Paschal (Resurrection) Season: 2014
Fr. Basil Zebrun
The week following Pascha (Easter), is called Bright Week, by the Church. Pascha is celebrated this year by the Orthodox Church on April 20, with Christians of the Western Tradition. As Holy Week was a final time of anticipation and preparation for “the Feast of Feasts,” so Bright Week is a period of unique Resurrection joy, manifested outwardly in diverse ways. For instance, during Bright Week there is no fasting at all from various types of food; all liturgical hymns, ideally, are to be sung rather than read; and the Church remains highly decorated, with the royal doors and deacon’s doors of the iconostasis left open as they were during the Midnight Service. This latter practice emphasizes visually that the gates of God’s Kingdom have been open to man through the Cross, Tomb and Resurrection of Christ. Services during Bright Week are celebrated in a particularly glorious manner, identical to that experienced during the Midnight Service and Resurrection Vespers on Pascha Sunday. The traditional announcement, “Christ is Risen,” is sung repeatedly by the Church choir, and people greet one another with this same message of hope.
While Bright Week is a time of profound, perhaps uncommon celebration, the Resurrection season is not limited to one week. For forty days, until Ascension (this year May 29), the faithful recall in songs and greetings the joyous news that ‘Christ has trampled down death by death, bestowing life upon those in the tombs.’ Clergy and altar servers continue to wear their brightest vestments, and everyone stands (rather than kneels) in prayer, both at home and in Church. The practice of standing in prayer during the Paschal Season serves to stress our belief that in Christ we are already resurrected beings, residents on earth yet citizens of Heaven. The faithful continue this practice until Pentecost (this year June 8), when after Liturgy for the first time since Holy Week we kneel in prayer during three special prayers that are read from the ambo by the clergy.
The five Sundays following Pascha emphasize, through the appointed Scripture readings and hymns, (1.) post-resurrection appearances of Christ; (2.) the Church’s early life and missionary endeavors (epistle readings are taken from the Book of Acts); and (3.) aspects of baptism, through which we ourselves have died and risen with Christ to a new life in God (Gospel readings are taken from the most “sacramental” of Gospel accounts, that of John the Theologian or Evangelist). Fr. Thomas Hopko in his Orthodox Faith Handbook Series, Volume II, provides a summary of the meaning of the five Sundays of Pascha. The following contains quotes and paraphrases from that summary.
The Myrrhbearing Women (May 4):
The Paralytic (May 11):
The Feast of Mid-Pentecost:
The Samaritan Woman (May 18):
The Blind Man (May 25):
Ascension, Pentecost and All Saints Sunday:
The Paschal Season ends with the great feast of Ascension (again, this year May 29) on which believers celebrate the Lord’s ascent in order to be glorified with God the Father and to glorify us with Himself. He goes in order to “prepare a place” for us, and to take us into the blessedness of God’s presence. He goes to open the way for all flesh into the “heavenly sanctuary...the Holy Place not made by hands” (See Hebrews 8-10). Furthermore, Christ ascends in order to send the Holy Spirit (an event celebrated on Pentecost) who proceeds from the Father, to bear witness to Him (Christ) and His Gospel in the world, by making Him (Christ) powerfully present in the lives of His disciples
On Pentecost (June 8) the Church celebrates the final act of God’s self-revelation and self-donation to the world. God’s plan of salvation – starting with and including the formation of His chosen people, Israel; the sending of the prophets; the birth of Christ; His teachings, miracles, sufferings, death, burial and resurrection – all of this culminates with the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and the birth of the New Israel, the Church of God, the life of which is the continued presence of the Spirit in our midst.
The Sunday after Pentecost, that of All Saints (June 15), reveals the power of the Holy Spirit in this world, the reason that He was given. The Saints are those who, without a doubt, have been saved and transformed by the Spirit’s presence, a fate open to all who believe. And then finally, on June 22, we commemorate All Saints of America, as a logical follow up to the previous Sunday. This celebration affirms God’s presence and activity amongst His disciples in North America, placing before us local and contemporary examples of sanctity.
Thus a journey which began for us way back on February 2 with the Sunday of Zacchaeus will end on June 22. But the journey was taken for a reason. The seasons of fasting and celebration that we have experienced are to lead us to a deeper faith in Christ as Savior. They are to instill within us a stronger commitment to our own mission, to be Christ’s witnesses “to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
(Some of the above information taken from Fr. Thomas Hopko’s, The Orthodox Faith, Volume 2, Worship, published by the O.C.A.’s Department of Christian Education.)