George Leakos (left) helps light the Paschal candle of Elena Speronis, 9, during a midnight mass in celebration of Holy Pascha or Easter at St. George Orthodox Church in Bangor early Sunday morning, April 4, 2010. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
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Karen and Chris Maas of Dover-Foxcroft (from left) and Olga Dobbins of Levant (right) participate in a midnight mass in celebration of Holy Pascha or Easter at St. George Orthodox Church in Bangor early Sunday morning, April 4, 2010. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
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The Rev. Adam Metropoulos (left) leads a midnight mass across from alter boy Joel Smitherman, 15, (right) of Orono in celebration of Holy Pascha or Easter at St. George Orthodox Church in Bangor early Sunday morning, April 4, 2010. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
BANGOR, Maine — The light of Christ filled St. George Greek Orthodox Church while many Christians were sleeping.
A few minutes before midnight Saturday, worshippers sat in silence surrounded by darkness inside and outside the small, unimposing church on Sanford Street. As the minute hand on the clock passed 12, the Rev. Adam Metropoulos raised one large, lighted candle to symbolize Christ’s Resurrection.
About 100 people attended the 2½-hour Resurrection Liturgy, which has remained unchanged for centuries. Worshippers lighted their candles from the one held by the priest, and the sanctuary soon blazed with light as they marked the holiday they call Pascha.
“It has a lot of meaning because the Easter service is the crescendo to all that has happened in the liturgical year,” Kyriacos Markides, 67, of Stillwater said after the service concluded. “Eastern Orthodoxy moves you toward God with your soul and all of your senses.”
Christians observe Easter on same day
This year, Eastern Orthodox and Western Christians observed Easter, their most sacred Sunday, on the same date. Most years, the two mark the Resurrection of Christ on different Sundays.
Western Christians use the Gregorian calendar to calculate when Easter will fall. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to use the Julian calendar to set the date for Easter. Both traditions determine Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon that happens upon or is the next after the vernal equinox, which falls around March 21. If the full moon is on a Sunday, then Easter is the next Sunday.
The Eastern Orthodox Church, however, still observes the rule laid down by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325: Easter shall never precede or coincide with the first day of Passover, but must always follow it. The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, Orthodox Christians point out.
The two Easters also will overlap next year on April 24, but will be celebrated a week apart in 2012.
Conducted in Greek and English, the service especially engaged worshippers’ sight, smell, taste and hearing, said Markides, a native of Cyprus who has written extensively about Eastern Orthodox mysticism.
Candles and icons, painted in a style unfamiliar to most Western Christians, dazzled the eyes; incense and bay leaves scattered in the aisles tickled the nose.
The bread and wine of Communion charmed the taste buds, others observed. The feel of the eggs, hard-boiled and dyed the color of Christ’s blood, which were passed out at the end of the service, engaged the touch.
While many Western Christians in Maine attended sunrise services on Sunday, few stayed up until nearly 3 a.m. to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection.
“My friends think this is kind of crazy, but it’s tradition for me, and they respect that,” Madison Luck, 15, of Mount Desert said after the service. “It’s just a beautiful service.”