This Paschal season, there has been a calendar controversy that has been missed by most of the Orthodox world.
This is shocking because controversy loves to rear its head during Great Lent.
If you don’t know about it, you are forgiven. It’s a local problem only affecting approximately 2000 Orthodox Christians, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
About every ten years, when Pascha is late on the calendar, an alignment occurs causing distress throughout the Bluegrass State of Kentucky.
This was one of those years.
Holy Week coincided with Derby Week, a week most Louisvillians, and a large number of Kentuckians, spend celebrating their most famous horse race; Orthodox Christians had to suppress this pageantry for solemnity. The breaking point for many was that Derby Day was also Holy Saturday.
And we are not alone in loving the thrill of the horses’ hooves pounding like thunder around the track.
Listen to these words:
“At horse races the spectators intent on victory shout to their favorites in the contest, even though the horses are eager to run. From the stands they participate in the race with their eyes, thinking to incite the [jockey] to keener effort, at the same time urging the horses on while leaning forward and flailing the air with their outstretched hands instead of with a whip.
They do this not because their actions themselves contribute anything to the victory; but in this way, by their good will, they eagerly show in voice and deed their concern for the contestants. I seem to be doing the same thing myself, most valued friend and brother.
While you are competing admirably in the divine race along the course of virtue, lightfootedly leaping and straining constantly for the prize of the heavenly calling, I exhort, urge, and encourage you vigorously to increase your speed. I do this, not moved to it by some unconsidered impulse, but to humor the delights of a beloved child.”
-St. Gregory of Nyssa – The Life of Moses
A Kentuckian can relate very well with our father among the saints, St. Gregory. But, while much of the town was celebrating, Bluegrass Orthodox were sitting in the dark beneath clouds of incense–waiting.
Waiting, leaning forward, listening, knowing something wonderful is about to happen.
Then a flicker of light can be seen in the altar area. It begins to grow, coming through Royal Doors, in the hands of the priest, whose voice cries out, “Come, Receive the Light from the Light and glorify Christ, who has Risen from the Dead!”
The light passes throughout the people, and after several more prayers and hymns, we erupt with “Christ is Risen, Christos Anesti, Christos Voskres, Al-Maseeh Qam!”
The race is won! Victory has come! Death is embittered!
So in 2021, when much of the world is consumed with a horse-race, know that your Bluegrass brethren, living in the heart of Derby euphoria, are celebrating. They are celebrating, not a two-minute race, but a race of eternal proportions, run by their Savior through the Gates of Hell, bringing life to the whole world.
Christ is Risen!