Tag Archives: OCA

REMINDER: Eagle River Institute Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow’s the day St. John Orthodox starts it’s 2017 Eagle River Institute (ERI).

Kickoff lecture at 3:30 p.m. is by Peter Bouteneff, PhD. His topic will be:

From the Old Testament to the Fathers: The Journey of the Creation Accounts

The 7:30 p.m. lecture will be by Gayle Woloshak, PhD. Her topic will be

Religion and Science: Interface

If you value a dive into Orthodox thought, and practice of spirituality, I highly recommend you enjoy this opportunity. I’ve come to value Orthodox thought and their unique expressions of ancient spirituality. I sincerely believe each of us, regardless of our personal spiritual persuasion, can benefit from the thoughts and practices of other religions.  ERI is no exception.  I’ve discovered many enriching details about the Christian faith through my friendship with Orthodox, of which there are three major branches in Alaska: Greek Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, and Orthodox Church of America (formerly known here as Russian Orthodox).

My detailed write-up about this year’s ERI, published two weeks ago, is here:

Eagle River Institute 2017 – Science & Faith is Key Topic – Plan to attend!

I’ll be there and hope to see you too!

Chris Thompson
Church Visits
churchvisits.com
churchvisits@gmail.com

For Orthodox Christians, Holy Week just approaches

Easter, as celebrated by Western Christianity, concluded almost a month ago. Yet Holy Week for Orthodox Christianity, which has up until now been observing Great Lent with fasting, prayer, and reflection, commences Sunday. Orthodox churches use a Julian, rather than Gregorian, calendar, which is what accounts for this time difference. Pascha, the Orthodox term for Easter, is preceded by Holy Week, a time of great solemnity ultimately ending with great rejoicing. Orthodox Christians observe “The Twelve Great Feasts” but Pascha (Easter) is in a class by itself and called the “Feast of Feasts.”

Orthodox services are celebrated in worship spaces adorned with icons and they adhere closely to a liturgy, with clergy speaking or chanting, augmented by choirs or cantors, and worshippers following a written text — and sometimes reading along. I find myself moved by the visual richness of the setting and simple beauty of the texts.

Holy Week services among the various branches of Orthodoxy share similar themes, though these may be expressed differently.

For Alaska’s three branches of Orthodoxy, Lazarus Saturday (the day this column appears in print) commemorates Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, prefiguring his own resurrection, the focal point of Pascha celebrations a week later. It serves as a transitional point for Holy Week observances as Great Lent concludes with the Lazarus service on Friday evening. Orthodox Bishop David Mahaffey says of Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday that “between the end of the Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, we are given this ‘oasis of hope’ in between, so that we are renewed in the strength and joy of the coming Feast of Feasts.”

“While Great Lent itself concludes on Friday,” notes the Rev. Marc Dunaway of St. John Orthodox, “the season of fasting continues through the weekend and Holy Week up to Pascha. The fast even intensifies on Holy Friday and Holy Saturday.”

These days are followed by Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday and Holy Thursday, which celebrates Jesus’ Last Supper. The service for Holy Thursday is “‘The 12 Passion Gospels,’ a matins service with the added Gospel readings and hymnography for the events of the crucifixion,” says the Rev. Vasili Hillhouse of Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, “a type of watching in the Garden of Gethsemane with the Lord, as he awaits his arrest, trial, and Passion. The church is dark and candlelit. It is very solemn and beautiful…one of my favorite services of the year.”

Great and Holy Friday at St. John Orthodox Cathedral is observed with four services throughout the day; matins, royal hours and great vespers, continuing with an all-night vigil where the faithful keep vigil in the church reading Psalms. The service is referred to as a “Lamentations” service at Holy Transfiguration, and parishioners chant burial hymns for Christ in a beautiful nighttime candlelit setting. All present process with the tomb of Christ outside, wending their way around the church.

On Holy Saturday, vespers and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil are observed with readings from the Psalms, and the singing of resurrection hymns. In Alaska Orthodox churches may hold this service in the morning or the afternoon. “Of all the beautiful services of Holy Week, the one I love most is Divine Liturgy on Holy Saturday,” observes St. John Orthodox member Mary Alice Cook. “The Great Entrance, in which the priests carry the bread and wine to the altar, is preceded by the singing of a hymn based on words from the prophet Habakkuk: ‘Let all the earth keep silence before him.’ After the hymn, the Entrance is made in total silence, and as I watch and think of our Lord’s great love for us, even unto death, I realize that words can never express our understanding, let alone our gratitude. All we can do is simply bow down and worship him.”

Of course, Pascha is the peak event of the entire church year. “Holy Saturday night is the service of the Resurrection,” notes Hillhouse. “The Myrrhbearers had gone to the tomb ‘while it was still dark,’ or at ‘deep dawn’ reads one translation. So we do not wait for the sunrise, as most western Christians do — we proclaim the Resurrection just as soon as we can — and when you have been preparing by fasting for 46 days, Midnight cannot come soon enough!”

Orthodox (formerly Russian Orthodox) and Greek Orthodox congregations begin their Pascha services just before midnight while St. John Orthodox (Antiochian) begins its celebration at 4 a.m. Allison Lineer, a member at St. John, describes Pascha services this way: “The Saturday a.m. service is lovely. It is the Orthodox funeral service for our Lord. But Easter morning always makes me think of the dead rising from their dark tombs as we walk around the church each one carrying a candle in the darkness outside. We congregate around the door of the church and Father Marc bangs on the door with a cross. It is the cross that opens the door of heaven to us. When the doors open we triumphantly enter singing. All the lights are on, the bells are ringing and it reminds us of the resurrection to come!”

There is much joy with the arrival of Pascha. I’ve seen it on the faces and heard it in the voices of adherents. I asked the Rev. Michael Oleksa if this was due to the Great Lent fasts. “I’m sure the preparation effects this experience. But the ‘overwhelming joy’ cannot be induced or provoked. It just unexpectedly comes, suddenly and without warning,” he says. “I have spoken about this to Orthodox congregations across the country and they all affirm this is a common experience, but we almost never talk about it, perhaps because while it is highly communal and liturgical, it is at the same time, totally personal. And when a person has it, they are often embarrassed by it. ‘Am I OK?’ A believer can linger in this moment, but the celebrant cannot. If the clergy did, the service might come to a stop! It can be embarrassing if this happens during the Gospel reading! And yet, all Orthodox seem to know this charismatic moment, very much the opposite of the typical Pentecostal sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

With the arrival of Pascha, the significant fasts of Great Lent end, ritual red eggs are given and eaten, and baskets with choice foods are consumed. I invite you to seek out an Orthodox friend, or just personally experience Holy Week and Pascha as a life-giving moment.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

 

Monday marks start of Orthodox Lent

It’s been more than a month since Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent at many local churches. Easter will be celebrated March 27, yet Orthodox churches won’t start observing Great Lent until March 14. Orthodox Easter, Pascha (Pah-ska), is celebrated May 1, more than a month later than other Christian faiths. Why so late?

Blame it on Julius Caesar and the astronomically based Julian calendar. Some Orthodox follow the Gregorian calendar for certain portions of the church year such as Christmas. Others follow the Julian calendar for the entire year. A detailed discussion of the calendar and connected issues would consume this and subsequent columns. The three strains of Orthodox in Alaska: Antiochian, Greek and OCA (formerly Russian Orthodox), all use the Julian calendar for Lent and Pascha (Easter).

Part of Orthodox tradition is the use of fasts and feasts to mark their passage through the church year and their lives. This is not something most other Christian groups normally do.

In many other faith traditions, Lent starts Ash Wednesday; but not Orthodox. Preceding Lent, all three Orthodox groups practice a beautiful tradition you’ll rarely see elsewhere: Forgiveness Sunday. All Orthodox churches in Alaska precede Great Lent tomorrow with Forgiveness Sunday services. These services are usually conducted at the close of vespers recalling humankind’s original sin.

Describing this concluding portion of the service, Orthodox writer Wesley J. Smith, writing in “First Things,” says, “At the service’s end, our first Lenten act is to ask from and offer forgiveness to everyone present — not collectively, but individually from person, to person, to person. This is one of the most powerful moments of the Church year. One by one, each parishioner bows or prostrates, first before the priest, and then each other, asking, ‘Forgive me, a sinner.’ Each responds with a bow or prostration, asking also for forgiveness and assuring, ‘God forgives.’ Each then exchanges the kiss of peace. The service is a healing balm. It is hard to bear grudges when all have shared such an intimate mutual humbling. Indeed, Forgiveness Vespers is emotionally intense, tears often flow and hugs of true reconciliation are common.”

The Rev. Vasili Hillhouse, pastor of Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox, shared that members approach each other on Forgiveness Sunday with formal greetings like “please forgive me.” A typical response is “God forgive us both” with prostration or bowing.

The week before Forgiveness Sunday is known as Cheesefare Week. Fasting, a Great Lent tradition, is already under way. Dairy and eggs are permitted, but not meat. This modified diet helps believers transition into Lenten fasting. Until the Easter resurrection celebration, Pascha, they fast. Fasting is a means to facilitate focus on spiritual things, and not celebrating one’s body. For most, no meat is allowed during Lent. Monday, Lent starts with no animal products. For Greek Orthodox, it’s vegan with just a couple of days declared as fish days. No wine or oil is allowed on weekdays, just weekends.

“When a Roman Catholic fasts (as well as many Protestants), he is making a ‘sacrifice’ for the cause of Lent,” says OCA Bishop David Mahaffey, explaining how Orthodox conceptions of fasting differ from those in other Christian churches “So you find people who stop eating chocolate, or stop drinking pop or wine; they are ‘giving it up for Lent’ in honor of our Lord’s sacrifice for us. In Orthodoxy, we understand that the human will and its related passions are a hard thing to control. Therefore, for us, it is not ‘giving up’ anything, it is redirecting our will to respond to our guided control and a ‘resisting’ of pleasures our passions want to enjoy. So the real prohibition is not only foods, it is entertainment, movies, dances, television, and other forms of enjoyment that typically allow our passions to rise and seek pleasure.”

Most Orthodox Christians are used to fasts, and regularly practice what are known as Eucharistic fasts.

“The Eucharistic fast refers to the brief time (usually Sunday mornings) that an Orthodox Christian observes a total fast from all food and drink in preparation to receive Holy Communion,” says the Rev. Marc Dunaway, pastor of St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River. “The idea behind this is that on the day that I will receive Holy Communion, the Bread of Eternal Life, or the ‘medicine of immortality,’ as St. Ignatius called it — on this day I will not eat anything simply for the sustenance of this earthly body until I have first received the Body and Blood of Christ. We fast in reverence and preparation for this Communion.” Both the Eucharist fast and the Lent fast can be modified, if necessary, as needed for children, the elderly, and those suffering illness, Dunaway says.

Great Lent is observed with various services throughout the 40-plus days until Pascha. Local Orthodox churches holding Forgiveness Sunday services include: St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral (after Divine Liturgy at about noon); St. Tikhon Orthodox Church (Lenten vespers, 6 p.m.); Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church (after 10 a.m. Divine Liturgy) and St. John Orthodox Cathedral (after 6:15 p.m. vespers)

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.