By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer
SHENANGO VALLEY —
Happy Easter! It’s not a belated sentiment for faithful Orthodox Christians, who by now have already celebrated “Pascha” today.
For other Christians, Easter was March 31, but for a host of reasons related to differing calendars and varying ways of calculating the liturgical year, May 5 – today – marks “Pascha,” as the Orthodox call Easter.
Just as in other Christian denominations, it marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the end of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and preparation leading up to Easter, which is the culmination of the liturgical year.
This past week has been an “incredibly glorious week,” the Rev. Calinic Berger, pastor of Holy Cross Orthodox Church, Hermitage, said.
Psalms and prayers have been sung at services each night of the last week that have provided an overview of Judeo-Christian dogma.
The services of “Great and Holy Week,” as the week prior to Easter is called, have been the final preparations for an end to the “joyful sadness” that marks “Great Lent,” Berger said.
Churches have been darkened and services somber in preparation for the Pascha liturgy began late Saturday night and lasted about three hours in each of the county’s Orthodox churches, the Rev. David Mastroberte, pastor of St. John’s Orthodox Church, also in Hermitage, said.
The change from the darkness that marks the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ to the light and celebration of his resurrection is meant to be striking, Berger said.
“It’s an all-out explosion” of light and action, Berger said.
“Priests constantly moving around, incensing, the choir sings the entire time,” he said.
“It’s very bright,” the Rev. Milovan Katanic, pastor of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, also Hermitage, said. “Like St. Paul says, if we don’t have Easter, we don’t have anything.”
The celebration is a test and celebration of faith, Katanic noted.
“It all depends on that which we do not see,” he said.
There’s historical proof of Jesus, but miracles attributed to him and his resurrection have to be taken on faith.
But the resurrection of Christ that means death is defeated is something that must be believed without being seen or proven, Katanic said.
“It’s the essence of our faith,” he said. “This is where it takes faith. This is the ultimate expression of (it).”
Today marks “deliverance from slavery to sin, from death to life,” Mastroberte said.
The varying dates for the celebration “can be challenging” for inter-faith marriages, Mastroberte said, but because Easter is primarily a sacred holiday with only some elements of secular observance, the different date of celebration isn’t a problem for most Orthodox.
“It can be an educational moment,” Mastroberte said, adding it’s a chance for Orthodox to share their beliefs with others.
Also on the plus side is that candy can be cheaper, he said, noting that Orthodox can take advantage of post-Easter candy sales at chocolatiers.
On a more serious note, celebrating the holiday while others aren’t allows Orthodox to “focus a little more intently on the underlying meaning of things,” Mastroberte said.
“For me, March 31 was just another Sunday,” he said.