When Easter is a Second Chance

The wheel on our unbalanced shopping cart squeaks as our family speeds around the corner aisle of the local grocery store. Shoppers around us raise an eyebrow as they overhear our list of items being checked off. Some think we have lost track of the calendar. Others believe we have lost our minds.

One of our family traditions is unfolding for all to see.

It’s the Monday after Easter in America and our family is quickly loading our grocery cart with holiday leftovers that are deeply discounted.

“Nothing goes in the basket that is less than 50% off!” my wife yells to our son as she sets the ground rules for today.

Chocolate bunnies are rescued like aging shelter pets. Orphaned yellow peeps are adopted into a new home. Our son holds an egg-shaped herb garden high in the air like a trophy claiming victory in the yearly competition for the best item on sale. My wife smiles.

“No worries, this will not be expensive.”

I begin to wonder if our son will enjoy having Easter candy for camp in July.

Welcome to life as a Greek Orthodox family in America. Easter is always better the second time around, and this year there is plenty of time between the American observance of Easter on March 27 and the Greek Orthodox observance of Easter (Pascha) on May 1.

Greek Orthodox Christians are stubborn and slow to correct mistakes. We still use an ancient calendar that has been proven wrong to calculate the date of Easter. This means that Easter gets a second chance. I could not be more grateful. Like the chocolate eggs in the clearance bin, everything that is cast aside can be made new again. That includes me.

I’m not sure why I continue to be part of a Church that insists on using an ancient version of the Greek language that it is not even spoken by people in Greece themselves. “What’s wrong with being able to understand our faith?” is a question that I often repeat as I try to persuade older family members that using English is good for everyone.

It’s an argument I never win.

I wonder how bishops who wear Byzantine crowns can be a model of faith for my son who already knows there is no city named Constantinople on the globe in his room. I question the health of a Church that puts more effort into folk dancing than teaching the fundamentals of belief.

Greek Orthodoxy is big on the splendors of the past but falls short when it comes to the challenges of the present. People come through the front doors of our church all the time. A few stay but many more run out the back. It shows more than ever as the people who attend Sunday services grow older every year.

Nostalgia can only motivate people for so long, and Greek Orthodox worship that lasts for hours can test the loyalty of even the most devoted. No wonder half of the people born in the Church end up leaving.

I begin to wonder which half I am in.

My faith needs a second chance like the marshmallow chicks that have landed in my shopping cart. Will my belief be rescued from the clearance shelf? Or, is this the year it all falls apart for good?

Still, I keep returning to church time and again. Sometimes angry. Sometimes depressed. Sometimes ashamed that I have squandered an embarrassment of riches by being a poor example to the few young people who remain.

And yet, being able to do over a holiday is a chance most people never get. Imagine if one could have a second chance for every holiday that appears on the calendar. Words chosen poorly at Thanksgiving can be taken back. Family fights can be undone. Travel to see an elderly parent can be undertaken instead of arguing that it is easier to stay home and avoid the hassle of long lines at the airport.

Second chances matter in a world short on forgiveness. This year, I will keep my fragile faith and embrace Greek Orthodox Easter once again. In a world than can no longer distinguish between the spiritual and the commercial, this holiday is one of the few that still has meaning. It’s not about easy answers anymore. It’s about the questions that are asked.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” are the words from an ancient Easter Sunday hymn.

After a lifetime in the Church, I still haven’t found the answer to that question. I’m not sure I ever will.

In the meantime, the lady at the grocery store register has her share of questions about our family’s overflowing supply of Easter leftovers.

“Don’t you know Easter was yesterday?” she asks.

My son anticipates this question and quickly responds with an explanation that we are Greek Orthodox Christians and will be celebrating Easter in the coming weeks.

My wife is proud. However, the cashier is not convinced, and neither am I.

But doubt is a place to begin again. And that is a second chance I will gladly take this year.

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Andrew Estocin is a lifelong Orthodox Christian and alumni of…
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