Oh-oh-oh! Here's the most bee-aa-oo-ti-ful part of the year for us Orthodox Christians. You think the ritualistic cannibalization of one's own savior is weird? Then check out the ritualistic recreation of his death and rebirth! No Osiris for us, no (o)siree; it's all Jesus from here on in. AND: We are unique individuals, don't confuse us with any of them there Catholicks or Prudestants, we're Orthodox, we don't call it Easter, we call it Pascha.
Good Friday is the prelude to this Paschalottagoodness. It's the standard trip: file into church on Friday Night, sing some Psalms, notice that there's maybe 5 other people there-- everyone else out of commission on account of gettin' too enthusiastic on a Friday night with da vodka and whatever it is those Ethiopians drink. Leave with a smug grin of self-satisfaction. Christ is dead! Long live the Christ!
It's the next morning. Newsflash: Christ is still dead! So you go to church that night to really give Him a good funeral. Again: file into church, sing a buncha dirges (I mean, come on! Your God's been crucified!). Then, BLAM! 11:59, church goes totally dark. No light, not even mandatory fire-department exit sign. Royal Doors pop open, out comes the priest, robes flowing, glistening, bearing a candle: Christ is risen! Hoorah! So he lights the nearest person's candle, and there it goes! Soon the church is ablaze with candlelight (Brings a tear to my eyes, yes sir).
Little girl maybe 6 years old next to me: "When you light someone's candle, it's like you're giving light to them!"
Then we all go out of the church, and walk around it a few times. Mid-April in Milwaukee isn't bad, 35 degrees, slightly chilly but okay. Finally, whoosh! we come to a standstill. Our priest is all liberal multi-culti and hates Bush, so he does a call-and-response thing with the congregation in several languages: "Christ is risen!"--"Truly he is risen!"--"Hristos voskrese!"--"Voistinu voskrese!" (that's from all 3 Russians in this parish, me and two others)--"Hristos anesti!"--"Alethos anesti!" (the more educated ones among us know Greek, though there aren't any real Greeks here, seeing as there's a nice, non-ghetto-white-trash church in my suburb that caters specifically to the Greek community, which is all a-bursting with real estate money) "(incomprehensible)"--"(incomprehensible)" (that's Romanian, for almost half of us) and a few more "(incomprehensible)"s for the other half, which are Ethiopian and Eritrean and from other faraway African places that no one in my Old Country would ever associate with going to an Orthodox church (or, for that matter, wearing something other than loincloths and human-bone jewelry; what can I say, we're not a very melting-pot type of a country). Christ is, indeed, risen.
So we all go into the church and listen to the service for maybe an hour or so, at which point the priest motions us to sit and delivers the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, something I like very much. Therefore let me reproduce it here in its entirety:
If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.
As Grandmaster Flash
once said, "I couldn't have said it better myself.
" I couldn't have said it better myself.
So then we go into the straight-up liturgy (which is kinda like a mass but all Orthodox-like) which I will not bore you with here, but let's move on to the next exciting topic:
Oh, that's right. Picking Wax Off Of Candles is the most enjoyable habit since masturbating to pay-per-view wrestling! I do this every single Pascha ever. It's simple: you light a candle (the same one we lit at the beginning of the presentation; all throughout the service everyone holds one, but they can't hold a candle to me! (rimshot)) and when the drops of hot liquid wax flow down the sides of the candle you wait for them to cool off and then pick them off and STUFF! STUFF! them back into the melted wax part of the candle. It's lots of fun, especially to relieve the boredom of Easter service. It also provides you with the valuable experience of Burning Your Fingers On Hot Wax! Lotsa fun.
And that's all, folks.