Celebrating Christ’s resurrection this year was something truly special and magical as I took part in celebrations ranging from Russian Orthodoxy, Anglo-Catholicism (Episcopal/Anglican) and Methodism. The most memorable part of Easter/Pascha was celebrating with friends from various traditions within Christianity and with each celebration being different from the others. I must say it was a very long day with little sleep but with much excitement.
Pascha at St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral
I started off Easter by going with friends to St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, D.C. where most of us live. The celebrations started at 9pm with the reading of the Acts of the Apostle’s in various languages to represent Christ’s message being spread around the world and from culture to culture. It was amazing being able to venerate the Epitaphios, a cloth icon of the burial of Christ, in a church with dim lights, lit candles, written icons on the walls glowing with candle light, people waiting to venerate icons while the Acts of the Apostle’s were being read.
It took two hours for the Acts of the Apostle’s to be read and while people waited for friends, family and congregation members to show up, I spent some time talking with my friends, venerating more icons and taking turns holding Anna. I was surprised that Anna took a liking to me and was constantly holding her while trying to avoid my head scarf being pulled off. In the Russian Orthodox Church women wear modest dresses, skirts and head scarfs. Some suggest this is to mimic the Theotokos (Virgin Mary). During this time the church slowly filled with people to the point where not everyone could fit into the church and people were standing on the patio and sidewalks. Congregants, priests and lay people filled the church with their families and friends both coming from the English-speaking community in the church and from the Slavonic community. On a normal Sunday the church is quite full for just the English and Slavonic services (the two services are held separately). But this night the two communities came together to celebrate Pascha.
The Pascha celebration started at 11pm with full a church and little room to move around as people were standing so close together. My friends and I were close to the Epitaphios and had a wonderful view as the priests said prayers over the icon of Christ’s burial. After the prayers were said the Epitaphios was taken by the priests to the alter behind the iconostasis. This is a screen with icons written on it that separates the holy from the common and in this case it went almost to the ceiling.
Here the priests carried the Epitaphios around the alter several times before placing the icon on the alter or near it (I had a hard time seeing).
At this point the icons for the procession were brought out and carried to the front of the church. The choir then came down from the choir balcony and sang a few hymns in both Russian and English before going outside in the presence of the icons. The congregation then started singing the procession hymns while following the icons outside with lit candles. The procession went down Shepard Street to 16th street and then up Taylor street and then turned onto 17th street until we reached Shepard St. During the procession I walked with my friends talking with each other and with other people while the church bells were ringing and while people in the neighborhood observed from their windows or porches. Back at the church the icons were walked up to the front of the church and the priests and people chanted the Paschal troparion:
Priests: Xristos anesti! People: Alithos anesti!
Then the choir started sining the rest of the Paschal troparion in Russian and English while the congregation followed along.
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!
Hrestoss vosskrese ez mertvih, smerteeyou smert pro prav, Ee suscheem vo grobeh zhivot darovav!
(Below are two links to Pascha celebrations at St. John’s)
After going inside the church where people filled the church until no one could fit, the Paschal troparion was repeated several more times in Greek, English and Russian with the full chant being done in English and Russian. At this point the lights in the church were turned on and the liturgy of the Paschal Hours with the Divine Liturgy started. This service was a little over two hours and, like all services in the Russian Orthodox church, everyone stood. Since it was Pascha everyone stood with candles in hand. The service ended at 3:30am and I headed back to my apartment to sleep a bit before going to the next Easter service at 11:15am.
Easter Service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on K St.
I got up the next morning at at 8am to attend Easter service with friends at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on K St. St. Paul’s is an Anglo-Catholic church in the Episcopal tradition. This means that the church focuses on the Catholic aspects and heritage of the Episcopal Church. This ranges from being traditional liturgical Catholic (chanting, incense, the Catholic missal, beautiful vestments and statues and icons for veneration). St. Paul’s is also the original Anglo-Catholic Church in the United States.
The service started off with the procession of the cross around nave of the church with the cross making three trips around the nave. While the procession was taking place the choir and the congregation sang “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”. After the opening hymn the opening prayer and collect was read and was followed by the first reading. After this was the sining of the psalm. I don’t remember what psalm was sung but it would have been a psalm of praise or joy. After this came came the second reading and then the reading of the Gospel was the last reading before the homily or sermon. The sermon was given by Rt. Rev. James L. Jelinek.
After the sermon was given the priests performed the rituals for the Eucharist (Communion). The rituals include the Eucharistic prayer and the blessing of the Eucharist. In the Episcopal Church the official church standing on the Eucharist is that the Eucharist is the Blood and Body of Christ. This is known as Transubstantiation. Not all Episcopalians believe in this teaching but St. Paul’s does. After taking Eucharist, the highlight of any Episcopal service, we sang one last hymn and left the nave for lobby to enjoy some drinks, pastries and socialize.
After the service I went out to lunch with my friend in Friendship Heights where I had my first piece of meat in five weeks. In the Episcopal tradition Lent ends with the Easter celebration at church and after this people can take back up what they gave up for Lent. So I enjoyed my first piece of meet in five weeks, went home and took a nap before the next service I was attending.
Methodist Easter Service at Kay Spiritual Center at American University
At 7pm I went to the Methodist Easter Service on campus to celebrate Easter with my Methodist friends. The service lasted an hour and included the baptism of one of my friends into the Methodist Church. In the church baptism is the act that remises the receiver from sin but is not meant to “save” the person in Christ’s name. The act of being “saved” is not a simple one step process like being baptized but is a journey where on seeks Christ’s guidance in daily life and where a person tries to be a genuine person through love, care and positive acts. Also, in the case of the Methodist, baptism is also viewed as conformation or being received into the Methodist Church.
Also during the service the Rev. Mark Shafer gave one of his famous Game of Thrones sermons. I was not able to insert the video of the sermon onto this blog but when I have the chance I will summarize it for all you readers.
After the service we all went downstairs for Easter dinner. During the dinner one of my friends wrote a Midrash about the human suffering of Christ. A Midrash are oral stories, this is a tradition within Judaism, that fill in the gaps found in the Old Testament.
The Midrash reads:
And lo, when God made Jesus a man incarnate the angles did ask, “shall he be fully incarnate and suffer all the trials of humankind?” And the Lord answered, “yes, he shall suffer with my children in all their travails.” So it came to pass that the child Jesus sat playing with his pens and colored wax. He drew many portentous things, and his prophecy was interrupted as his colored wax broke. The child Jesus was angry and cried out unto the Lord, “Why must I suffer so?” And so it came to pass that and angel came down to Jesus and said, “child, you are human now and must share all human trials. You too must break your crayons.” AUMSA 1:1-6
(AUMSA: American University Methodist Student Association).