I was honored to be asked to take photos of the Paschal (Easter) celebration at Saint Andrew Orthodox Church in Arlington, Washington last weekend!
The Orthodox celebrate Pascha (Easter) on a different calendar than Western Christians (bear in mind that Christianity started out as an Eastern religion). For reasons too complicated to elaborate, it has to do with the Julian calendar and the dates of the Jewish Passover. On some years, Western and Eastern Easter dates coincide, but this year, the Orthodox Pascha fell one week later than Western Easter. Many Orthodox are just fine with that, as they can then buy all their Easter candy on sale!
The week leading up to the Crucifixion and Resurrection is called Holy Week--the Orthodox put themselves in the position of “being there" during the last week of Christ's earthly life by attending daily and sometimes twice-daily services. Holy Week culminates with the celebration of Pascha at midnight Saturday night (since the early Christians were almost all Jews, this is in keeping with the Jewish tradition of Sunday officially beginning at sunset the night before).
During the Pascha service, parishioners one by one light their candles from flames originally lit by the “super-size" Paschal candle held by their priest, then raise their candles in a darkened room and exuberantly sing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life!"
The late night service also includes a procession around the church by parishioners with their raised candles. After the glorious three-hour service that is the midnight celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, parishioners end their weeks of fasting by bringing in baskets full of their favorite foods or items they abstained from eating during Lent.
Then the real partying begins. And yes, folks eat, drink, and make merry until the wee hours of the morning. On Sunday (and after some decent sleep), everyone gathers for the final service in the afternoon, followed by the Agape Feast (a communal meal or “Love Feast"). Roasted lamb, anyone?
The Agape Feast/Festival is replete with games for the kids, face-painting, and lots of time for the adults to relax, eat, and visit together. All in all, an exhausting (but only in the best way) kind of celebration!
I hope these photos in some way convey the sacred celebration, joy, exuberance, and wonderful fellowship that took place at Saint Andrew Orthodox Church this Pascha.
Christ is Risen!