NORMAN — May 5 is the celebration of Pascha for Eastern Orthodox Christians throughout the world.
Pascha, known as Easter for western Christians, is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The term “Pascha” comes from the Hebrew “pesah,” a yearling lamb, and for Christians refers to Christ, the Passover lamb.
This year, the dates for western Easter and eastern Pascha are many weeks apart because eastern and western Christians have different methods for determining the date of the most important feast of the church year.
Eastern Orthodox Christians continue to observe the ancient practice established by the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 that decreed that the Resurrection would be observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.
Additionally, on the Julian calendar, the observance of Pascha always falls after the first day of Unleavened Bread, or Hebrew Passover. In 1582, under Pope Gregory of Rome, the Gregorian calendar was established, which determines the date of Easter for both Roman Catholics and Protestants, without consideration of the date of Passover.
To prepare for the Feast of the Resurrection, the Orthodox Church observes Great Lent, a period of six weeks of prayer and fasting, ending at the close of Lazarus Saturday, which remembers the raising of our Lord’s friend from the dead.
Palm Sunday memorializes Christ’s Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and will be celebrated on Sunday. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Great and Holy Week, a time of prayer, fasting and daily worship services leading to the joyous celebration of Pascha. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings of Holy Week, the church will offer worship in services that honor Christ as the bridegroom of the church.
The Mystery of Holy Unction is celebrated on Holy Wednesday evening, when the faithful are anointed for the healing of soul and body.
On Holy Thursday, the faithful call to mind the last events in the earthly life of our Lord. The morning begins with the celebration of the Vesperal Divine Liturgy commemorating the Mystical Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship.
In the evening, 12 passages from the Gospels are read, leading the faithful through the solemn events of the Passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. During the service, the holy cross is carried in procession around the church and the crucifixion is recalled as an icon of the body of Christ is nailed to the cross.
Great and Holy Friday begins with the service known as the Royal Hours, again calling to mind the sacrifice of our Lord. In the afternoon, the vesper service recalls the taking down of Christ’s body from the cross. In the evening, the church offers a funeral for Jesus Christ as His body is placed in a bier (tomb) and carried in solemn procession around the church during the Lamentations service.
On the morning of Great and Holy Saturday, a Vesperal Divine Liturgy is celebrated in anticipation of Christ’s victory over death. At 11 p.m., the faithful assemble to celebrate Great and Holy Pascha, beginning with the Rush procession, then the Paschal Matins and culminating in the Divine Liturgy of the Resurrection.
As is customary, following the Pascha worship service, churches throughout the Orthodox world, including Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Norman, will mark the end of the fast and the beginning of a season of celebration and feasting with fellowship in the parish hall.