Easter is a day connected not only with the Resurrection of Christ, but also with his descent into hell and his liberation of the whole of humanity from the power of the devil, hell, and death. The Orthodox celebration of Easter differs from the Catholic and Protestant in its colour and joyfulness. This can be seen first and foremost in the red vestments of the clergy, which they put on before conducting the Easter liturgy (they begin Easter worship in white vestments). It can be seen secondly in the processions of the cross — in which both clergy and congregation parade not only on Easter Day itself but on every day of the week after Easter, or «Bright Week» as we call it. The Easter service itself begins with a procession of the cross. The congregation, led by priests in white robes and carrying khorugvi (church banners depicting Christ or the saints) and icons, exits the church singing the ancient hymn «Resurrection is yours, Christ the Saviour, the angels sing in the heavens. And we on earth are honoured to sing your praise with pure hearts».
Having circled the church, the priest proclaims a eulogy to the Trinity, and the singers answer him with the ancient Easter anthem «Christ is risen from the dead, vanquishing death with death, bequeathing life to those in the grave.» They then proclaim verses from Psalm 67 of the Orthodox Psalter: «Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered». After each verse, the choir answers «Christ is risen from the dead». The clergy and congregation then go back into the church, and Easter Matins begins. The service is based on the «Golden» Easter canon of the great eighth-century theologian St. John of Damascus, which includes the words «The Day of the Resurrection. People, let us see the light. Easter, Holy Easter. Christ the Lord has brought us from death to life and from earth to heaven […] Let the seen and unseen world rejoice. Christ has risen, eternal joy.» After each stanza of the canon, the words «Christ is risen from the dead» are sung. Matins ends with the words of St. John Chrysostom: «Let nobody cry over sin. Forgiveness has shone on all from the grave. Let nobody fear death. The death of the Saviour has freed us. He who went into hell has subjugated hell.» After this, the congregation exchange kisses with the words «Christ is risen» — Khristos voskresye — and the response «Truly he is risen» — Voistinu voskresye. Gifts are also exchanged, including painted eggs, which are a symbol of life.
Next begins the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, during which the words «Christ is risen from the dead» are sung repeatedly, readings are taken from Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1–10 (in which Christ appears to the Apostles after his resurrection), and from the beginning of the Book of John, which tells of the Son made flesh and the Word of the Lord: «In the beginning was the Word […] and the Word was God […] and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.» The liturgy also features triumphal Easter hymns that have their origins in Bible passages, such as «Shine! Shine, O New Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shone upon you» from Isaiah 60, 1.
After the liturgy comes the blessing of foods brought by the congregation — artos (a special leavened bread), kulich (an Easter cake that symbolizes the Resurrection), and Paskha (a cheesecake with dried fruits, baked in the form of a tomb as a symbol of Golgotha), as well as painted Easter eggs. There is no fasting during Bright Week, and similarly joyful services are held each day. Church bells are rung all the time to express the joy of the Resurrection. Believers congratulate each other and pay visits to their friends and family, as well as to the sick and to those in prison. During and after Bright Week, there are Orthodox festivals and concerts of Orthodox music.
Foreign visitors can attend any Orthodox church at Easter, but there are particularly magnificent services at Kazan Cathedral (2, Kazanskaya Ploshchad), where Varsonofy, Metropolitan of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, officiates. Easter worship begins on 7 April at 23:30, with the procession of the cross at midnight. Other notable churches include St. Nicholas Cathedral (1/3, Nikol’skaya Ploshchad), Smolny Cathedral (1, Ploshchad Rastrelli), Prince Vladimir Cathedral (26, Ulitsa Blokhina), and the Alexander Nevsky Lavra (1, Naberezhnaya Reki Monastyrki). On the night of 7 April, the St. Petersburg metro will be working all through the night, making it possible to attend ceremonies at several churches.
Protodeacon Vladimir Vasilik is a doctor of history, candidate of theology, candidate of philology, and senior lecturer at St. Petersburg State University.
by Protodeacon Vladimir Vasilik