Although most Christians in America celebrated Easter a week ago, for Eastern Orthodox Christians, today is Easter. In the Orthodox Tradition, Easter is called “Pascha,” Greek for Passover. This is because for Orthodox, the Cross and the Resurrection go together as one overarching salvific event, something that might not always be so obvious, as I note in a review article of Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, here:
Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar for Roman Catholics late in the sixteenth century (and Protestants followed suit–an irony?), resulting in two different Easter/Pascha dates for Western and Eastern Christians. The one notable exception of which I’m aware is the Orthodox Church in Finland which, being a state church, actually celebrates Pascha at the same time Western Christians celebrate Easter. Otherwise, the dates normally do not align (though every few years they do). Orthodox continue to follow the dating for Pascha/Easter established at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325, at which Pascha/Easter was determined according to the Jewish lunar calendar and Passover. It is for this reason that Western Easter may occur prior to the Jewish Passover some years while Orthodoxy’s Pascha does not.
The Paschal service is celebrated with a service beginning at 11:30pm at night, so that at midnight, the first shouts of “Christ is risen!” may be heard. Following the conclusion of the service in the early morning hours, Orthodox believers in Fargo share in enjoying foods from which they have fasted during Lent.
Although this is a vespers service, the Bible readings are not just from the Old Testament (which is normally the biblical readings that are chanted when biblical readings are prescribed for vespers). We also read from 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:2 and a composite Gospel readings from Matthew and Luke. In the epistle reading, we are reminded that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Indeed, this was shown even as Jesus died on the Cross, for when he died, some of the tombs were opened!
In the Gospel reading for this service, we learn not only of Judas’ fate, but also of the anti-Christian argument popular soon after Jesus death, that his disciples stole his body. In this way, the Gospel serves as a small window into the disputes and divisions amongst the Jews at the time concerning Jesus and “the Way,” as Christianity was initially known (according to the Book of Acts). We also hear of the graciousness and love of God, however, for we encounter the two thieves, just as Psalms 1 and 2 open the Psalms by speaking of the “two ways.” One may either repent and be at the right hand of Christ, or curse, ignore, and/or reject him and find oneself on the left. Yet, here in the Gospel, we are reminded that no matter how long one has been on the “wrong path,” one may yet cross over and take the new path, “the Way” of Christ.