Orthodox Easter celebrated this weekend across Toledo with vigils

5/4/2013
BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Fr. Aristotle Damaskos walks with an icon during Tuesday's Holy Week service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio.  At right is seminarian David Mynihan.
Fr. Aristotle Damaskos walks with an icon during Tuesday's Holy Week service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio. At right is seminarian David Mynihan.

For Christians in the Orthodox Church, this is Easter weekend.

Orthodox Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon following Passover, said the Rev. Aristotle Damaskos, dean of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

In 2010 and 2011 the Orthodox and the Western churches — Catholics and Protestants — observed Easter on the same day. Last year, Orthodox Easter was a week later. This year “Passover came, the full moon was a little bit later, so this is why we’re so late.” Next year the dates will coincide again.

Easter or Pascha, which in Greek means passover, is the most significant holiday in the Orthodox Church because it celebrates the Church’s belief that Jesus Christ was resurrected from death after being crucified.

Tomorrow at noon at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Christian Cathedral, 3754 Woodley Rd., four area congregations will celebrate Easter in a Pan Orthodox Agape service, or service of love. Members of St. George Antiochian will welcome worshipers from St. Elias Orthodox Church in Sylvania; St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Rossford; and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo.

“The gospel is read in as many languages as we have readers to read the gospel in, so in some years we have 20 languages,” said the Rev. Basil Koory, dean of St. George Antiochian. “It depends on who we can find that year. The symbolism is that the gospel is read in every language because it’s being spread through the whole world. The resurrection is for everybody, for those who believe and those who don’t believe.”

The Agape service also includes a procession around the church among the clergy and the faithful.

“In our modern American society, we have parades for everything, and so this is kind of like a grand celebration,” he said.

Fr. Aristotle Damaskos walks with an icon during Tuesday's Holy Week service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Fr. Aristotle Damaskos walks with an icon during Tuesday's Holy Week service at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Father Aristotle cited one reason why he appreciates the Orthodox Church often having a later Easter: “We do not get all caught up in the commercialism of the season like we have with Christmas,” he said.

These Eastern churches celebrate Christmas on December 25, the same as the Western churches.

“When we celebrate Holy Week and Easter like we do in the Orthodox Church, that is what we’re celebrating — we’re not celebrating Easter bunnies, hams or ducks. In the West, that’s part of their tradition, God bless them. I’m not complaining about them, but it’s got caught up with the Easter bunny and all that. Now, yes, [my wife and I] would make Easter baskets for our kids, but it was from us, it wasn’t from the Easter bunny.”

Each of the four churches held its own services from Palm Sunday through this last week of their Lenten season. The differences between the Orthodox churches are not religious, Father Aristotle said.

“The faith is exactly the same. It’s the culture that’s different. Here [at Holy Trinity], most of our people come from Greece and Cyprus, so we would use Greek in our services. Go to the Antiochians [St. George in Toledo and St. Elias], and they would use Arabic, and then the Bulgarians [St. George in Rossford] would use Bulgarian. However, because we’ve been in this country so many years, we still use the language, but we use more English in our services as well. I think our church might be the only one that uses more of the old language, like Greek.”

Today at Holy Trinity, 740 Superior St., at 9:30 a.m., Father Aristotle said, “We will have the service of the three youths, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nigo, when they were in the fiery furnace,” a story from the book of Daniel in which the three were protected by God. “The kids sing the hymns of the three youth, our youth choir, and at one point our priest will come out with flowers and throw them all around, and we are proclaiming the resurrection of Christ: ‘Arise, oh God, and judge the earth.’

Candle lighting for prayer at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Candle lighting for prayer at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

In the evening a vigil will begin at about 11:15 and at midnight the church will go totally black.

“The priest will come forward with a single candle — this year we will have our bishop with us [from Detroit], Metropolitan Nicholas — and say, ‘Come, receive the light from the undying light and glorify Christ who is risen from the dead,’ and then he will light the altar boys’ candles, the altar boys will go forth and light all the candles row by row, and all of a sudden the church becomes a sea of candles,” Father Aristotle said.

The ceremony continues outside and when the service is over there will Greek egg lemon soup that ends a 40-day fast from meat and some dairy products.

“So that’s an exciting time, and then we’ll have red Easter eggs symbolizing the blood of Christ, and there’s a little game that everyone plays. They take the egg and they hit the other person’s egg, and they say [in Greek], ‘Christ is risen,’ and if the egg doesn’t crack, you’re the winner. So they try and go around and crack each other’s eggs.”

Contact TK Barger at tkbarger@theblade.com, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.