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Published: Saturday, 4/27/2002

Orthodox Christians begin Holy Week


Eastern Orthodox Christians begin their observance of Holy Week tomorrow with Palm Sunday and will celebrate Easter, or Pascha, on May 5.

Because the Eastern church follows the Julian, or old calendar, in determining the date of Easter, the observance can coincide with or diverge from that of the Western church. Last year, for example, the two churches celebrated Easter on the same date, but this year, the Eastern church's Easter date falls five weeks later.

The Orthodox date is based on a decree of the First Ecumenical Council which met at Nicea in 325, before the split between the Eastern and Western churches. According to the decree, Easter is to be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. If the full moon is on a Sunday, Easter is observed the following Sunday.

After celebrating Palm Sunday tomorrow and recalling Christ's triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, Eastern Orthodox Christians will gather nightly in their churches during the week leading up to Pascha for services that recall the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.

During the Holy Wednesday or Great Wednesday service, the sacrament of Holy Unction will be administered.

The celebration of Holy Thursday the next day will include a Divine Liturgy and communion in the morning, followed by the service of Holy Passion in the evening when the 12 lessons of the gospel are read and a large crucifix is carried in procession.

On the afternoon of Good Friday, the descent of Christ from the cross will be recalled and the image of Christ on the crucifix removed and wrapped in white linen and placed in a bier. That evening, lamentations for the burial of Christ will be sung over the bier.

Eastern Orthodox Christians will begin their observance of Pascha before midnight on May 4 by assembling in darkened churches. A candle will be brought inside to signify the light of the resurrection of Christ and individual tapers will be lit from it. A procession and Divine Liturgy will follow and afterward, red Easter eggs will be blessed and distributed to members of the congregation.

On Easter Sunday, May 5, members of area Orthodox churches will gather at 1 p.m. at St. George Orthodox Cathedral on Woodley Road for agape vespers, followed by an Easter egg hunt for children. During agape vespers the gospel is read in several languages.

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