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Postcards from Russia – An American Orthodox Celebration – Part 8

St. Tikhon's in South Canaan, PA

St. Tikhon's in South Canaan, PA

Пасха – Orthodox Easter

As I, Zack Ellis, prepared to pack my bags to travel with the Mariinsky Orchestra, I learned a lesson about the serendipity of life. In a small hamlet 4,500 miles from Moscow, a monastery called St. Tikhon’s keeps Russian Orthodox traditions alive in Pennsylvania. On May 5, I had the pleasure of attending their midnight Easter service, and received an early dose of Russian culture.

Unlike western churches, Russian Orthodox still follows the Julian Calendar. This often results in their Easter being celebrated several weeks after the Catholic Easter. This year, it happened to fall on May 5. The service began shortly before midnight.

Everybody in attendance held a lit candle as we stood in the nave of the church. The lights were dimmed, and we gathered around a funeral shrine dedicated to Christ. The deacon spoke and the choir sang a somber chant before we formed a funeral procession outside. An iron bell tolled while we circled the church three times. Upon returning to the door, the deacon climbed the steps and issued a proclamation in Church Slavonic: “Христос воскресе! (Christ is risen!).” The congregation responds: “Воистину воскресе! (Truly, He is risen!).” This was repeated in Greek and English due to the makeup of the congregation. The choir sang and this joyous exchange took place several more times before we re-entered the church.

The nave had become bright and cheerful. In place of the funeral shrine were bright celebratory icons of the resurrection. Bathed in light, we could see the icons and imagery upon the iconostasis – the decorative wall between the nave and the sanctuary. The priest began the hymn, “Christ has Risen from the dead, by death trampling upon Death, and has bestowed life upon those in the tombs,” and the congregation joyously sang this motif throughout the service. This progressed to the church’s traditional liturgy.

Many people fast for forty days prior to the holiday, giving up meat, eggs, and cheese in a test of self-discipline. Upon conclusion of the service, everybody met in a hall and we broke the fast. Meat and cheese abounded. The celebration continued through the night, and the congregation retired before sunrise.

Easter festivities often continue long after the holiday. Such is the case for the Mariinsky Easter Festival. Music and celebration transcend national boundaries. Although we ventured to the far side of the world, we still feel connected to home.

 

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