As many of you know from my social media, Greeks celebrate Easter this coming weekend (April 8th).
For Orthodox Christians (not just Greeks) all over the world – Easter or as we call it Pascha is a lot more elaborate than the secularize version of Easter as we are use to in North America. Yes, we like our Chocolate bunnies (especially when they are a half price ;)) but our celebrations are a lot more detailed that Easter Egg hunts. It is also not just about the Sunday but rather the whole week leading up to the resurrection of Christ.
There is wonderful videos on the different services and the Holy Light in Jerusalem and I’m not a theologian so won’t go into all of that (but have share a few videos if you are curious)
What is Orthodox Pascha?
But for me although I enjoy all the little traditions like dyeing the red eggs with my goddaughters and toasting a whole lamb on the spit – especially as a musician – it is the music that ties Pascha together and I wanted to share a little of that with you.
As I am of Greek decent, I will be focusing on the music used in the Greek Orthodox Church as I am not knowledgeable of the music of other Orthodox churches.
The music that we use is during the services are hundreds of years old –some of which were even written in the Early Church. We use what is commonly referred to as Byzantine Chant as it was during the Byzantine Empire that it was fully organized and catergized. There is an interesting write up about it on Wikipedia that I thought I would share if you want to read more about it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_music
But regardless of all that — Holy Week has some of the most beautiful hymns ever written in the Orthodox Church. There are multiple services and each hymn is equally unique.
On Palm Sunday Evening and Holy Monday, we celebrate what is called the Bridegroom Services. There are many beautiful hymns but one that always gives me shivers is a simple one where Alleluia is repeated several times. Most Greek churches will have a men’s choir lead by head chanter – there is something still but moving when men’s voices led this hymn. I especially enjoy it when the congregation joins in on the Alleluias.
Then on Holy Tuesday, there is a stunning beautiful hymn written by a female composer, Saint Kassiani who was an abbess in a female monastery (in Orthodoxy, we don’t refer to female monasteries as convents) https://orthodoxwiki.org/Kassiani_the_Hymnographer
https://youtu.be/JCu_ArVERuA — here is a men’s choir singing it
And I just came across a nuns’ choir singing it as well
As the lyrics are so beautiful – (and mind you — this is just a translation)
The woman who had fallen into many sin, O Lord, yet when she perceived Thy divinity, she joined the ranks of the Myrrh-Bearers. In tears, she brought Thee myrrh before Thy burial. She cried “Woe! woe is me; I live in the heart of licentiousness, shrouded in the dark and moonless love of sin. But accept the fountain of my tears, Thou who doest gather the waters of the sea to clouds. Bow down Thine ear to the sighing of my heart, Thou who didst bow the heavens in Thine ineffable condescension. Once Eve heard Thy footsteps in Paradise, in the noon of the day, and in fear, she ran and hid herself. But now I will tenderly embrace those pure feet, and dry them with the hair of my head. Who can measure the multitude of my sins, or the depth of Thy judgments? O Savior! O Savior of my soul, despise not Thy servant. For Thine mercy, for Thine mercy is beyond measure.”
There are quite a few services but my favourite one is the Holy Unction. Normally by this time in Lent, I am feeling tired but as this service is about God’s forgiveness and healing. I always feel a sense of renewal after this service. My favourite part is when everyone in the church joins hands during a prayer lead by the priest. Although it is only spoken, there is a natural rhythm to the words creating almost a musical effect. There is something so healing about this prayer.
This service is longest as there 12 Gospels read during it. They go through all that happened right before and during the actual crucifixion. The hymns all have a darker tone to them and the priest will carry the cross through the congregation while we knee. The hymn is haunting and in some parishes a piece of wood will be banged to re-create the sound that must have been happened when Christ was hammered to the cross.
Great Holy Friday
The church is decorated with flowers on Good Friday and in the centre of the church is the Epitaphios – a square box that is decorated with flowers where inside is place an embroidered cloth of Christ’s body after He was removed from the cross. The Epitaphios is decorated in the early part of Good Friday. There are many beautiful hymns during Greek Holy Friday evening’s service but my favourite are the Lamentations. As a child, I remember singing them as I climbed trees haha
The whole congregation sings them along with the priest and chanters. Then we go outside to do a procession around the church.
Great Holy Saturday
Naturally the most beautiful hymn is Christ is Risen which is sung at midnight. It is triumphal! The whole church raises their voices in praise!
And just cause it is funny and is so delightfully politically incorrect
If you know someone who might benifit from this please #reshare