Monday, April 25, 2011

Great and Holy Pascha ~ My First Divine Liturgy on my 28th Visit!

I was in this crowd!

First of all, Wow! Wow, is the only word I can think of to describe the three plus hours I spent at Church Saturday night into Sunday morning.

It was up in the air as to whether I would be going at all, at first. Not that I was really opposed to three hours of church for such a special occasion but, due to my usual sleeping patterns and my work schedule, the night would be ending by the time I usually am just waking up for work. (Yes, I am in bed by 9pm and up by 3am!) so I was afraid I would be wiped out and, um, grumpy. But I have been receiving encouraging words all week long from you kind people who read my blog, entreating me to make the effort and what finally cemented it in my mind (and will) was a message from Deacon Ken's son, Bill who, besides being my Facebook friend, is also an altar server. He said:
You really should go tonight since it is the entire reason every Christian church celebrates. If you come tonight i can asure you that you will be in pure amazement at the beauty and love in the service. Even growing up in the church it still fills my heart with joy to see people so devout and caring gathering to celebrate the Ressurection of our savior.
It made perfect sense that I should not miss the "Feast of Feasts." Pascha was the zenith of Christian Worship and, unlike some Christians who say every Sunday is special (thus making no Sunday Special), it really is true that Pascha is a special day, Bill promised I would be amazed and he was right.

I arrived there just before 11:30pm and grabbed a candle on the table in the Narthex. As I sat down, I noticed at man off to the side in the front, just reading out loud but not really in a "proclaiming voice", as if it were meant for God to hear and not us. He was reading the Passion story from the Gospels, I think. I wonder how long that had been going on. Tammy noticed I had made it and came over to greet me warmly. Reader John walked over to the man and motioned for him to stop because it was time to start.

The Church was almost pitch black, except for the light coming from the Narthex and choir loft at first but as the service progressed, the light grew as each of our candles were ignited by ushers. Then, when all the candles were lit, Fr Gary started a line, followed by those bearing icons and we parishioners processed out of the building, with loud bells ringing. As I stepped out I thought, "Man, the neighbors must love this!" (I really should keep my sarcastic thoughts down to a low roar when I am in church). And we circled the Church. As we made our third trip around, i was wondering how many times we would do this. But three is a favorite number for the Orthodox so the third time we stopped in front of the closed church doors and the bells stopped. Fr Gary said some prayers. In fact here is a picture below from my phone.

After the prayers, the doors were opened and the church was full of light! And the bells started ringing, faster and faster, to accent the urgency of the news that Christ is Risen! I was so overwhelmed, I almost started to cry. We walked in and stood in the church as Fr Gary incensed the icons in the front, incensed the people and proclaimed loudly, "Christ is Risen!" We replied, "Indeed, He is Risen!" All the time the choir was singing a triumphant Hymn of Resurrection.

I've said before that Orthodox take worship very seriously and don't smile much in Worship but this is the one time I saw Father Gary crack a smile. You see, "Christ is Risen" is proclaimed by him many times and, to show the universality of the Message, he proclaims it in different languages. At one point, he stumbled, clearly not sure if he was remembering the correct pronunciation for whatever language he was attempting. He smiled and he muddled through. Instead of us all yelling the response in that language, one lone voices from the congregation belted it at the top of his lungs in that particular language!

The whole church was jubilant. The choir continued to sing. I saw Reader John joyfully hugging his fellow parishioners. I saw parents bringing children up to light candles. And all the time the choir is singing, the incense is rising and Father Gary is proclaiming. It could have went on for hours more and that would have been fine with me.

Fr Gary read a letter from Bishop Michael who sent us Pascha greetings but one of my favorite readings of the evening was the reading of St. John Chrysostom's Easter Vigil Sermon. He exhorts all to come to the feast. Drawing imagery from Jesus'' parable about the workers in the vineyard, he says it doesn't matter if you began working at the first hour, or the third, or the sixth, or the ninth or even as late at the eleventh hour -

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.

That man who came at the eleventh hour, that is me! I am 50 years old and only now am really drawn towards Orthodoxy, towards the Church founded by Christ Himself. Yet, I am not to dispair. Christ recieves me... Forgive me for drawing upon my Evangelical roots but, "Praise God!" :)

The Service continued and I saw the reverence in which the Faithful received the Body and Blood of Christ. I, of course, did not receive but at least two people handed me some bread of fellowship which the faithful consume after they partake of the Eucharist. Some day, God willing, I too will receive.

All in all, the service was just as Bill promised; it was awesome and really beyond description. I am so glad I did not miss it.

After the Vigil, there was an Agape feast next door but I knew if I sat and rested, eating and talking, I would get very sleepy. Plus, I promised my son I would take him to the Sunrise service our church was participating in. And I really needed some sleep.

It's kind of a funny story about the sunrise story but I will share that another time. I can see I have gone on a long time...but, oh, what a night it was.

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!


  1. Jim,

    Christ is Risen!

    I'm so glad you got to go to Pascha, especially as your first liturgy! Pascha was my first Orthodox service ever, and primarily what converted me.

    I agree that it truly does blow you away, with the build up at the beginning, and then when you return to the Church after the procession, you're caught up in the triumphal whirlwind of "Christ is Risen!" for the entire service. And my personal favorite, "The Angel Cried."

    I also agree that Pascha is when the Orthodox truly show the jubilation of the feast, much more than anything else. I don't think I saw a face that wasn't grinning at Pascha, and I was bouncing when we got to "The Angel Cried." The entire affair is simply the beauty of beauties.

    The agape feast is also something to experience, but I can see why it would be unwise for you to attend that (especially considering the amount of alcohol you likely would have been plied with... the Orthodox take their feasts as hardcore as their fasts).

    I didn't actually see your Holy Week posts until Saturday... last week was crunch time here, and between church and college, I barely had time to sleep, let alone read blogs. Wonderful impression for both of those too... the Jerusalem Matins and Bridegroom are one of my Holy Week favorites ("O my Life, how hast Thou died?")

    Anyway, have a wonderful Pascha, and I hope that soon you'll be partaking of the Paschal communion as well. :-)

  2. Jim, Christ is Risen! And PRAISE GOD! I am so glad you made it. Oh, and to let you know, it was the Acts of Apostles they were reading. Nativity is the service where I decided to convert, and was baptized on Lazarus Saturday. So I got to partake my first Pascha and there was nothing like it! My first Pascha was a similarly exciting, but our church was still new and small so we didn't have the bells, yet. But I LOVED it! Last year, Bishop George of Mayfield served our Pascha and the Gospels were read by Fathers and Readers at the four corners who rotated between them reading in different languages, all joyously. Each was read in English,, Russian, Greek, Spanish and Latin. That was amazing! This year, we had bells and that just elevated the experience that much more. And I believe a miracle swept through our church this year! usually, we a room full of sleeping kids downstairs, but this year, they all wanted to stay up for it! There was only one or two who crashed :) Even my two year old stayed up and by the end of service, she was saying Christ is Risen and Truly He is Risen like a pro! Izzy even tried to go to sleep, but came upstairs smiling and said "This is so exciting I can't sleep this year! I want to see it all. This is the most important day of the year, isn't it?" I am so proud of her...of all my kids. I prayed you choose to go so you could experience the love and joy of Pascha and God does answer prayers! I want you to know your blog has helped me so much this past year. You have reminded me of my journey to Orthodoxy and hence renewed my zeal. You are a journey that will not only change your life, but will save it! And we praise God for every single soul that is converted. I know you haven't yet, but I have faith and hope. You have found your calling! Even in the 11th hour ;) That is what I meant by it is never too late.
    Your Friend in Christ,

  3. Bless you for tackling both Orthodox Pascha and your other church's Sunrise service. Whoof! I think that would have done me in. We had a full morning of responsibilities at our church on Sunday, so I thought it best to not try to cover both bits of ground in one night. :)

  4. Alexandra,
    There was so much going on that night/morning, I don't remember the phrase, "And the Angel cried." I will have to listen for it, next Pascha.

    Hope college is going well!

    Happy Pascha1

  5. Lavenna/Ambrosia,
    I love your account of Pascha and especially the "miracle of the awake children!"

    I am so glad that my blog is helpful to you in reawakening your faith; we all need that from time to time. I'm glad you prayed for me, because yours and everyone else's got me to the Pascha Vigil! Thanks, keep those prayers up and I will for you!
    Pax, Jim

  6. Bill M.
    All I would have done on the Sunday morning Sunrise service is just attend so i could have somewhat easily pulled it off. As it is, I ended up not next blog post will be a short post about why; it's kinda funny!

  7. This is the best youtube version I found of 'the angel cried":


  8. Alexandra,
    Yes, That's a great proclamation from the Angel!