Apr 14, 2013

Easter or Pascha in Orthodox, Catholic tradition, and the Miracle of the Holy Fire

“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face!
             As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish; as wax melts before the fire,
             So the sinners will perish before the face of God; but let the righteous be glad.
             This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
             Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,
             and on those in the grave bestowing life.”*

Above given words of Paschal troparion  serve brilliantly to describe the importance and belief about
Easter ( in Eastern Orthodox churches, the more common name is Pascha, originating from Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word “pescha” meaning “Passover” ) both in  Eastern and Western ( Orthodox and Catholic ) churches. The  very date may differ, but the theology behind the holiday is nearly, exactly the  same. It is the most joyful holiday of Christians, for both, a promise of eternal life, victory over death  and salvation from the sin.

The very holiday the centre of Christian  faith,  and the way to the holiday is paved by long preparation period ( 40+ days ) marked with repentance, respect and forgiving and fasting. This journey starts with Pre-lenten Sunday, over the Great Lent to the Holy week , when it ends.

Important holidays during this period also include:

-          The Annunciation, a fixed ( in terms of time, 25th of March according to Gregorian, or7th of April according to Julian calendar ) holiday, as opposed to others listed bellow, whose date changes depending on the date of Easter.  This holliday commemorates  the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary ( Theotokos ) that she  would wondrously and without sin conceive  and born Son of G’d  . It falls 9 months before Christmas.
 -          Lazarus Saturday ( in Orthodox Christianity )  - commemorating the miraculouresurrection  of Lazarus by Lord Christ,  when He thus had  proved to be  messiah from the Old Testament prophecies
-          Palm Sunday ( in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, among latter  also called “Triumphal entrance” )  - commemorating entrance of Lord in Jerusalem on the back of the donkey, celebrated by folk,  laying down Olive and Palm branches, and flowers, hence the name. Entrance on a donkey symbolizes the coming of King of Peace, as opposed to customary entrance of Eastern kings on horses, when they would win battles or war.  Palm branch in Christianity represents martyrdom , and spiritual victory over evil,  all sort of calamities and death

-          Holy Wednesday – commemorating feet washing and anointment with Myrrh oil, of Lord Christ, by repenting women, and the betrayal of  Judas

-          Maundy Thursday ( or Holy Thursday ) - is any Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the last supper, and hence the  very Secret of communion
-          Good Friday ( or Holy Friday ) commemorating Lord’s   crucifixion and death, and is a day of utterly strict fasting, when, preferably, nothing is eaten the whole day ( in Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition ). It’s a day of sorrow, and sadness for Christians, though announcing the upcoming  resurrection and the victory over the death by Lord  Christ
-          Holy Saturday ( mostly in Eastern Orthodox Christianity called that way ) – commemorates the day of Lord Christ’s rest, and is a day to dye/color and decorate the eggs in most parts of Balkan peninsula

-          Easter  ( which always  falls on Sunday ) – commemorates the Resurrection of the Lord Christ

Maundy Thursday and the Good Friday in Orthodox Christian folk tradition

On Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday in Orthodox Churches liturgical colors are change from more sober Lenten, colors, to more festive like red, gold and white. Vine and oil are  permitted to consume, unlike the rest of the week Friday in particular.  Church services  held combine Vespers and Liturgy of St. Basil  the Great,  which are commonly followed by  12 gospels about Passion of the Lord. Later in the evening,  liturgical colors are once again changed to black to symbolize the forthcoming events   passion, crucifixion and resurrection.

 Folk people of Balkan peninsula believe how on this day, gates of Paradise are open, and that all who happen to die that day, will surely go the Heaven. Farmers do not work in the field, for it would cause hail to fall frequently during the year and destroy their crops.   They also claim that any act of charity and all alms will be noted in Heavens, as a noble act to  be  rewarded.

 In many countries, such as Malta, Philippines, parts of Latin America, and even Inida, it’s traditional to visit seven churches that day. In others  ( such as Denmark, Norway, Iceland ) the Holy Thursdays is regarded as public Holliday. In Uk it’s day associated with almsgiving, to senior and/or deserving citizens [1]

 The Holy Friday or Good Friday, being the first Friday before   the Easter, recalls the Crucifixion and the death of our Lord Christ, on Golgotha ( or “Calvary” in Latin, both meaning “skull” )  as a result of  various factors, such as betrayal by the Judas Iscariot, and persecution by the guardians and priesthood of the Jewish temple. All that had occurred in the time of Pontius Pilate’s dominion, who refused to take part in accusing and sentencing Jesus of Nazareth, himself, yet was unable to stop it, due to different reasons, according to speculations and theories ( for example forestalling and riot and keeping his job ) giving therefore  very little to go with, about the reason behind Pilate’s inertness regarding the matter. He did however, chose “Jesus of Nazareth, king of Jews” as an inscription for Lord Christ’s  sign indicating what he was accused for, thus infuriating the Jewish people greatly, more so when he stood against Jewish leaders and refused  to change it.  In any case,  the  crow were who suggested the punishment by Crucifixion,  which is generally  seen as a result of Hebrew Priesthood propaganda , well, a part of them anyhow. Jesus of Nazareth was consequently crucified, and agonized for six hours on the Cross, last three hours ( from Midday to 3PM / 15h) The land was overrun by darkness,  and when the Christ finally gave his soul to the Lord,  earthquake occurred, and the tombs broke open, and the curtain in the Templ e , was torn from downside upwards. Subsequently the rain started to fall, resulting in miraculous healing of the lepers. 

 The very death of Christ, is seen as voluntary act, as he  simply bows his head down , and “gives his spirit away”, previously making comment of such [2]

The church bells in Orthodox Christianity are not heard on the Good Friday (  it’s wise to  note here that   the  most  frequently used  name among the  Eastern Orthodox Christians is however “Great Friday” ) , and in some countries this is a rule abided for the whole week preceding Easter. It’s a day of mourning the Lord Christ’s death, a death of Messiah who even upon his last hours, in agony showed love and carrying for all the people, symbolically speaking a “lamb” that  took the sins of humanity on itself, to cleanse and deliver us.  In  the Churches , somewhere in the afternoon, or around 3.00PM, the Epitaphios ( an  icon in a form of large cloth, richly embroidered and adorned, depicting Christ’s body after removal from the Cross, laying supine [3]  used in liturgical service of Byzantine, or Orthodox Church on the last two days of the Holy week  ) is moved to the  altar ( more precisely a sepulcher, a table arranged in special way in front of the altar ), where it shall remain throughout the Pashcal season .  The faitful people in silence, humbly kiss  the Epitaphios ( most often the wounds are kissed ) , and thus paying in this manner respect to the Lord’s sacrifice. It’s a day of sadness and most strict fasting ( neither fish, nor oil , nor vine are allowed )  that is, preferably throughout the whole day, only water is drunk , while no solid food is consumed.

People in Balkan peninsula believe that  no sharp object should be handled on  this day, for such would be disrespectful for Christ and could , metaphorically “injure His wounds”. Weather  is observed  for divinatory  purpose s, If it rains, the fruit yields will be poor, contrary, sunny weather was a promise of abundant  fruit yields. The Gates of Heaven are considered to be open on this day. First series  of eggs, or in modern day , a single egg is boiled and dyed red on this day, possibly adorned with patterns such as Cross, Christogram or  alike, and reserved as a “house-guard” ( or. Slav. “Cuvarkuca”, literary ; Guardian of the House ) and placed on House altar, or otherwise on some special, nice place,  throughout the year, until the next Easter. This festivity , as well as dying the eggs themselves is done in memory of  legendary and miraculous egg that  had turned red in hands of Mary Magdalene, indicating that Lord Christ had resurrected. In some Christian legends, hens had lain red eggs on Easter,  which was a providence itself, for the Romans, who mocked   the prophecy of Christ resurrection saying that he will resurrect when the hens start laying red eggs. It is however more likely that the particular red color symbolizes Lord Christ’s  blood, suffering and resurrection, as the egg is  universal symbol of life, in and of itself. Here would  also be wise to note,  that it’s a new age myth, and a silly clap-trap of irresponsible authors that the custom ( of dying and decorating eggs ) has anything to do with Eostre, or Spring equinox, which is clearly stated by serious anthropological studies. Eggs were always used in funerary rites,  even before European paganism, yet they still did not form a central part  ( be it even symbolic ) of given religious practice. Africans dyed egg more than 60000 ago. If we were to follow this faulty logic, each time someone draw a circle, for any reason, they’ve stolen it from the cavemen who discovered the wheel. Simply put, no one has authority over universal symbols, they are just that, universal,  an most certainly  predate Paganism, hence I am sorry to break it to them, but New Agers did not invent  religious symbolism >.<

Moreover, symbolism of the Eastern eggs is in many places today vulgarly deconstructed and profaned . They are a symbol of New life, and  resurrection for Christians, and serve as symbols of such,  that are exchanged on the Easter by pious people, glorifying the gift of eternal life, and also creating friendly ties, expressing hospitability, and rejoicing in the time of the most joyful holiday of Christians, commemorating a cornerstone event of the whole faith, in not the modern human society in general. This is even more stressed in Eastern Christian Orthodoxy , and folklore, where the “House-guard” egg, other than being a powerful religious relic, of a kind, is a unique magickal tool of folk magick, with apotropaic and healing powers extraordinaire. Example of ritual in which this “sacred” egg is put to use is given later in the text.

 Easter, and miracle of the Holy Light ( Fire ) of Jerusalem

 Three days after his death, the lord Christ had risen, delivering also holy people form Hades ( He*l ) such as Adam, Eve, Old Testament Prophets,  and other. In the Sunday morning ( first Sunday after the Friday when the Christ was crucified ) Lord Christ’s tomb had been  revealed to be empty, proving thus  that he had risen from the dead, as previously stated by an Angel ( which is considered to be Archangel Gabriel ) and later by Lord himself, appearing to Mary Magdalene, his mother, The Most Holy Virgin Mary ( Theotokos ) and his disciples.

“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” ( Mathew 18: 8-11)  [4]
Lord then appears to his disciples in Galilee, as he promised, instructing them to spread his word, all over the world:

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mathew 28:16-20) [5]


With resurrection lord Christ had defeated Death, and  attained keys of Heaven and He*l, while also delivering humans from their sins. Hence why the event is a quintessential point in Christian religion, If not world in general. The greeting/s among the Orthodox Christian on this day, are  expressions : “Christ has risen”! with the other person replying : “Indeed ( or “Truly” ) he has risen!” mimicking the spreading of the word about Lord Christ’s resurrection, from Biblical times.  The whole week after the Easter is special, particularly Easter Monday, and Easter Tuesday, the two days that continue celebration of the Pascha ( Easter ). Among the Eastern ( Orthodox ) Christians, this week is often referred to as “Light” or “Luminous week” and the Light Wednesday and Friday are fast-free, as opposed to the  most of the year. 

Mircale of the Holy Fire or Holy Light
Yet the miracles associated with the Easter,  continue to occur even nowadays. One of the most enduring, attested miracles, is the Miracle of Holy Fire, or Miracle of Holy Light, taking place in the  Church of the Holy Sepulchre ( also called Basilica of the Holy Sepulchere,  or Church of the Resurrection ) , in Jerusalem. This  breathtaking, and wondrous phenomenon, is among the most renowned  miracles in the Eastern Orthodox  community. The Miracle occurs for at  very least 1000 years, though probably much more. However, the first written  records of it  are attributed to Bernard the Monk, and later by Russian iguman Danill ( Daniel ).

Chucrh of Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem
To ensure that the miracle is not some scheme or well-thought-out fraud, as well as to symbolically represent Romans who once went to seal the tomb of Lord Christ,  the representatives of Israel authorities,  inspect the tomb thoughtfully and  thoroughly,  making sure that there are no hidden tools or instruments that could ignite or spark the flame. Then they seal the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre with the wax until the ceremony.  After breaking the seal, the Patriarch enters, falls on  his knees, and in humility recites the ancient prayers, handed down to him by his predecessors, for sole purpose of invoking the Holy Light. The  Holy Flame/Light appears most often firstly as a glowing, sparkling hue of bluish light, and ignites the two candles that the Patriarch carries and will use to distribute the flame to the pilgrims, that come from all over the world to attest the miracle. However the Light also ignites pilgrims candles on it’s own , spontaneously , as well as the oil lamps hung in the second level of the Church and higher. It dances miraculously all over the chamber, and touches the hands and heads ( face ) of  the pilgrims, without burning them. In fact the fire ignited by the Holy Light/Fire does not burn, and is  reported to  have healed many, restoring their health miraculously.

 Here is the description of the phenomenon, as found on a website dedicated to the phenomenon [6];

“While the patriarch is inside the chapel kneeling in front of the stone, there is darkness but far from silence outside. One hears a rather loud mumbling, and the atmosphere is very tense. When the Patriarch comes out with the two candles lit and shining brightly in the darkness, a roar of jubilee resounds in the Church. 

The Holy Light is not only distributed by the Archbishop, but operates also by itself. It is emitted from the Holy Sepulchre with a hue completely different from that of natural light. It sparkles, it flashes like lightning, it flies like a dove around the tabernacle of the Holy Sepulchre, and lights up the unlit lamps of olive oil hanging in front of it. It whirls from one side of the church to the other. It enters some of the chapels inside the church, as for instance the chapel of the Calvery (at a higher level than the Holy Sepulchre) and lights up the little lamps. It lights up also the candles of certain pilgrims. In fact there are some very pious pilgrims who, every time they attended this ceremony, noticed that their candles lit up on their own accord!his divine light also presents some peculiarities: As soon as it appears it has a bluish hue and does not burn. At the first moments of its appearance, if it touches the face, or the mouth, or the hands, it does not burn. This is proof of its divine and supernatural origin. We must also take into consideration that the Holy Light appears only by the invocation of an Orthodox Archbishop.”

The ceremony is transmitted by TV stations in many countries, and can thus be attested by broad public, at least indirectly. However, it’s interesting to note that in the Western countries , extremely little is known of this  phenomenon, which is a shame,  despite the fact that  it occurs only on Pascha ( Easter ) celebrated according to Gregorian calendar, the miracle is there for all the faithful people, ready to pay proper respect to it, as  has been attested by numerous pilgrims over the years. It is wise to state that the ceremony , above discussed, starts on Holy Saturday.

Easter in Balkan peninsula also a time of power,  for cunning folk or folk in general, that regardless, of their religion, see it as  a time of exquisite and  unmatched power throughout the year. Likewise, dyed eggs and other “relics” and tools  used in  both family and official church  ritual, are a formidable source of power , and tools with amazing potential. 

One of them being egg. And not the chocolate kind  either J , it's in fact, an actual , hard-boiled chicken eggs, dyed, and sometimes  also  embellished with various shapes and  patterns.  These eggs, boiled and dyed during the period from the Good Friday to Easter, are then used  by faithful folk in a sort of game. They knock one egg on another, and the person who’s egg does not break, is the winner and may ( if they chose so )  claim the egg their opponent held, the one that broke. But there is much more to these eggs, as they are prepared and consumed to symbolically  commemorate Christian legend , that appears in host of versions, though each claiming that an egg ( or eggs ) had miraculously turned red, on Easter Sunday. I have even briefly mentioned few of them earlier in the text. The hard shell of the egg, in mind of early Christians represented  the sealed tomb, while cracking it represents  the  act of  Resurrection.  Easter eggs are blessed by the Priest  at the end of the Paschal Vigil, and distributed to the pious.  Here is one of the versions of the legend associated with origin of dying Christian eggs :

“According to tradition, during a dinner with the emperor Tiberius Caesar, Mary Magdalene was speaking about Christ's Resurrection. Caesar scoffed at her, saying that a man could rise from the dead no more than the egg in her hand could turn red. Immediately, the egg turned red. Because of this, icons of Mary Magdalene sometimes depict her holding a red egg. Also, this is believed to be an explanation for dyeing eggs red at Pascha.”  [7]

In Serbia, parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Montenegrin areas, as well as some parts of
An example of House-guard eggs
Croatia, a peculiar tresure hunt ceremony is appropriated on Easter, much like it’s done on Christmas. This is usually done in rural, village areas, and is some form of folk magick-style dedication ritual, which is reported to result in providential spiritual guidance of the participant towards the  buried treasure, which is, upon retrieval “judged” and  consequently liberated from protective curses, that may have been laid upon it, or simply from bad “karma”, energies and intangible imprints. More on magickal treasure hunting, and this Eastern European folk ritual associated with it, hopefully on another occasion here.

In modern days, people hide Eastern eggs, and  make children go “Easter egg hunting” , then again, I’d say that’s hardly a parallel  :-) 

The first egg, that was dyed, most often a red one,  is reserved throughout the year by Orthodox Christian and called “house-guard”, it has cultic reverence tied to it, and is  believed to  protect the  home  and family form all misfortune and evil, and possesses healing powers. Laying the egg on the skin of people who are ill, or under the influence of evil spell, followed by appropriate prayer or psalm, or rubbing the egg against the afflicted area, can alleviate or cure the condition. It is used in various rituals of folk magick, one of which is as follows :

House-guard egg invigorating ritual

This simple folk ritual is done on the Eastern ( Paschal ) morning to ensure the health and well being of household members, and to bless them.

In a clean bowl, cold spring water is poured, and the petals of Violet, Calendula ( aka Marigold ), some leafs of  Basil and Dandelion. The  first red-dyed egg is dipped with the   water with herbs, and used to touch forehead, chin, right cheek, then left cheek ( in that particular order ) of each and every member of the household saying:

“So that You are rosy and healthy as  red egg”

Finally each person is  ( using three fingers to besprinkle ) sprinkled with the water, and the water is, akin to the egg, kept for all the year, though in the fridge.

On next Easter, some use the remaining water and the house guard egg  , for divination, they simply open the bottle with the reserved water and crack the egg. If there’s no foul odors, household members may expect times of  joy. [8]

Easter/Paschal  light devotional ritual

Following is a simple ritual I composed that seems  very befitting ( but alas, I’m bias lol ) for this particular holiday season

It would be ideal to fast during this ritual ( meaning from Good Friday  until  the Pashca ) and refrain from evil thoughts, acts, and try to forgive Your trespassers. A sincere and often praying is also of great assistance.

Take a brand new white candle, wash it with some Holy ( or Consecrated, Blessed water ) or Florida water.  Do this on Good Friday. Than dip it whole  in melted red wax, once or twice shall suffice, You only need a light coating. In fact to even further separate two layers, You may lightly dress candle with glycerin prior to the dip.  Now keep the candle on the altar, undisturbed, wrapped in some nice fabric until the Saturday night. On a piece of paper, write the things that ill You as well as Your good wishes crossing and covering them, and try to keep it as simple and concise as possible. This is one of those cases where less is more.  Just before Midnight, in almost  complete darkness,  and silence, take the candle out, and break the red wax at the top , so that the wick, and a bit of the top part of the candle are free and exposed. Now light the candle and say the Troparion quoted at the beginning of this article, then burn the paper where You’ve written about Your problems and wishes, and then say the Psalm 68th and Psalm 23rd. which can be followed by heartfelt and sincere prayer of Your own. Let the candle burn all the way down.

I know the Easter has passed for my Catholic brothers ( who use Julian calendar ) but nevertheless , Happy Easter to all, Catholic or Orthodox,

Christ is risen !

Abundance of Blessings from Shadow :-)
NOTES: This article was composed and written by myself,  meaning, If You wish to  use any part of it elsweher online,  You may, but add   them credits;  Shadow of Shadows magick place, Shado-333@hotmail.com or a direct link to this post
* Paschal troparion , preceded with verses of Psalm 67 ( 68 ) as sung on the beginning of the liturgical service on Easter in Orthodox Christianity,  retrieved here from : http://orthodoxwiki.org/Easter

[5] Retrieved from the same source as under [5]
[6] Retrieved from the  website mentioned in the text, being : http://www.holyfire.org/eng/

[8] Translated and adopted from ( by myself ) : “Kalendar za srecne dane” ( lit. Calendary  for the  lucky days  )  by Jasna Jojic Pavlovski, more information on the book anf author can be found here:  http://www.lekiamajlija.com 

Other consulted  pages and resources:

Image source: Resurrection depiction by Noel Coypel is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700.jpg  , Image of the Holy Fire is a photography as found on source given under [6]  both used for illustrative and explanatory purposes here without any   bad intentions , the second  is as found on: http://www.holyfire.org/eng/ , image depicting Church of The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is from Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jerusalem_Holy_Sepulchre_BW_19.JPG , again  used for illustrative and explanatory purposes  only. Image depicting House-guard eggs, as part of Eastern Orthodox Tradition,  is from http://blog.b92.net/user_stuff/upload/843/vaskrs1.6843.jpg  and once again, used here for illustrative and explanatory purposes  without  any  bad intentions


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