BY TOM LAVIS
While many Christians celebrated Easter March 31, those of the Eastern Orthodox rite who adhere to the Julian calendar will keep the observance on May 5.
The faithful are commemorating Palm Sunday today and, in the coming days, the most solemn events will be enacted liturgically in the church.
Clergy and church members will relive the great mysteries of salvation, which will culminate with the celebration of the Holy Resurrection.
“This is the most solemn week of the entire Christian year,” said the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Frank Miloro of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, 300 Garfield St. in the West End section of Johnstown.
The people are asked to participate in a variety of public prayers at divine services each day of Holy Week.
Praying, fasting and almsgiving have been the Lenten themes, and those practices are intensified during Holy Week.
Easter, or Pascha, is perhaps the most important day to Christians, as it provides the basis for Christian faith.
As part of the sacred celebration, there are many customs and traditions.
Beginning Monday of Holy Week through and including Holy Saturday, a strict fast is observed.
“They will intensify their fasting to include abstaining from meat and dairy products the entire week if possible, and to receive the sacrament of confession if they have not already done so during Lent,” Miloro said.
From Holy Monday, the daily services remind the faithful that Jesus, the bridegroom of the church, is coming, and they need to be ready to welcome him by living the Christian life he taught.
The Rev. George Johnson of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church, 427 First St. in East Conemaugh, said without Holy Week there is no real meaning to an Easter observance.
The first three liturgical days of Holy Week have been reflections upon all the Gospel passages in which Jesus speaks about the end time.
“His words that the ‘bridegroom comes at midnight’ (Matthew 24:36-26:2) and his describing himself as the bridegroom are the central focus, wherein all people are encouraged to be prepared for the Lord to come again,” Johnson said.
By Holy Thursday, passion events are building, and the institution of the Eucharist is observed, marking the first eucharistic meal.
“Holy Thursday is marked with the institution of the Eucharist in the morning, and in the evening, the 12 passion Gospels are read,” Miloro said.
The readings detail the last few days of Christ’s life. The liturgical services mirror the biblical account.
Johnson called Good Friday the most spiritually intense day of the church year with at least three services royal hours, vespers and service of the vigil at the tomb.
Although the day is filled with the services of the church, there is no Divine Liturgy served on this day. Holy Friday is a day of total fasting.
“It is customary in parishes that people keep the vigil both together in the church services, and also individually, during the time that the tomb with the Icon of the Burial of Jesus Christ is in place,” Johnson said.
“ The psalter (Book of Psalms) is read continuously during this time.”
The shroud remains in the tomb until the vigil of the Resurrection is celebrated on Holy Saturday.
“The tomb is rearranged following this service, in preparation for the Paschal (or Easter) services,” Johnson said.
Holy Saturday embodies the idea that Christ was God and man and was in the tomb.
Easter morning is announced with the ringing of the church bells that have been silenced since Holy Thursday night.
Divine Liturgy is celebrated, and the Eucharist is shared.
Bishop Gregory Tatsis of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese, which is headquartered in Johnstown, requested that his message to all the parishes of the diocese be delivered at the conclusion of the Paschal Liturgy.
“On the great and glorious Feast of Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is proclaimed and reaffirmed,” Tatsis writes.
“Our hearts are filled with tremendous joy, our souls are transformed, and we bask in the light of truth. I pray that all of you experience the joy, excitement and wonder of the early followers of Christ when they first saw him following his Resurrection. Their words then are our words now: Christ is Risen!”
Miloro said when people greet one another on Easter morning with “Christ is risen,” the response is “indeed he is risen.”
“It is the brightest day of the year, the clergy wear white vestments, candles are burning everywhere, the music is joyful, and the church is fragrant with fresh flowers,” he said.
People also bring in their Easter food baskets for the blessing following the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
The Eucharist on Easter breaks the Lenten fast.
The Easter meal is replete with meats, rich breads, buttermilk and cheese foods, together with desserts that are served only on Easter.
The week following Easter is called Bright Week, and there is no fasting.
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