The Pascha Celebration in Greece

by Sparta on April 28, 2011

in Christianity, Greece, Orthodox Christianity, Pascha (Easter), Stella (Stavroula) Jatras

Athens News: An exuberant celebration

(Link provided by Sparta)

by Damian Mac Con Uladh
25 Apr 2011

Holy Friday celebration in Greece
Orthodox Christians carry the Good Friday epitaphios in the Aegean Sea next to a burning cross on an islet off the coast of the island of Tinos

INSTEAD OF concentrating on his military duties, Hugh Wybrew spent most of his two years’ national service in the Royal Air Force back in the 1950s learning Russian, a move that brought the London native into lasting contact with Orthodoxy.

“Half our teachers were Russian emigres and at Easter they wanted to go to church. So I went from Cambridge, where I was at the time, to London for the Easter service.”

This was Canon Wybrew’s first encounter with Eastern Christianity. His subsequent career and postings – a year’s scholarship at the Russian Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris (1958-59) and a two-year posting as Anglican chaplain to Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia (1971-73) – resulted in his “becoming soaked in Orthodoxy”.
Wybrew, who was ordained into the Anglican Church in 1960, believes Western Christians have much to learn from how the Orthodox celebrate Easter.

Easter paramount

For one, Easter retains its place as the most important religious event and popular feast in Orthodox Christianity, whereas in the West it has been eclipsed by Christmas, a phenomenon that he dates back to the Middle Ages.

He also singles out the “sense of quite exuberant joyfulness” that the Orthodox express at the proclamation of the resurrection by the priest, amid great excitement, as the faithful press forward to light their candle, announcing to each other that Christ has risen.

“The Western Easter is much lower-key,” says Wybrew, now retired and living in Oxford. “There is silence between the three proclamations of the Resurrection by the priest. The candle is lit from the new fire and then it’s all very ordinary.”

Wybrew also admires the way the Orthodox, “who don’t separate the death and resurrection of Jesus, derive a great sense of victory from the cross on Good Friday”.

“The East has that view of the cross that comes out strongly in John’s Gospel,” explains Wybrew, “which says that the moment of Jesus’ death is the moment of his glory.”

He observed that this joyous anticipation is also reflected in the generous decoration of Orthodox churches with flowers on Good Friday, in a colourful and marked contrast to the more sombre mood prevailing in Western churches on the same day.

“The Western ceremony is less exuberant than in the East and this reflects very much the difference between the Latin-Roman mentality and the more Eastern mentality,” observes Wybrew, who added that in the parishes where he has ministered he has used Orthodox hymns “in an attempt to inject something of that sense of the victory of the cross on Good Friday”.

In Wybrew’s view, the Orthodox liturgical practice “is more wholehearted in its following” of the celebration of Holy Week, as it first developed in Jerusalem in the 4th century.

Thanks to the account written in 385 by one pilgrim, a Spanish nun called Egeria, much is known about how Jerusalem observed Great Week, as it was then called. The Jerusalem pattern was subsequently popularised throughout Christendom.

“To a greater or lesser extent, Christians elsewhere copied it,” says Wybrew. “They had to adapt it, of course, because only Jerusalem had the places connected with the suffering and death of Jesus.”

But he pointed out that many aspects now central to Orthodox devotional practice at Easter are, in fact, of more recent origin, citing the procession of the epitaphios – Christ’s funeral bier – on Good Friday as an example.

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