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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Christos Anesti

I'm on the Amtrak train 82, heading up to Boston to join my friends for The Great Vigil of Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church.

The service begins at 9 PM and is expected to end at 1:30.

That would be AM.

And then, I'm told, we eat.

And then, we'll go home and collapse so we can get up early and start cooking for the 10 or 12 people who are coming to Greek Easter Dinner at my friend's house.

And, we'll eat again.

I am anticipating that, at church tonight, we will probably be chanting and incensing everything that isn't nailed down and a few things that are. Well, the men and boys will. Women are not ordained in the Greek Orthodox Church. Probably never will be. Not in my lifetime.

That doesn't mean I can't enjoy the liturgy, which will, no doubt, be splendid.

I haven't been to a Greek Orthodox service in a long, long time. My very first time was a week after I was ordained to the transitional diaconate. We were living in Lowell, MA, at the time and I was the University Chaplain there.

It was, in a word, amazing. I didn't understand much of what was being said (It was all Greek to me - tee hee), but no one, it seemed, needed a reason or an excuse to get up and process and chant.  Or, carry large rapidly melting candles around the dark church. Or, swing a heavy pot of incense, billowing smoke all over the church.

People also seemed to leave the service, walking outside the steps of the church, and take a break when they needed to. Men were outside smoking cigarettes and talking sports. Women went downstairs in the kitchen to check on the lamb and roasted potatoes and vegetables, or help someone carry in yet another HUGE pan of home made baklavah from the car.

People also crossed the aisle of the church to greet each other and have light conversation. No one whispered but voices were kept respectfully lower than the chanting and the prayers.

When it was time to proclaim Christ Risen - Oh. My. Goodness! Lights up! Bells ringing! Everyone joyfully shouting, "Christos Anesti!" We were absolutely SOAKED with Holy Water as the priest came by and reminded us of our baptism in Christ.

I loved it. Every blessed minute of it. 

Today, our Jewish friends continue "Counting Omer" - a measure of barley - which mark the days between Pesach (Passover) and Shavu'ot (the gift of the Torah and the giving of the two loaves of bread). It's the 8th day. Well, tonight is. Religious Jews begin counting the day the night before.

What? You want they should be late? Too early is better than too late. Always. You could always have a sandwich while you're waiting. Maybe even a piece of fruit. Hey, ya gotta eat!

There are two biblical warrants for Counting the Omer
You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days... -Leviticus 23:15-16

You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu'ot for the L-RD, your G-d -Deuteronomy 16:9-10
So, there are 49 days between Pesach and Shavu'ot. The counting, I'm told by my Rabbi friends, is intended to remind us of the link between Passover, which commemorates the Exodus, and Shavu'ot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. It reminds us that the redemption from slavery was not complete until we received the Torah.

My Rabbi friends also tell me that Counting Omer reminds us that every day is precious and we are to use our God-given liberty to the glory of God and the betterment of all humankind.

There's a blessing prayer that's always said as a mitzvah. My friend Lindy pointed me to a website that will send you a daily reminder of Counting Omer, along with the blessing prayer.
Baruch Atah Ado- nai, Elo- heinu Melech Ha-Olam, Asher Kid'shanu B'Mitzvosav (or B'Mitzvotav), V'tzi-vanu al Sefiras (or Sefirat) Ha'Omer.

Blessed are You, Ado- nai our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has Sanctified us with His Commandments, and has Commanded us regarding the Counting of the Omer.

Hayom shimonah yamim sheh-haim shavuah echad vih-yom echad ba-omer
Today is the 8th day, which is 1 week and 1 day, of the omer.
Depending on how you mark and celebrate or sanctify and make time holy, today will either be the 6th Day after the Resurrection, the Anticipation of the Second Sunday in Easter - OR - the Great Vigil of Easter - OR - the 8th Day of Counting Omer.

In any event, we're all on a journey, trying to make the blessing of each day count as we try to be a blessing for others and find the joy in our liberation and salvation.

At this very moment in time, I happen to be on a train, sitting next to a squirmy-wormy, relentlessly joyful 15 month old girl who is busy counting the gray hairs on the head of the man sitting across the aisle from us - when she isn't poking her fingers up his nostrils or in his mouth -  while her mother tries to rescue him from her and he continually laughs and assures her that, "It's fine. She's fine. I'm fine. Relax, momma. It's all good."

I think there's a sermon in there, somewhere. Or, at least a message for the day.

Happy Easter!

Christos Anesti!

Blessed Omer!

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey in faith, and whatever you're doing today, however you happen to name it, try to make the day count!


Bex said...

Alithos Anesti! I'm going to the Greek Orthodox Paschal service tonight starting at 11. I wish you a Kalo Anastasi.

JCF said...

The thing about Orthodox services: they're very long . . . but it's considered completely kosher to come & go during. Cigarette breaks, squirrelly children, bathroom, whatever. Ya do whatcha gotta do. Just be there to get yer Divine Liturgy "Lovin' Spoonful"/Kiss the Icon, near the end. [Well, you'd get the lovin' spoonful if you were receiving. Which I presume you probably aren't.]

Unknown said...

I am an Orthodox writer living in Greece and am in the process of converting my book "A Glimpse of Heaven, an introduction to Greek Orthodox churches and worship" into Kindle format. I would be very grateful if I could use this photo as an illustration. I would, of course, give acknowledgement of your copyright.

As a former Anglican, I find your blog very interesting and will put a link to it on my own blog, whether or not you give permission.

Thank you very much for your time.

Chris Moorey


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Chris,

I wish I could give you permission to use this, but I nicked it off the the internet. There was no copyright and no credit given at the site where I found it.

Sorry, wish I could be of more help. Good luck with your book. I'm trying not to be jealous of you living in Greece. It's such a beautiful country.

And, thanks for the link to my blog. I'll check yours out, as well.