Tag Archives: Pascha

Easter 2017 is Here!

It’s time to rejoice.

Easter has finally arrived with great joy for Christendom. Many Christians have trudged their way through Lent, thinking about the last days of Jesus and reflecting upon the life lived in the light of the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.

As you read this, many Orthodox Christians will have already celebrated Pascha at the midnight hour with great rejoicing. I experienced Pascha last year through the eyes of two Orthodox congregations. It was a real blessing to participate in their joy as the resurrection of Jesus was loudly proclaimed.  My ADN column of those experiences can be seen here. (see http://www.churchvisits.com/2016/05/reflections-on-orthodox-easter/)

Different faiths have different expressions of Easter joy. I enjoy experiencing them first hand to get a better understanding on how theologically accurate they are. In many congregations, Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, and frivolities are the centerpiece instead of Jesus Christ, Him crucified, buried, and resurrected. Skeptics rejoice to see such nonsense supported by those types of churches observing that nonsense.  We live in a different world, some would say, a post-Christian world. More than ever Christians should rejoice in the purity of our message of hope.

For many of my Church Visits writing years I’ve loved repeating a fantastic Wright quote from his book “Surprised by Hope” as it inspires a true re-examination of the way we celebrate. “Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday,” Wright says, “It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?”

I conclude with theologian Walter Brueggemann’s Easter poem.

An Easter Prayer
…On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short

of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day…
seize the goods…
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit;

You come
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children at the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come … fleshed … in Jesus

And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.

We watch … and we take

food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.

It dawns on us, late rather than soon, that
You give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

By your giving,
break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives

that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,

so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and evasiveness…
all things Easter new…

all around us, toward us and by us
all things Easter new.

Finish your creation…
in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

To all my readers, Happy Easter…He is Risen!

Reflections on Orthodox Easter

Easter celebrations for this year are now past. I started the week observing Palm Sunday at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Yakima, Washington. I was truly treated as a guest. The week ended with Pascha (pah-ska) services early Sunday morning. Attending similar services at Holy Transformation Greek Orthodox Church and St. John Orthodox Cathedral, I sought to witness the joy experienced by those of the Orthodox faith at this peak experience of their church year. (Unfortunately, timing precluded my attending an Orthodox Church of America (formerly Russian Orthodox) service.)

I believe Orthodox Lenten practices, termed Great Lent, are more intense than most of their counterparts in Western Christianity. Adherence to feasting and fasting is markedly different than in Catholicism and other Lent-observing traditions in Western Christianity.

Fasting, prescribed during the Orthodox church year, is most obvious during Great Lent. Originating early in the Christian church, fasting continued practices the Jews had previously followed.

In the Orthodox tradition, fasting means not eating certain foods, during specific days, or periods. Abstaining from other practices, such as marital relations or entertainment, may also be an implicit part of fasts. The focus is on clearing the mind and drawing closer to God, a practice rooted in antiquity. During the first week of Great Lent total fasting is observed weekly, Monday through Wednesday.

“From the second through the sixth weeks of Lent, the general rules for fasting are practiced,” explains the website of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. “Meat, animal prod­ucts (cheese, milk, butter, eggs, lard), fish (meaning fish with backbones), olive oil and wine (all alcoholic drinks) are not consumed during the weekdays of Great Lent. Octopus and shell-fish are allowed, as is vegetable oil. On weekends, ol­ive oil and wine are permitted.” According to the Orthodox Church in America, “The Great Feasts (major feasts) of the Orthodox Church are the major celebrations throughout the liturgical year. While various saints and events are celebrated with significance on the local level, the entire Church celebrates together thirteen feasts above all the rest, Pascha and the Twelve Great Feasts.” (The term “feasts” here designates major celebrations during the church year, not a meal.)

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church was the site of my first Pascha. At 11:30 p.m. Saturday, I found the Vigil of Holy and Great Pascha underway with prayers and singing. Around midnight the Orthros of the Resurrection began in darkness. A candle flame, lit by the Rev. Vasili Hillhouse, went from person to person until the entire congregation held lit candles. Clergy, celebrants, and congregation processed outside with banners, icons, candles, and the Gospel, and gathered in the courtyard. After the Gospel reading and singing, Hillhouse pounded on the church door with a mallet demanding entrance. A shouted conversation, based on Psalm 24 took place with a challenging interlocutor inside asking, “Who is the King of Glory.” Vasili responded with “The Lord, strong and mighty.” At St. John Orthodox, the service started at 4 a.m. We proceeded out of the church around 4:15 a.m. led by the Rev. Marc Dunaway who passed the flame for all candles. Instead of gathering in front of the cathedral, all proceeded around the church, returning to stand in front of the now closed doors. Similar singing and readings occurred except Dunaway pounded on the church door with a heavy brass cross. He too had a similar dialogue with an interlocutor inside before we were admitted back into the church.

Once back in the church the service continued with the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, including a reading of his famous homilyduring which all stand. Both services, replete with choirs and cantors interspersing choral and congregational music with the spoken liturgy, lasted several hours. The music was beautiful, and shouts of “Christ is Risen,” “He is risen indeed,” echoed joyfully through both churches. At Holy Transfiguration, Hillhouse handed out the traditional red eggs at the conclusion of the Eucharist. At St. John, Dunaway generously blessed participants and Pascha baskets with splashes of holy water at the conclusion of the service.

Newfound friends, Chris and Allison Lineer asked me to sit with them during the St. John service, allowing me to ask questions as I followed the liturgy with liturgy guides. Several other new friends, John and Lesa Morrison, invited me to a post-Pascha breakfast at their nearby home along with three other younger friends. I was introduced to tasty Pascha foods like kulich, traditional Russian bread, spread with Pascha cheese, hot-cross buns, red eggs and other breakfast fare. We sang the Resurrection troparion, a hymn of the day with words relating to the church calendar day it’s sung upon, before the blessing over the food before eating.

For the Orthodox, the week after Pascha is called Bright Week. Reflecting on Bright Week, Lesa Morrison said, “Bright week means to me: a special week of intense enjoyment of the gift of the Resurrection. It seems to stay more in the forefront of my mind during this week than at other times. Bright Monday always literally and figuratively seems brighter than any other day of the year. It truly seems the sun shines brighter during this week. It is also a time of peace and rest after all the intenseness of Lent, Holy Week, and all the services/celebrations of Pascha.”

“After the exuberant blowout festivity of Pascha, it really is impossible to just shut it off and plunk back into ‘the World’ mode,” John Morrison said. “The cognitive and emotional dissonance would simply be too great. My human weakness will eventually prevail and Satan will continue with his campaign of ceaseless distraction. But at least in Bright Week and the remainder of the Paschal season, the veil between our dark world and the bright realm of heaven seems thinner, and the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ more closely felt.”

By the time I got home Sunday morning, I’d been awake 26 hours and attended two Pascha services. But, exhausted as I was, I too felt the joy and meaning of Pascha, and still feel it. Pascha is truly a memorable and important time of year joyfully celebrated by Orthodox Christians genuine in their beliefs.

More Pascha links, references, and music are posted on my website, churchvisits.com.

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.

Orthodox Great Lent and Pascha Information

The following links connect to major Orthodox websites for Pascha information.
Music
Troparionorthodoxwiki.org/troparion (this site is maintained by an OCA priest but broadly represents aspects of most Orthodox faiths)

The Troparion in short is a hymn of the day, the words relate to which day in the Church calendar it is sung upon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo838iDCuns
This first English variation is the slow version, we sang a faster version Pascha morning for prayers for breakfast. There are 8 tones (melodies) for our music, and many variations that we sing: Byzantine, Georgian, Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, etc. So each is a bit different in melody, but the words are the same. (courtesy of Lesa Morrison)

Holy Pascha Music (from Greek Orthodox site)
Listen to the music used in Pascha with the resources on this website. http://lent.goarch.org/holy_pascha/listen/

Pascha Feast
The Great and Holy Feast of Pascha –
http://lent.goarch.org/holy_pascha/learn/

The above site contains informative descriptions, from a Greek Orthodox perspective, of the celebration of Pascha.

Easter Sunday: The Holy Pascha
http://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/worship/the-church-year/easter-sunday-the-holy-pascha

Orthodox Church in America’s (formerly Russian Orthodox in Alaska) website about Pascha observances.

Great and Holy Pascha
http://www.antiochian.org/pascha

Antiochian Orthodox website describing Pascha from their perspective.

The Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom
This sermon is a part of most Pascha services.  http://lent.goarch.org/messages/pascha_stjohn.asp

Fasting and Great Lent
This Antiochian site describes fasting in general and with a great degree of specifity during Great Lent and ending at Pascha.
http://www.antiochian.org/fasting-great-lent

Complete Russian Orthodox Pascha Service – 2016
This video, over 3 hours long, shows the Russian Orthodox Pascha service in Moscow earlier this week.  It was attended by the Russian president and illustrates the beautiful blending of music and liturgy during these services.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YVEFUKouQQ

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.

 

Orthodox forgiveness flows as Western Christianity’s Holy Week approaches

Last Sunday I attended Forgiveness Sunday services at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church and St. John Orthodox Cathedral, both churches in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Each service was conducted with pastoral admonitions to members about the importance of asking forgiveness of each other for the sins and slights committed toward the other. Rev. Vasili Hillhouse of Holy Transfiguration said he needed his congregation’s forgiveness to continue in his role as their pastor. At St. John Orthodox, as the Rev. Marc Dunaway gave instructions for the forgiveness services, he said, “I know I need it.”

Both pastors shared insights about observing Lent in proper ways to stay focused on their spiritual journey to Pascha. The journey is aided by the Great Fast. Wesley Smith, in “First Things,” writes “The Great Fast is one of those times when we must journey alone. Yes, it helps to know in times of weakness that we are simultaneously sharing the same struggle with three hundred million others. The arduous Lenten disciplines of the Great Fast help us, again in the words of (Archimandrite Vassilios) Papavassiliou, ‘turn back to Paradise to the Life of Eden’ so that ‘like Moses, we too may see God.’”

At the conclusion of special forgiveness liturgies, congregants positioned themselves, as at St. John Orthodox, in two circles, one inside another and facing each other. Then each person would ask forgiveness of the person facing them, and be forgiven by that person. In turn, the other person would ask for forgiveness, and the other would then forgive. There were many hugs, handshakes, tears and reconciliation during this process as the circles progressed in opposite directions so that everyone had an opportunity to ask for and receive forgiveness. I’ve never seen anything like it during my many years of visiting churches.

During the forgiveness liturgies themselves, there were several occasions where congregants bowed and prostrated themselves on the floor, especially at St. John Orthodox during The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian. The prayer, in part, recited by all, says, “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant. O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”

It’s relatively common to hear pastors, during my church visits, say they need their congregation’s prayers. What’s uncommon is to hear pastors ask for their forgiveness. The words of an old Roger Miller song come to mind as I write this. “It’s my belief pride is the chief cause in the decline in the number of husbands and wives.” Likewise, I think pride is the reason we hear so few calls from the clergy for forgiveness, and fear from congregants to ask for forgiveness personally. C.S. Lewis succinctly observed, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

Repentance and forgiveness are common themes in the Old Testament. As an example, Zechariah 1:3 says, “Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty.” As I watched both of these services, this text kept running through my mind. I think I understand the great emphasis Orthodox Christians place on forgiveness, as they enter Great Lent. It is a meditation on the work of Christian salvation, and the one who brought the great gift of forgiveness and reconciliation. I appreciate the sincerity and friendliness of the Orthodox traditions I witnessed last Sunday and wish them Godspeed as they transit Great Lent.

In most Christian traditions outside of Orthodoxy, liturgical churches traditionally observed Lent with periods of fasting, meditation, soul searching, giving up things, church services, Lenten sermons, and looking forward to Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. For those churches, this coming week will be an important time as Holy Weeks starts with Palm Sunday tomorrow, ending with Easter celebrations a week hence.

Many evangelical Christian churches ignore Lent, for the most part, fast-forwarding toward Easter morning. That’s like skipping forward to the end of a good book to see how it all comes out in the end. Too often Christians see Easter as a great time for the kids with Easter egg hunts, beautiful outfits, thrilling sermons, music, and great dinners at home. In fact, the National Retail Federation forecasts Easter spending this year will total $17.3 billion, our fourth-largest spending holiday.

Other Christian traditions may not observe Easter at all, claiming it is idolatrous to observe it, or that it has pagan roots. Some say they observe it every worship day, but I’ve noticed many of their observances do not tend to bear out that statement.

In a Lenten homily at Calvary Episcopal Church, in Memphis, Tennessee in 2000, Barbara Brown Taylor, a writer, teacher, and biblical scholar, observed, “I actually know people who come to church on Good Friday and who don’t come back on Easter. Easter is too pretty, they say. Easter is too cleaned-up. It is where they hope to live one day, in the land of milk and honey, but right now Good Friday is a better match for their souls, with its ruthless truth about the stench of death and the high price of love. It isn’t that they don’t care about what happens on Sunday. They do. They just don’t believe that God is saving all the good news until then.”

The Lenten trek for Orthodox has just started, while the journey toward Easter is almost over for non-Orthodox believers. Whichever journey you’re taking, may God’s blessings be with you.

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 toletters@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.