Our abbot, His Grace Bishop Luke, commented at the luncheon meal on the day of Pascha, that whatever our Lord wills, happens, and without Him, nothing happens. So it was that He willed that our monastery and community has had a most wonderful and solemn paschal celebration. This is especially felt after two years of the Covid crisis. For this we are most thankful to our Risen Lord.
After the usual, very prayerful days of Great Lent and Holy Week, with seemingly marathon services and with all the exhaustive preparations, such as general cleaning, the preparation of the traditional Artos loaves, the kulichi, the paschal cheese and so on, the countdown came for the evening services on Holy Saturday evening.
At 8PM, the reading of the Acts of the Apostles commenced. It is traditional in the monastery for anyone to read in any language desired up until the meeting of the bishop at 11PM. During this time, pilgrims began arriving with their Paschal baskets, which were left on tables in the lower church for blessing after the night liturgy.
At 11:15PM, the Midnight Service began with the singing of the canon, at the end of which a priest with deacons took the shroud back into the altar to be placed on the altar table, where it will remain until the feast of the Ascension.
At this time, the large bell of the monastery begins tolling slowly and as the time approaches for the midnight procession, it tolls more rapidly. At exactly 12 midnight, Vladyka blessed the beginning of the service and those present in the altar began chanting the beginning hymn, “Thy Resurrection, O Christ God,…” The first time was in a very low voice, while Vladyka censed the altar. The second round was louder with some lights turned on. The third time was accompanied by the opening of the curtain and the Royal Gates, with the clergy singing in a loud voice as they began the procession out of the altar, into the body of the church, and then outside to circle the cathedral, followed by the faithful.
Upon processing around the cathedral, the choir with the clergy climbed up onto the entrance steps, where Vladyka intoned, “Glory to the Holy…,” followed by the words, “Christ is Risen from the dead,” for the first time. The full beginning verses were chanted with responses by the choir and the Paschal greeting of all the many faithful. Then everyone processed back into the cathedral for the continuation of the Paschal matins service.
The clergy choir sang antiphonally with the monastery/seminary choir the Paschal canon. One could visibly observe the joy of the people as once and again, the Paschal news of the Lord’s Resurrection was repeated over and over. Towards the end of Paschal matins, the clergy returned to the altar whereupon they greeted each other in the traditional way of “Christ is Risen,” and “Truly He is Risen.”
Upon the conclusion of Paschal matins, there were the Paschal Hours, at the end of which the Divine Liturgy was begun. One of the most outstanding features of the Paschal Liturgy was the chanting of the Gospel in several different languages: Greek, English, Spanish and Slavonic. There were many communicants Pascha night. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, starting with the bishop, all greeted each other with the Paschal exclamation. When this was over, there was a festive procession from church to the monastery refectory, where the traditional, monastery paschal breakfast awaited the brethren and pilgrims. Before indulging, the bishop went around blessing the food with holy water, after reading the prayer to bless the end of the fast.
At 12 noon, there was a festive meal for the first day of Pascha at 12 Noon, which including the traditional aspic of fish. During all of Bright Week, kulichi are laid on all the tables with lit candles on top. At 3PM, Pascha Vespers was served, led by Bishop Luke and concelebrated with the monastery clergy. The Lord provided us with a sunny day, which only heightened the celebratory mood. In his sermon, Vladyka emphasized that even on Pascha we must repent of our sins to fully enjoy the joy of Pascha.
Later in the evening, matins for Bright Monday was served, and so throughout Bright Week, there will daily liturgy with Vespers and Matins every evening, served in much the same way, mostly being a repetition of the first services, as the whole week is considered as one day.
On Bright Monday, again a day of sun and warmth, the traditional Procession of the Cross was held, with going around the cathedral three times, with stops at the four corners of the circling with Gospel readings concerning the Lord’s Resurrection.
Glory be to God Who in his great condescension has granted us to have our traditional and heart-warming Paschal services with all of the glory and solemnity typical of monastery services, to the glory of His name and our for our great edification.