How do Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter?

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week, also known as “Holy and Great Week.” Traditionally, small crosses made of palm fronds are distributed to worshipers on Palm Sunday. Holy Week itself is considered a strict fasting week. Even those who did not fast before now adhere to the dietary rules. Evening services are held every day. From Palm Sunday to Tuesday evening, they are consecrated to the “Order of the Bridegroom”, on Wednesday there is the possibility of anointing the sick.

Worship services in the Orthodox Church easily last from two to three hours due to the extensive liturgy with a lot of singing. Sometimes it’s like a pigeon: some arrive later, others leave early. “It’s very common for us that people don’t attend the whole service,” Seomus says.

Easter eggs are mostly red like blood

On Maundy Thursday, believers color Easter eggs – mostly red, in memory of the blood of Christ. The highest holiday in the Easter cycle of the Orthodox Church is – as in the Protestant Church – Good Friday. During the ceremony, the celebrant solemnly removes the icon of the Crucified from the cross, wraps it in a cloth and places it in the temple. He will remain there until Ascension Day in May.

And the faithful place a kind of wooden coffin in the center of the All Saints Church. Inside is the “Lamentation”, a gold embroidered piece of cloth on which the body of Jesus is depicted. The coffin was richly decorated by the women of the community. In the procession service, believers usually carry them around the church or even across the whole village. “It’s a bit difficult in a city like Munich,” says Georgios Seomus. That is why the Greek Orthodox community is applying for a partial closure of the busy Ungererstrasse, which leads into the heart of the city, on this day. Instead of the multi-track bustle of the big city, Greek liturgical hymns and prayers ring in the streets.

The resurrection is already on Holy Saturday

But the mourning of Good Friday does not last long: on the morning of Holy Saturday, the Greek Orthodox community celebrates the so-called first celebration of the Resurrection. Many, especially children, look forward to the loud announcement of the resurrection of Jesus in this service from chairs.

Late on Saturday evening, usually around 11pm, people meet on Easter Eve. During the midnight mass, all the lights in the church are extinguished – only the Easter candle is still burning. Believers light an Easter candle on it and pass it on. Then the worshipers leave the church and go to the front yard: in the dark of night they celebrate a short service in the cold. Next, the red-coloured eggs are waiting in large baskets to be used: what is known in Bavaria as “Beken”, “Hayarten” or “Bazaschen” is also known to the Orthodox: they beat their eggs together – whoever has the hardest egg wins. A side effect of the custom is a churchyard sprinkled with red eggshell, which Sacristan has to clean again by morning.

Usually, after this outdoor night service, people go home again around 1 or 2 a.m. to rest. Because they meet again Sunday morning for the morning service, the so-called Vespers. A garden party in a large group closes – if Corona isn’t prevalent – on Easter Sunday.

After Easter, things are really going

But the marathon of services does not end there: Easter is followed by a big week of festivities with daily services: “No fasting is allowed this week,” said Reverend Seomos with a smile.

Georgios Seomos is especially looking forward to Easter this year. Like other religious denominations, Orthodox Christians have not been able to celebrate Easter as usual for the past two years. In 2020, devotees were content with a streaming service, which was clicked about 600,000 times during Holy Week. However, parishioners were not allowed to attend face to face. “Sometimes it wasn’t easy for anyone to push them away at the door,” Siomos says.

In 2021, Easter is an endurance race for a monk. For several hours, he and his colleagues celebrated by worshiping in small groups to maintain distances. In both years, no Eucharistic celebrations were permitted in all worshippers. This is a much more difficult turning point for the Orthodox, because for them devotees are instituted only in the Eucharist. Therefore, Siomos is glad that the church can be full again this year and everyone can celebrate together. It is believed that with no other festival one can celebrate a new beginning better than Easter.

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