The service celebrates Christ's decent into hell to free Adam and Eve and all who lived and died in anticipation of the coming of Christ. The beautiful hymn from the Liturgy of St. James is sung, "Let all mortal flesh be silent."
During this Vesper service, 14 different readings from the bible are read. The readings all refer to resurrection. The white vestments for the priest and deacons are laid out in preparation. At the point when Christ raises out of hell, the covers are changed. The priest, deacon, and altar servers change their vestments from the somber dark colors of lent to white. The words "Let God arise," are said. The altar cloths and candle holders are also changed at this time. The Eucharist is extended into an agape meal consisting of wine, bread, fruit, dates, figs, and nuts before the strict fast begins.
In the Orthodox Church it is the tradition that all services are sung or chanted. The singing and chanting is done accapella, without the use of musical instruments. The human voice is the only instrument worthy of praising God in the new covenant. Actually, the bell is the only instrument allowed.
The tradition of the Orthodox Church is one of congregational singing. The clergy, readers, and choir lead the congregation. Let us praise the Lord in song. The clergy, readers, and choir are to lead the congregation along.
As many of the services have responses and hymns that are unique in their right, a tremendous volume of music needs to be learned and practiced.
Saturday Night/Sunday Morning
Noctures and Procession, Matins of Pascha and Pascal Divine Liturgy - All the preparations have been for this night. The church is ready and the faithful have spent the day in strict fast. There is a sense of anticipation in the air. The church is darkened and the music selections are somber as during all of lent. The nocturns are sung at the tomb of Christ. All lights in the church are extinquished and there is a total darkness.
At midnight the flame from a single candle appears at the altar. The priest brings forth the light of Christ and gives it to the rest of the faithful. The entire congregation leaves the church in procession and proceeds around the church 3 times. While they are doing this, the tomb is removed from the church, all the lights are turned on, and all candles are lit once again symbolizing Christ's resurrection.
Upon finishing the procession around the church, the congregation gathers at the closed front doors of the church. The Priest knocks on the doors three times saying: Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. And a voice asks: Who is this King of Glory? The priest answers: The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. The priest the knocks again saying: Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. And again the voice asks: Who is this King of Glory? The priest then replies: The Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory. The doors are swung open and the priest reenters followed by the congregation.
The entire tone of the service is changed. The dim interior of the church is gone. The dark vestments and candle holders are also gone. The tomb and somber music are also gone. The church is as bright as possible. The vestments are bright and the singing joyous. It is the triumphal resurrection of Christ saving us from death and granting us resurrection. Christ is risen! Glorify Him. The Hymn "Christ is Risen from the Dead" is sung repeatedly with joy and power. The Cry of "Christ is risen" and the response "Indeed he is risen." fill the air. This is proclaimed in many different languages.
OCA - Christ is Risen! / Indeed He is Risen!
At the conclusion of the service, everyone present receives a red egg and the baskets are laden with food are blessed. All are invited to break the fast and break bread together.
Orthodox Christians as they are able, fast from all meat and dairy products for all of Holy Week and the preceeding forty days of Lent. After the Paschal Liturgy a pot luck dinner is served and as you can imagine, some serious eating goes on. The celebration lasts into the early hours of the morning.
Pm Sunday afternoon following Paschal Liturgy, the Agape Vespers service is celbrated. The church is bright and alive and full of children anticipating the Pascha egg hunt. Following a procession proclaiming the Risen Christ, the congregation gathers together to hear readings from the four Gospels in different languages proclaiming that Christ is Risen.
After the conclusion of the service, the children are turned loose on the unsuspecting eggs.
Christ is Risen