ is risen” with “It is true, He has risen!”
Chief Priest Evangelos Pachygiannakis