Special Edition: A World-Wide Tour of Holy Week and Pascha

Welcome to a special Paschal edition of “This Week in Orthodoxy,” the world’s only online video newscast focused on events in the life of the Orthodox Church.

This week, we’ll be bringing you a single special report, with images and footage from Holy Week and Pascha celebrations from around the world.

We’ll start with these images of the Kouvouklion, sent to us from St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church in Houston, Texas. Images such as these are common throughout North America.

Moving overseas and further south, to Holy Ascension, an English-language mission church in Melbourne, which is part of the Australian and New Zealand Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. This brand new Orthodox community celebrated its very first Pascha this year. As they do not yet have their own church building, they are worshipping in one of the religious colleges near the University of Melbourne.

And to another mission field where Orthodoxy is establishing itself: St. Luke Orthodox Church in Hong Kong. With a multicultural congregation coming from many countries, and from Hong Kong itself, services feature a surprising amount of English.

Jumping across the globe to Turkey and the famous city of Izmir (or Smyrna, in Greek), where for the very first time in 92 years, since the catastrophic “exchange of populations” in 1922, the Greek Orthodox population in the city was allowed to hold a public procession of the Epitaphion through the streets of the city.

And not too far away, in Famagusta, Cyprus, another amazing milestone: For the first time in 60 years, the services for Great and Holy Friday were held in the 14th-century church of Agios Georgios Exorinos, located in the medieval center of the town of Famagusta in the Turkish-controlled north of the island.

In a ceremony made possible because of a grass roots effort led by Muslim and Greek Orthodox clergy and everyday citizens, Turkish Cypriot Umit Inatci handed the key of the church to the city’s Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Vasilios, saying: “This is not a gift. It is something that is surrendered to its owner.”

Moving to some images of services on Holy Saturday: The divine liturgy celebrated on Saturday morning is sometimes called the “First Resurrection” or “Little Resurrection.” The service itself is actually the original liturgy for Pascha, as it was celebrated in the ancient Church. One of the more popular parts of the service is the chanting of “Arise, O God,” a verse from the Psalms, during which time the priest will scatter bay leaves, or, in some places, holy water.

It’s also common for people to make some joyful noise. In Greece, there are various traditions, including ringing bells and breaking pots. And in the Syrian town of Latakia, the men make even more noise by firing their guns into the air, as is customary for any major celebration.

Speaking of noisy traditions, the island of Chios was once again in the news this year because of its long-standing practice of firing thousands of hand-made rockets at fireworks starting around 10:00 PM on Holy Saturday night. The tradition began as something of a light-hearted competition between two neighboring churches. The object of the competition is to hit the opposing church’s bell tower.

Moving to the most famous Paschal tradition of all: The annual miracle of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Lord’s Sepulcher in Jerusalem attracted tens of thousands of pilgrims this year.

In accordance with an ancient ceremony, the Patriarch of Jerusalem enters alone into the small chapel located over the bed of stone upon which the interred body of Christ lay on Holy Saturday.

The Patriarch’s clothing and the chapel itself are scrupulously checked, in recent decades by Israeli authorities and security forces, to ensure that there is no substance or item present that could artificially strike a flame.

After a period of prayer, the Holy Fire descends miraculously, igniting the Patriarch’s candle. He emerges with the light, which is quickly passed around the gathered crowds, and even flown by jet directly to Greece and Russia.

The services on Pascha held in Orthodox Churches around the world call to mind this annual miracle.

Regardless of local traditions, everything leads to one joyous proclamation: Christ is risen!

That’s it for this special edition of “This Week in Orthodoxy.” We’ll end with a rendition of “Christ is risen!” from our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Ghana. Of all the beautiful recordings available on YouTube, they capture the spirit best of all.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

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Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Development at OCN. He holds…
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