ONE Magazine

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Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

‘He Is Not Here, He Is Risen’

In the Byzantine Church, the Easter Bread is a significant aspect of Pascha.

For Catholics of the Byzantine Church, Pascha (Easter) is the most glorious and radiant of the feasts of the year. Truly, it is the feast of feasts, and the triumph of triumphs, “…for Christ has risen from the dead, conquering death by death, and granting life to those in the tomb.”

With the ringing of the Church bells at midnight, and the faithful silently gathering inside the Church, the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ begins. The feast among the Eastern faithful is called the Pasch of the Lord, the passage of the Lord from death to life – our own symbolic passage into the New Creation.

The service of Matins ushers in the celebration of the Easter. The people, who have had a long period of fasting and self-denial, come with anticipation and joy to the Church, which is symbolic of the Tomb of the Lord. They stand before the iconostasis in the Church, and like the Jews of old wait for the presiding Priest Celebrant to open the Royal Doors of the Sanctuary.

As the Doors are opened the faithful are reminded of the gates of Paradise while the priests come forth arrayed in bright vestments, carrying the Cross, the Testament and the icon of the Resurrection. They are then escorted and followed by the faithful to the continuous peal of bells and the swinging of censers. It is a sight to behold: sweet smelling incense, multi-colored vestments and the glow of candles in the midnight silence.

The triumphant Resurrection Service begins with the procession around the Church. Temporarily darkened, the Church is emptied and the doors are closed, representing the closed tomb of Christ. The procession now stops outside of the closed doors. The faithful stand there with anticipation, for they have become visitors to the empty tomb of the Lord, they become the myrrhbearing women, the first to see, to hear, and to recognize the Risen Saviour. The priest now in the name of all mankind proclaims to the faithful the Good News of their salvation:

Christ is Risen!
and the people respond
Indeed he is Risen!

The procession enters the Church, symbolic now of the opened and restored paradise, the New Creation, the Blessed Kingdom. Mass is celebrated and the Pascha of the Lord becomes a living reality to all, for the Resurrection in a mystic and symbolic way has taken place in their midst. All creation is born anew.

Lent, the time of preparation for the Pascha, is not an easy period for the Byzantine Catholic. For seven weeks, beginning with “Meat Fare Sunday,” he has been preparing for the Pascha event. Food during this time is severely restricted; liturgical services are longer, and greater demands are made on the faithful by their Church. For these reasons the season preceding Pascha is called the Great Lent. It is no wonder that on Easter morning, the men and women bring brightly and carefully decorated baskets of food to the Church to be blessed. The food is symbolic of many things: the fasting of the faithful, their doing without, their acts of self-denial for others, and the penances they willingly impose upon themselves for their transgressions.

The baskets are filled to the brim with fresh meats, dairy products, and multi-colored Easter eggs – symbolic of the life of Christ. Jelly beans are scattered throughout baskets, and butter is fashioned in the form of a Paschal Lamb. In the center of each basket is a large loaf of specially prepared and baked bread called Kulitch or Artos, symbolic of new life and the Risen Lord.

After the Matins Service the people gather to have their baskets blessed – the end of the Lenten fast is proclaimed. The priest then blesses each basket and its delicious contents, praying that the food may be a sign of the eternal and heavenly banquet they will one day participate in together.

This age old tradition in the Byzantine Church is steeped in deep meaning. The baskets and the food remind the faithful of what they have willingly given up, the transformation that has taken place in their lives, and the promise made to them this Paschal day that, “Christ is Risen from the dead, conquering death by death, and granting life to those in the tomb.” The faithful are now part of this new life.

Rev. Richard D. Lee is the Managing Editor of Diakonia, a quarterly devoted to promoting Eastern Christianity in the West. He is also pastor of St. Nicholas Chapel in White Plains, N.Y.

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