This past weekend, a group of Bethel students had the opportunity to attend the Pascha (Easter) service at St. George’s Orthodox Christian Cathedral. St. George’s is part of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which includes Russian, Greek, Armenian, Antiochan, and several other Orthodox churches. The service began at 11pm and concluded at about 2am and was a marathon of liturgy, standing up, and incense.
It began with the choir singing an opening hymn after which all the lights were shut off and the bishop began chanting liturgy. He then lit a candle from the candelabra at the front of the church and passed it to the priests and friars, who went down the aisle and lit the candles of the parishioners. It was really beautiful, getting to watch the church slowly light up and being able to see the elaborate paintings on the ceiling and walls.
Once everyone’s candle was lit, the choir began to sing again, and continued to sing as they filed down the central aisle. The entire church followed and we all walked slowly outside and around the church building, eventually concluding at the front door of the church. The bishop recited more liturgy, then turned to the door and pounded on it three times, shouting “Lift up your heads, O gates that the King of glory may come in!” Someone on the other side called back “Who is the King of Glory?” This was repeated 3 times (a recurring theme, as it turned out) before the church bells cut loose, and “Christ is risen!” was repeated several times in about 5 different languages. Then the doors were opened and we all filed back to our seats to begin the formal portion of the service.
The rest of the service was a LOT of liturgy chanted by the bishop and clergy, interspersed with a few portions sung by the congregants or the choir. Typically, a Pascha service is conducted while standing, though one may sit if necessary. A program was available to attendees detailing the order of events, which I found very helpful, though I must confess I found myself spacing off and staring at the artwork and the parishioners at several points!
Once the final “Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!” (Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!) had been said, the service was concluded with communion for regular attendants. Before we left the sanctuary, we joined a line to receive a red dyed egg (symbolizing new life and the blood of Christ) and traditional Easter bread. Since many of the congregants had been fasting all day, or had been abstaining from meat or cheese or sweets for Lent, there were a series of tables set up outside the sanctuary where we could all pick up food for a meal. While we ate, we talked to Don Lemmons, a retired Bethel professor who attends the church. Our group finally got back to Bethel at about 3:45am. Some of us planned on attending Easter services at our respective churches, but I didn’t think I was that hard-up for sleep deprivation!
The pictures included with this post are of an Eastern Orthodox church in Israel, not St. George’s, but the style is pretty similar.