Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Byzantine Easter

A Byzantine Easter

Empty Tomb at St. Mary's Byzantine Church, Weirton, WV

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen!

Christos Voskrese!  Voistinu Voskrese!

or in other words:

Happy Easter!!!

So, what makes "Easter" a "Byzantine Easter" versus say a "Roman Catholic Easter" or secular Easter activities??  Lots of fasting, liturgical prayer and a few other activities that I will try to do a better job at describing here on the blog.

Many people are familiar with Roman Catholics fasting from meat on Fridays during Lent.  Byzantine Catholics fast from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent, and even more traditional Byzantines still fast from meat the first day of Lent (which starts on the Monday before Ash Wednesday) until Easter Sunday.  (Some even fast from meat AND dairy during that whole time.  We're not that hard core yet....)  But during Holy Week the normal fasting days are as follows: Wednesday: no meat, Friday: no meat or dairy, Saturday: no meat until after the end of Saturday vigil liturgy.

Our "Holy Week" is actually a whole week as well.  The week starts out with Palm Sunday, then on Wednesday our church has Pre-Sanctified Gifts Liturgy (which we had every Wednesday during Lent.  I have decided that the Pre-Sanctified Gifts Liturgy is my favorite Liturgy: singing all the Psalms for an hour is so beautiful.)  This year we missed the actual Wednesday liturgy because we were invited to a Last Supper/Passover Seder event, which was the first time I had ever attended a Seder.  It was beautiful to hear all the prayers and to experience part of what Jesus experienced at his last supper.  (We fasted from meat on the Monday instead of the Wednesday. which we had received a dispensation for during Lent.)  Then there is liturgy on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday, followed by church services on Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  Also the week after Easter is considered a "no fasting, EAT MEAT every day week!"  We were so busy that I actually struggled with pushing myself to indulge in meat this week instead of my normal "eat pasta/rice" routine.

Our priest has two parishes, so our Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday liturgies were at 8pm: a little late to be out with three littles under the age of 5.  Since Jason had let me go to every Wednesday liturgy during Lent with just Joey and Jessie he went to the Holy Thursday Last Supper Liturgy with Jessie since Joey was sick.  The littles and I stayed home and watched some youtube videos about Jesus listed on the Cherished Hearts at Home blog.  Disclaimer: one of the videos is quite graphic and I had little ones crying, though they have definitely been contemplating how painful Jesus' death was for us.  I truly should have watched the videos first like she advised.

Then I was going to go to a 3pm Roman Catholic Service on Good Friday with the littles, but Jason got stuck at work so we decided to just go together on both Good Friday and Holy Saturday and let the littles sleep in on Saturday.  Both Good Friday and Holy Saturday liturgies have beautiful processions where the congregation follows the Priest around the church.  At the end of the Good Friday liturgy the priest carries the icon of the dead body of Jesus from a table in front of the church with the altar boys carring replicas of a crown of thorns and the nails/hammer.  The congregation follows carrying candles and chanting as we process out of the church and around the church and then back inside.  Father then places the body inside the tomb and then as a congregation we go up and can say prayers and kiss the icon (much like the practice of venerating the crucifix/cross in Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.)

Here is Jason talking to the littles in front of the tomb with the Jesus icon:

Jason kneeling with Katie, Anna and Libby (Jessie is behind them in the dress coat) venerating the Jesus icon laying in the tomb on Good Friday.

Here you can see Jesus legs on the icon.  Our Church icon has Mother Mary, St. John and some other people all around Jesus for his burial.

We then circle to the left and can venerate the Crucifixion icon next to our church's crucifix:

Crucifixion Icon with Byzantine Crucifix

Katie contemplating the icon
On Holy Saturday we again process around the church and the priest does special prayers/knocking on the doors before we go into Church.  We sing/say prayers for an hour until the liturgy is ended without receiving communion.  We then go downstairs into our church hall for the blessing of the family Easter baskets so that our meatless fast can be broken.  That's right, we start celebrating between 9pm-10pm at night with meat!

Easter Basket with Candle lit, ready to be blessed by Father Ed.

So in the above basket you can see our butter in the shape of the lamb, our salt shaker, our leg of lamb wrapped in plastic wrap, our lit blessed candle with Byzantine cross and Rosary hanging down.    We also had a pascha and a small section of kolbassi in our basket.  Our bottle of wine fell out of the basket and broke on our way into the church, so we brought back two bottles of wine to be blessed on Easter Sunday along with the childrens' Easter Baskets.  A traditional Ruthenian Slovakian basket has the following items: Pascha (the Easter Bread, pronounced PA-SKA), ham, sausage (known as Kolbassi), bacon, cheese ball (known as hrudka), horseradish, butter, salt, pisanki eggs, and in some places a sweet wine.  Our church family has added chocolates to the basket.  All of these items have symbolism and were typically things that were fasted from during the Great Lent.

Easter Basket Cover: Cross Stitched by Debbie

Here is our basket covered by a cross stitch that Debbie made for us. Normally the Easter Basket covers  are linen and say "Christ is Risen" with Byzantine crucifix, Easter eggs, etc, like you can see here.  Debbie made our ours from memory about a year after she had attended a Holy Saturday church service with us.

Close up of Easter Basket Cover while it's draped over our prayer kneeler at home.

Our second basket containing candy and our Pysanky eggs that Joey, Jessie and I had made at church after Wednesday Pre-Sanctified Liturgies during Lent

About thirteen hours later we arrive back at church to find:

Empty Tomb on Easter Sunday Morning!

The Empty Tomb is placed in front of the covered Crucifix for the rest of the Easter Season.
We celebrate Christ Risen for the next few weeks!

The Icon of the Body of Christ has now been moved onto the altar where it will stay for the rest of the Easter Season.

Our Church is St. Mary's of the Assumption so the icon behind the altar is the Dormition of  St Mary.   In the icon she is surrounded by the 12 disciples and it's cut off, but St. Joseph and Jesus are at the top of the icon.

Then afterwards its back home to have Easter Dinner and to have our family Easter egg hunt.  Then church services on Monday-Wednesday if one can make it.  So, while this may seem like a lot of "things to do" I find comfort every year in the routine of Holy Week, especially as we get used to the rhythm of being Byzantine converts.  I was so proud of myself that I remembered to find my Easter containers in our storage shed on Holy Thursday so that on Good Friday I could make the lamb butter for Saturday's basket.  We were out of eggs so we chose not to make a store run to make the hrudka.  There have been years that we forgot to make the butter ahead of time and just stuck a stick of butter in our basket.  This Holy Week was extra restful since we did not participate in any other activities just Church, house cleaning and Easter decorating from Thursday-Sunday.  Other years I have tried to make more than one Church service, such as Stations of the Cross or Catechesis of the Good Shepherd morning meditations for the children.  It ends up being so much driving back and forth since we live thirty-five minutes from town and forty-five minutes from St. Mary's.

Picture of Eucharist at a local Eucharistic Chapel

There is a quote posted at this Eucharistic Chapel that I have been meditating during my holy hour every Sunday:

The poster says:
"It is never true to say that we have no time to meditate; the less one thinks of God, the less time there will always be for God.  The time we have for anything depends on how much we value it.  Thinking determines the uses of time; time does not rule over thinking.  The problem of spirituality is never, then a question of time; it is a problem of thought.  For it does not require much time to make us saints; it requires only much love."  Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

The above quote is very true.  We make the time to do the things that are important to us, no matter how many duties or commitments we may have.

Happy Easter from Our Family to yours!!!
Joey, Katie, Libby,  Jessie and Anna
Wishing you the sweetness of a Blessed Easter Season this beautiful spring,