St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Jamestown. Unlike the Christian religions, the Greek Orthodox community will be celebrating their Easter April 27.
By Jessica Wasmund firstname.lastname@example.org
3/23/2008 - While many Christians will be celebrating this Sunday with Easter eggs and chocolate rabbits, members of the Greek Orthodox Church still have more than a month a Lent before their celebration can begin.
Father George Zervos, who has been a priest for 40 years, has spent the last four years of his service at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Jamestown.
‘‘The Great Lent is a spiritual preparation for all those who are Orthodox Christians to receive the resurrection of Christ,’’ Zervos explained. ‘‘That includes fasting, attending more services, doing more good deeds and the greatest challenge of all — to show love to our fellow man as Christ has loved us.’’
The Sunday prior to the beginning of Lent, which this year fell on Monday, March 10 for the church members, is called Forgiveness Sunday. The idea is to embrace one another and ask for reconciliation. Following the beginning of Lent, each Sunday service has a different theme to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
‘‘The first week emphasizes Jesus’ assuming human flesh, and this is a mystery only known by God,’’ Zervos said. ‘‘So he remains God, but also becomes the perfect man, meaning he is sinless. The second week we emphasize when the son of God came to earth and reunited us with God in his divine love.’’
The second week follows parts of the Bible’s Book of Genesis, where Adam and Eve fell from paradise for eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. However, Zervos explained Christ came to redeem humans, which leads into the third week — the celebration of the Holy Cross.
‘‘When Christ was on the cross he washed away our sins — today we make the sign of the cross to use as a weapon against evil,’’ Zervos explained. ‘‘The fourth week calls our attention to the necessity of personal forgiveness. Lastly the fifth and final week, we practice the joy of experiencing forgiveness through good works and the grace of God, which leads us into Holy Week.’’
Additionally, each Friday in Lent is celebrated with a special service dedicated to Mary, which the church refers to as Salutations to the Mother of God. Throughout the 40 days, there are also strict rules regarding fasting — meaning no meat, cheese, dairy or eggs. On Saturdays, with the exception of Holy Saturday, wine and oil are allowed. Confession is also practiced at this time, and members are encouraged to come to church and use confession as a spiritual medicine.
During Holy Week, services are held every day and every evening. The Greek Orthodox refer to each day as Great Monday, Great Tuesday and so on, because Christ went through great suffering to redeem his people.
‘‘The first two days of the Holy Week we have the bridegroom services, because Jesus was the bridegroom of the Church,’’ Zervos said. ‘‘Just like the love a husband and wife should have for one another, Christ had for the church, so we use that idea.’’
During the Thursday morning of Holy Week, the Church has a Divine Liturgy service. Zervos explained that emergency Holy Communion is prepared and kept throughout the entire year in celebration of Christ’s own Holy Communion. It is hardened to ensure it lasts, and is distributed to the sick or others who are unable to attend service.
Following the morning service, Thursday afternoon the wooden icon of Jesus is removed from the cross inside the church.
‘‘Congregation members will walk around the church with an empty cross, symbolizing Christ’s entry into the tomb,’’ Zervos said. ‘‘Our services are very show-and-tell — Jesus is taken down Thursday, wrapped in a sheet and put in the tomb, and we leave the empty cross to tell people the story. We then read Gospel readings referring to his suffering and crucifixion.’’
Finally on Friday a Lamentations Service is held, and readings from the prophets of the Old Testament are read, which are called the Royal Hours. Zervos said now Christ has been put in the tomb and the congregation sings lamentations hymns while holding candles.
‘‘The Saturday liturgy in the morning is called the First Resurrection, and we throw out flowers,’’ Zervos said. ‘‘We believe Christ is in Hades and is preaching salvation to those who have died. Then at midnight we have the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, which we celebrate with lighted candles and by singing hymns.’’
The traditional hymn sung by the Greek Orthodox Church at this time reads as follows: “Christ is risen from the grave / and through death he has trampled on death / and to those in the tombs he has bestowed.” This hymn is also sung throughout the pentecostal season, the 50 days following the resurrection of Christ.
‘‘On Easter morning, we have our Pascha service at 11:30 a.m. — our Agape service, which is the Greek word for Christ’s Love,’’ Zervos said. ‘‘This signifies the unity of all races and people, there is no division. We pass out Easter Eggs during this service which are dyed red to symbolize Christ’s blood. After the final service, members crack the eggs with one another, representing Jesus escaping from the tomb.’’
From Easter on for the next 40 days, strick Greek Orthodox members will replace their common greeting of ‘‘hello’’ with ‘‘Christ has risen,’’ and the proper response is ‘‘truly he has risen.’’ This is practiced throughout the Pentecostal season. Also, during the renewal week, which starts the Monday after Easter, there is no fasting allowed.
‘‘After resurrection our body will be reunited with our soul and we will be one again,’’ Zervos said. ‘‘Our goal is to go to heaven by following the commandments of God. This is an ancient service of which all churches are an off-shoot of. If we, during the Great Lent, are fasting it is because we are trying to become more holy.’’
He explained that from the ancient times, the Greek Orthodox church practiced a wholeness or totality.
‘‘The whole source of the Orthodox Christian faith is the holy tradition in which scripture is written. The words of Christ are maintained and kept in the Bible. It’s both the written and unwritten tradition the church keeps. We use the same Bible as other Christian religions — the communion of saints, sacraments of the church are all interrelated and the purpose is to obtain ones salvation.’’
Pentecost Day marks the ending of the post-Easter season, and is the day when the holy spirit ascends to Earth. The following day the church has a liturgy just for God — the father, son and holy spirit, or the Holy Trinity.
Zervos said in today’s world, sometimes keeping up with the traditions can be difficult, but it is important to have a form of religion in one’s life. He urges anybody interested in learning more about the Greek Orthodox Church to attend one of their services.
‘‘Everybody is more than welcome,’’ Zervos said. ‘‘Throughout Holy Week services are at 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and we would love to have people at the 11:30 a.m. service on Easter Day. We pass out eggs and read the Bible in different languages. If anybody can speak a different language, be it German or Arabic, they’re welcome to come and share in the light of Christ.’’
For more information, contact St. Nicholas’ at 483-0022.