Pascha is the Eastern Church’s Easter. This year it came considerably later than the Western Church on May 5. If you want to understand the dating process for Easter/Pascha a little better follow this link.
Sister Paraskeva, one of the nuns we love dearly from St. Barbara’s Monastery told us after our first Pascha service that we will always remember our first Pascha and it will be the barometer or lens by which we see all of our other Paschas.
So, in light of those words of wisdom, I decided I would document some of my thoughts and feelings on our first Pascha experience.
Because of life of late our Pascha plans got jumbled and then reworked. The weekend before, we decided we wanted to spend it on the coast with friends and at the church that began our journey to Orthodoxy, St. Athanasius.
Normally, the whole Holy Week before Pascha is spent by Orthodox Christians in 18 different church services culminating in that Great Sunday. Lots of people we know in Orthodoxy take that whole preceding week off to reflect, pray, and attend daily services. Not so weird, really, that’s what Spring Break is supposed to be for!
Stephen was able to take half of Holy Friday off and we headed out on our trip that afternoon. I tried to score a beach house for this four day mini-vaca and I scoured Goleta to Oxnard in search of one with no luck. I wasn’t exactly expecting as much so last minute, but I thought it was worth a try. We wanted to have a kitchen so we could prepare food and have a separate room to be able to put the kids to sleep in and be able to stay up ourselves if we wanted. I settled on a room at the Homewood Suites in Oxnard which at least had the kitchen with a stove that couldn’t even boil water, it turned out. We wound up having very little time to prepare food anyway. Next time, if there is a next time, we will just stay in Goleta near the church (there are two hotels just down the street) so we don’t have to do as much traveling back and forth.
After checking into our hotel, we headed up to Goleta to attend the Friday night service. We went back to our hotel that night and then were up early again the next morning for the Holy Saturday services. As with anything in our current life stage most of my attention is distracted by or spent on our kids, but I was still able to absorb some things. At one point during the service, Fr. Nicholas explained that on this day we are making way for the return of the King, that in old times when a king would enter a city bay leaves were thrown out in celebration. He walked all over the church joyfully throwing the leaves. The smell was of course amazing. I love the tangible and symbolic things like this with Orthodoxy. The kids of the church spent the rest of the service gathering the bay leaves and stuffing them in their pockets.
We spent some time after the service meeting with Fr. Nicholas. I really love his attitude about and perspective on Orthodoxy. It was nice to hear it again since our last visit two and a half years ago. It really helped to clarify and put some things in perspective for us.
After that we drove back to Ventura to have some beach time with our friends. This was such a treat and I love watching my kids with these new friends. In particular, it was very exciting because my older two kids that have been extremely afraid of the ocean no matter what I’ve tried finally decided, thanks to friends, that this was actually something quite fun.
After that we headed down to Thousand Oaks to meet up with our friends there for a little park play date. It was so good to catch up and relax with them. There is only so much Facebook can do for staying in touch over a year, you know? We always like to marvel at how small my children are so of course this sort of size comparison can’t really take place in the virtual realm. These two were born only a couple months apart:
After park time we made a quick run to Target for supplies to make our Pascha basket. Since St. Athanasius is mainly a convert church and has a lot of parishioners from a variety of Orthodox jurisdictional backgrounds, they do Pascha baskets even though it tends to be a mainly Slavic church (Russian, Serbian, etc) tradition.
I had started this cross stitch design earlier in the week for our Pascha basket cover, but there was no way to finish it in time.
So I found myself making my first red Pascha eggs and assembling our first basket into the late evening hours at the last possible minute when I really should have been getting some sleep in preparation.
Traditionally, the Pascha service is held at midnight, but since St. Athanasius was originally located in the heart of Isla Vista in the same neighborhood as UCSB’s frat houses and such (the first time we visited St. Athanasius we saw a guy rolling a keg down the sidewalk on a skateboard as we pulled up, no joke) their first attempts at holding Pascha at the traditional time were met with drunk college students throwing things and jeering during the part of the service where the parishioners process around the church. So they hold their service at 5am instead. I got to bed a little after 11pm and Henry was awake around the same time with two year molar teething pain and a fever. Sleeping the previous few nights had also been difficult because of this and the fact that the boy decided to climb out of his crib and needed to be transitioned to a big boy bed.
We had to be up by three and on the road by four to get back up to Goleta for church. Babies always know when you really need sleep, don’t they?
I think we wound up with 3-4 hours of sleep, but still managed to wake up and get out the door.
So everyone was super grouchy and tired. Stephen was really grouchy especially. We are driving up the 101 and Stephen is saying stuff like, “Why are we doing this?” and “I’d really like to make it to the Pascha breakfast, but we’re probably going to leave early because of the kids.” And I’m getting frustrated thinking just great all of this 40 days of Lent and all we have been through during it and now we’re not even going to make it to Pascha! I kept thinking he was going to turn around!
We get there and oh that part, the “take light from the Light” part where the Priest walks down lighting the candles and the church becomes ablaze, I think that will be etched in my memory forever. Here is a description of it from St. Nicholas Cathedral of Los Angeles:
Great Lent and Holy Week come to an end when we begin Paschal Orthros, and we hear the words of the priest: ‘Come take light from the Light that is never overtaken by night. Come, and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead.’ He distributes the flame to the entire congregation in the darkened church so that we can walk in the light of the Resurrection. We immediately process outside the church in the ‘rush procession’ (hajme in Arabic), rushing to the empty tomb just as Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome did. They found the stone rolled away and encountered an angel, who told them that Jesus was risen (Mark 16:1-8), the first being in the universe to proclaim that ‘Christ is risen.’ Then the whole church sings with him: ‘Christ is risen from the dead trampling down Death by death; and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!'”
The sisters from St. Barbara’s were there and seeing their sweet faces glow from the candles as they followed the procession out, I’ll remember that too.
There were some low points, like we were at the very end of the procession where no one was singing and it was hard to hear, it was really cold suddenly even though it had been so hot for days before. The wind kept blowing our candles out. Jillian singed her hair on her candle inside later. But we made it through. It was seriously incredible.
We get out of service. Fr Nicholas blessed the Pascha baskets, ours got good and soaked by the Holy Water, it was right in front of Fr Nicholas.
So I plopped down with the kids with what we had and sent Stephen outside to the food line. He comes back and is like this completely changed person! Ha! He can hardly stop laughing! I was so confused! Ha! So I asked him what was going on and he was like, “Yeah, I was still mad and it was cold out there in line and I was just thinking that all of this is so crazy and I wanted to go get in the car and then I got to the Deviled eggs and I had one and it was like the most amazing thing I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. As soon as I took a bite I just found myself smiling and all of Lent was suddenly over and I was happy and I am so happy!”
It is interesting though, after that dividing line of Pascha, all of our Lenten sorrows seemed so much… I don’t know… not gone… subdued? Even the miscarriage feels like that since Pascha. It’s not like I’ve forgotten and am just over it now, but it isn’t consuming, you know?
We went back to our hotel and had some down time before the church picnic. Henry learned a new phrase which we appreciate over ” poop” and “caca” or “pee pee” and the usual potty humor our boys share in the back seat. He probably said, “Christ is risen!” at least 100 times during our drive back that morning. Loved it!
It was totally weird walking into our hotel, most of the guests just waking up for the day and enjoying their breakfast in the lobby. It felt like the day was already half over!
The kids had a blast with the other kids at the park and of course with the egg hunt (yes, we still do them).
We made the very wise decision of Stephen taking half of Bright Monday off and so instead of driving home after the picnic we were able to go back to our hotel for early bedtime and wake up the next morning to take our time getting back. It was lovely!
Oh and many of the photos of the services came from the St. Athanasius photo album which is part of why I waited to write this because I was not taking many photos during the services. 😉