To my Orthodox Christian friends: Christ is risen! To my non-Orthodox Christian friends: Christ is risen, sorry I'm a little late with the greetings. To my non-Christian friends: come on over for some jelly beans. I promise I won't try to convert you. I believe in Jesus with all my heart, but I also believe He doesn't especially want me to beat people over the head with Him.
Last night was my first Pascha (what Orthodox people call Easter) at an Orthodox parish other than the one in which I grew up. I say "last night," because the evening service started at 11:30 p.m. and lasted almost three hours, followed by a massive fast-breaking feast. We got home about 4:00 a.m., at which time I had to prepare Easter baskets (spoiler alert, kids, bunnies don't have opposable thumbs and can't carry baskets or pick locks). So apologies if my reflections this morning aren't entirely coherent; I just had a few thoughts I wanted to get down on plastic and other materials assembled in China paper.
1. My home parish is made up largely of people of Lebanese descent, which means that I was frequently greeted with "Al Masih Qam!" which is "Christ is Risen!" in Arabic. The problem is that the response, "Haqqan Qam! ("Indeed He is Risen!") is difficult to pronounce and sounds, how you say in English, like you're about to hock a loogie. I hated saying it. But last night, when the priest was calling out "Christ is Risen!" in various languages, including Arabic, I was shouting the response back, because I was about the only Arab in the house, and I had to represent. And also because no one would know if I was mispronouncing it.
2. Along about 1:00 a.m., when I'm really tired and making the sign of the cross, I tend to misjudge the distance to my face and wind up whacking myself in the forehead with my hand. Repeatedly.
3. One of my favorite parts of the very beautiful service is when the church is darkened completely, and the priest lights a candle (or three) and holds it up, proclaiming, "Come ye, take light from the Light that is never overtaken by night." Then people come up and begin lighting candles and passing the flame to other people's candles, so that the church gradually becomes aglow with candlelight. Then the congregation moves outside for a procession and then comes back into the church, which has been transformed in the meantime into a place of brightness.
It was a little windy last night, and of course it's difficult to keep a candle lit anyway when you're moving at any decent pace. So people's candles kept going out, and other people would stop and re-light them, and then a few minutes later the person whose candle had been re-lit would stop and help someone else. All the stopping and lighting made the procession sort of halting and bunchy. But that's exactly why I love this part of the service, and why I love worshipping in community: just when everything seems darkest, you get the light you need. And if you lose it along the way, there is always someone to help you bring it back. Sometimes you get to be the one who helps. If you have to stop, someone stops with you, but then you start moving forward together again. And while the journey is never as smooth as you might hope, it always brings you, eventually, right back to where you need to be.