Andy Cripe Gazette-TimesFather Stephen Soot swings an incense burner during the morning service Friday at St. Anne Orthodox Church commemorating the end of Great Lent and the beginning of the Orthodox Passion Week.
By Carol Reeves
It’s been a full month since most Christians celebrated Easter. But for Eastern Orthodox Christians who live according to the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar, today marks the beginning of Passion Week.
Most years, the Orthodox celebration — often called Pascha — falls within a week or two of the Western observance, and last year the two fell on the same day. Such a large split between the two Easter dates occurs only every three to five years.
But the timing has no effect on local church members’ anticipation of the spring holiday, say the Revs. James Baglien of St. Martin Russian Orthodox Church and Stephen Soot of St. Anne Orthodox Church.
“It doesn’t affect the excitement level one bit,” Soot said. Orthodox Christians are used to Easter being a week or two later.
Both pastors reported the later dates often work in their favor in that they can take advantage of after-Easter sales to purchase plastic eggs for their annual Easter egg hunts or other decorative items. Lilies are often hard to come by if the Orthodox date falls more than a week later than the Western holiday, they said, but one of St. Martin’s church members buys the flowers in season and then cares for the plants in a cool, dark place until they’re needed for decorating the church.
The Orthodox observance of Easter actually begins 40 days prior to Palm Sunday with the Great Lent fast, one of four major fasting seasons in the church. The Orthodox faithful must stick to a vegan diet and avoid all animal products such as meat, eggs and milk. Most also limit their meals to one a day.
“In the Orthodox tradition, we seek to transcend the passions — the attributes we associate with our fallen nature, things like anger, pride and gluttony,” Baglien explained.
The Lenten season is penitential in nature and yet the Lent fast is something Orthodox Christians look forward to as a kind of spiritual spring cleaning, he continued.
“Fasting lightens our souls, and it’s a great benefit to our prayer life,” Baglien said. “We often say we can pray so much because we’re fasting, and we can fast so much because we’re praying.”
Church members observe an even stricter fast during Holy Week and they gather every day for special worship services focused on the events of Jesus’ life during his final week in Jerusalem.
Most Orthodox Christians will take Holy Thursday and Good Friday off so that during the last four days of the week, they can dedicate themselves to Scripture reading and prayers commemorating Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, his betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.
On Saturday, shortly before midnight, each congregation gathers for a climactic Easter celebration that lasts until 3 a.m. Sunday, followed by a potluck feast.
“The all-night Pascha vigil is very powerful and radiant,” Soot explained. “The energy is overwhelming.”
Church members participate in one more unique tradition before going home to watch the sun rise on Easter morning, Baglien said. Each family brings with them a large Easter basket filled with food banished during the Lenten fast — items such as hard-boiled eggs, cheeses and a special sweet bread made only at Easter. The baskets are placed together and blessed by the priest before they’re taken home to enjoy during the post-Easter celebration called Bright Week.
“Bright Week is essentially a week of Sundays,” Baglien said. “It’s a continuation of the joy we have at Pascha.”
“Because the resurrection has eternal, everlasting significance, we want to show that Easter is not just one day,” Soot added. “You’ve heard of the 12 days of Christmas? This is our seven days of Easter where we celebrate just as joyously throughout the week.”
Shorter, more upbeat worship services are held each day through May 3 and church members often gather for communal meals during Bright Week since all traditional fasting rules are suspended.
Both priests recognize their customs and special worship services may seem curious to those outside the Orthodox tradition. They welcome visitors to join them during Holy Week if they’re interested in learning more about the Orthodox faith or its celebration of Easter.
“Anyone who is the least bit curious is invited,” said Soot.
Baglien agreed, but suggested people might want to call ahead of time to check on the details of the service(s) they’re interested in attending. “For example, our Holy Friday afternoon service is about four hours long and that might be too much for some folks,” he said.
“Everyone is welcome to attend our church at any time, and especially this time of year,” Baglien said.
Here is a summary of each Orthodox congregation’s services during Passion Week, from today through Easter Sunday, April 27:
St. Anne Orthodox Church, 6000 N.E. Elliott Circle. Information: 745-6982.
Today — 9 a.m. Divine Liturgy for Lazarus; 5:30 p.m. Palm Sunday Vigil.
Sunday — 10 a.m. Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy with Procession; 6:30 p.m. Bridegroom Matins.
Monday — 8:30 a.m. Hours and Typika; 9 a.m. Presanctified Liturgy; 6:30 p.m. Bridegroom Matins.
Tuesday — 8:30 a.m. Hours and Typika; 9 a.m. Presanctified Liturgy; 6:30 p.m. Bridegroom Matins.
Wednesday — 8:30 a.m. Hours and Typika; 9 a.m. Presanctified Liturgy; 6:30 p.m. Bridegroom Matins.
Thursday — 10 a.m. Vesperal Divine Liturgy of the Mystical Supper; 6:30 p.m. Twelve Passion Gospels.
Friday — 8:30 a.m. Royal Hours; 3 p.m. Burial Shroud Vespers and Lamentations; 6:30 p.m. Praises and Candlelight Procession.
Saturday, April 26 — 9 a.m. Baptisms; 11 a.m. Vesperal Divine Liturgy; 11:30 p.m. Midnight Office, Paschal Vigil, Candlelight Procession and Divine Liturgy.
Sunday, April 27 — 3 a.m. Potluck and Blessing of Easter Baskets; 12:30 p.m. Agape Vespers with Potluck and Easter Egg Hunt.
St. Martin Russian Orthodox Church, 925 N.W. Camellia Drive. Information: 738-0600.
Today — 9:30 a.m. Lazarus Saturday Divine Liturgy; 6 p.m. Palm Sunday Vigil.
Sunday — 8:15 a.m. Baptisms; 9:30 a.m. Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy; 6:30 p.m. Bridegroom Matins.
Monday — 7 p.m. Holy Unction Service in Mulino. Carpools will leave church parking lot at 5:15 p.m.
Tuesday — 8 a.m. Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts; 6:30 p.m. Bridegroom Matins.
Wednesday — 6:30 p.m. Holy Thursday Matins.
Thursday — 5:45 p.m. Pannykhida for Metropolitan Laurus; 6:30 p.m. Holy Thursday Vesperal Liturgy.
Friday — 8:30 a.m. Royal Hours; 4 p.m. Burial Vespers and Matins with Lamentations.
Saturday, April 26 — 9:30 a.m. Holy Saturday Divine Liturgy; 9 p.m. Reading of the Acts of the Apostles; 11:20 p.m. Midnight Office.
Sunday, April 27 — Midnight Pashal Matins and Divine Liturgy, followed by blessing of the baskets and festal meal; 1:30 p.m. Tonsures; 2 p.m. Agape Vespers.