I am laughing on the inside, because I have no voice to express it on the outside! God is having a great time with me. This is Bright Week! The week after Easter, where we in the Eastern Churches continue our celebration of the Paschal Divine Liturgy. There is no fasting allowed. Most who keep the strict Lenten fast don’t even want to see a vegetable in the house! Ha-Ha! This week is the week we keep celebrating the Risen Lord. We greet one another with “He is Risen! He is truly Risen!” We smile, we laugh, we feast. Because Our God has done what He promised us He would do.
I prepared SOOOO much for Easter. This was my first year in preparing for Easter with a Slavic or Eastern European flavor/style to it. In the Eastern or Slavic nations, each family has a basket and each thing you put in the basket has special significance. The particulars can vary by country and by ethnic tradition. First of all, I hunted and hunted and hunted for the perfect Easter basket; it turns out I should have gone with the larger size, because I also prepared quite a lot to go inside it: (1) I prepared Lamb Butter (molded two, actually) by softening butter and placing it in a mold shaped like a lamb – lamb butter!; (2) I dyed 5 DOZEN Easter Eggs using all natural ingredients (brown onion skins, turmeric, and paprika); (3) I made Easter Cheese called Hrudka (it’s called a custard cheese and from my point of view, as I was stirring it, I wanted to add some raisins and make a proper custard pudding); (4) I also made the traditional Easter bread called Paska or Paskha (2 loaves!!); (5) I made this spread by grating fresh beets, adding horseradish, and then adding a dash of sugar – my husband loved it. There was also a shaker of Kosher salt in the basket, a small ham, some polska kielbasa, and a “rasher” of uncooked bacon (actually, it was more like several rashers, as a rasher is just a slice of bacon, but I love that word). I decorated our family candle with crosses and bows and some pearls. It looked so nice!! And I ordered this hand-made cover off e-Bay by this wonderful Russian woman who hand-embroidered it with “Christ is Risen” on it (it was only $10 including shipping and I love it!! It was perfect!!) But, as Easter morning dawned, I knew I was sick. And I mean SICK. I did not even make it through the entire morning of prayers and Divine Liturgy. I did not even receive Our Lord in Holy Communion on Easter morning. I was passed out at the table by our basket. Ugh. Our parish has this lovely tradition of setting the tables up in a “u” shape in the hall and everyone displays their baskets. Their lovely covers are taken off the basket and laid in front of it, draping over the table. As the priest walks by, he incenses and blesses each basket with holy water (in our case, it was a waterfall! Father was having so much fun – it made it very special). After the blessing, we share our food with one another, walking around the room, enjoying the Pascha celebration.
On Holy Saturday evening, we attended our granddaughter’s Christening at the local Episcopal Church for their vigil services. It was supposed to go from 8:00 – 10:00 pm but lasted until after 11:00 pm. We enjoyed ourselves. They had the lighting of the fire outside, a procession indoors with everyone holding lit candles. We had some lively music (a blue grass band was there and they were good) and sermon, and then they christened everyone who was prepared. Our granddaughter looked adorable in her Christening gown complete with matching bow and blinged-out cross (I loved it). I have some wonderful photos of my husband holding our granddaughter after she was christened and both are smiling so big! It fully expressed our joy in the evening. Then I started getting hot; as in “experiencing my own personal summer” sort of hot. And then my voice dropped a couple of octaves (whatever that is…I started to sound like a man, and I knew that was not good). We scurried home as soon as we could and I knew I would not have a healthy Easter morning.
Easter morning dawned and I was ill. I was so looking forward to our first morning, sharing our baskets and having fun, at our new parish. I had to leave Divine Liturgy because I started coughing and sweating, and feeling like I just wanted to curl in a ball under my blankets at home – I made it to our basket in the hall and just collapsed. The rest of the parish processed to the hall and Father blessed our baskets amongst song, incense, and a waterfall of holy water. It was so much fun. He then called all the “littles” into the center of the tables, along with their baskets, blessed them and then the kiddos started to really have fun. (In our tradition, no one can touch the contents of their baskets until they are blessed. It takes a great deal of willpower for the kiddos; and for the adults. There is usually lots of candy and meat!!) I got myself a large coffee and plopped down by the basket. I didn’t want to get too close to anyone, but I had to crack some eggs, which I joyfully did. My “warrior” egg was finally demolished by this lovely older woman (at least 80 years old) who promptly confiscated it! We left before it was all over, because I was dead on my feet.
We got home and I went to bed. I’ve been mostly in bed since. I took naps most of Monday and just existed yesterday. Today I am so over being sick, but am still hacking and have no voice, and still feeling pretty lousy. No voice is what my husband says is his Easter gift! Oh ha-ha! But all this enforced quiet and stillness has been good for me. Because I realized that all the prep, all the worry, all the hoopla did not really make the day any better – at least for me. I was too sick to enjoy it all. But HE still rose. HE still came for me. HE touched me and has shown me that He is risen! Easter came because He promised us it would; nothing I did or did not do changed the fact of the Resurrection. He is Risen! He is truly Risen!
When I think of my paltry issues in comparison to people around the world, I am sort of pathetic to even complain. I read an article about the Palestinian Christians denied entry to the Holy Land. The expression of difficulty they have being less than 50 miles from the Holy Sepulchre itself (pictured above) and not being allowed in by the Jewish authorities just broke my heart. Several instances where mom or dad would get a permit, but none of the rest of the same family. It’s just so sad. However, there was a bit of good news, actually, from Lebanon. I watched one of those “flash mobs” start singing in a mall in Lebanon, the words to “Jesus is Risen” in Arabic. Reminded me of my days of celebrating at our old Melkite parish! The video is from 2011, but it is still amazing it exists! (Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0ZS9o6NLnM#t=87). There was an article yesterday by the Melkite Patriarch about the Churches that were destroyed in Syria. He is asking the world to acknowledge it as war crimes. My Church is still standing. Is yours? Not to mention all the churches in Egypt that were destroyed. And still the people come. They come because of what Christ promised each of us.
There’s a wonderful tradition about the Holy Fire at the Sepulchre itself wherein a priest (different one each year) enters the tomb and his candle is lit – all by itself – every year. This “holy fire” is then shared by thousands of people, lit one candle at a time. The photos this year were amazing.
So for me, sitting here feeling miserable, my heart still sings. My heart still knows. I know that Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen! And He did that for me, for each of us, regardless of how we prepare to receive Him, or if we even noticed what day it was, or even if all we know about is Easter Egg hunts and pretty baskets and dresses and hats. He still came; He died; He Rose. I find such joy and comfort as we recite in the Nicean Creed: “… who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried; who rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father; who will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; and of whose kingdom there shall be no end…” (*cough-cough; sniff-sniff* ). Regardless of how I prepared, of how aware I was of what was going on; how prepared so much of the world is or is not, it still happens. He keeps His promises. Always.