More than 250 million Orthodox Christians worldwide will celebrate Pascha (Easter) Sunday, May 1, 2016. This year Orthodox Pascha is celebrated almost a month after the celebration of the Western Easter, while next year it will fall on the same day. The Orthodox date for Easter is based on a decree of the Council of Nicaea, Asia Minor, held in 325 A.D. According to this decree, Easter must be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox but always after the Hebrew Passover to maintain the Biblical sequence of events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The Orthodox Christian churches have adhered strictly to this formula.
“We celebrate once again the Holy and Great Pascha the most significant feast of the year. A feast which by its name Pascha signifies the passing, the exit from a condition of slavery and torment to a condition of freedom and joy. Our Lord Jesus Christ with His Crucifixion and Resurrection passed us from the bondage of sin, guilt, anxiety and death to the immense joy of freedom. He became our exit from the night of evil and sin to the eternal light of a day that has no end, a life that is victorious over death and transfers us to eternity,” states Archbishop Demetrios, spiritual leader of 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians in America said in his Paschal message.
Archbishop Demetrios will officiate at Holy Week services in Greek Orthodox parishes in the New York metropolitan area including Good Friday Lamentations services at the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (319 East 74th St. New York City), which will begin at 7:00 p.m., and Resurrection Services starting Saturday evening at 11:00 p.m. The Resurrection will be proclaimed at 12 midnight.
Centuries-old religious services which recall the passion, crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ are conducted each morning and evening throughout this Holy Week in Orthodox Christian Churches including: Greek, Russian, Romanian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Russian, Albanian, Serbian and Ukrainian, which serve some 6 million faithful in the Americas.
Palm Sunday – commemorated Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem and during the Divine Liturgy, palms were blessed and distributed to the faithful.
Holy Tuesday, the Service of the Bridegroom is conducted and the beautiful Hymn of repentance composed by St. Kassianne is sung.
Holy Wednesday, the faithful are anointed with the Sacrament of Holy Unction, blessed oil, which cleanses, renews and strengthens both spiritually and physically.
Holy Thursday evening, the Service of Holy Passion takes place, during which the Twelve Lessons of the Gospel are read. After the Fifth Gospel a solemn litany begins. A large crucifix is carried in a procession led by the clergy as the mournful hymn of Crucifixion is sung.
Good Friday afternoon, the Vespers of the Descent from the Cross, are offered. The Body of Christ is taken down from the Cross, wrapped in white linen and is prepared for burial.
Good Friday evening, the Lamentations are sung during the Epitaphios Service, which symbolizes the burial of Christ.
Holy Saturday evening, the Easter Resurrection Service begins with Matins at 11 p.m. At midnight, the Church is completely darkened and the faithful wait in joyous expectation for the bishop or priest to come forth carrying a white candle, chanting, Come; Receive the Light, the Light of the Resurrection. The light is passed to the congregation until the Church is ablaze with the glow of candlelight. A procession of altar boys, choir, chanters and clergy joined by all the faithful move outdoors where the Gospel proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ is read. The triumphant hymn, Christos Anesti, Christ is Risen is joyously sung by the faithful. At the conclusion of the Resurrection Liturgy, red Easter eggs, which symbolize the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, are distributed to the congregation.
Easter Sunday, the Vespers of AGAPE (Love) are celebrated with the Holy Gospel of the Resurrection read in several languages emphasizing the universality of Christ’s teaching of love and peace.