Pascha, Seen Throught The Eyes Of A Child
By Karen Verderber
Once upon a time, a little girl was brought to the Orthodox Church
every Sunday by her mother for worship. The two services were in English and Slavonic,
indigenous of the community surrounding the church. Attending Sunday liturgy became the
expected norm. When the little girl became five years of age, her mother told her that
now she was big enough to stay up late and attend the service her mother most loved
called Pascha or Easter, on Saturday at midnight. Preparation in anticipation of the
Pascal Divine Liturgy began weeks ago, but on Holy Friday, the little girls's mother
said that no television or radio would be allowed because it was a very sad day. Jesus
died and was lying in a grave at church. The mood in the child's household was solemn
and she saw her mother and grandmother crying throughout the day. That evening she
understood why as she and her mother bowed down before the grave three times and then
her mother picked her up to kiss the wounds on the shroud of Jesus. There were tears
in her mother's eyes.
On Saturday, the child was awakened by the smell of ham and sausage
cooking and the welcoming aroma of Easter breads baking in the oven. It was early morning
but she noticed how joy had replaced the solemn mood in their home from the previous day.
She eagerly joined in the food preparation and was given the very grown-up task of dyeing
Easter eggs. The traditional Slavonic foods had been carefully placed in the Easter basket
and at 10:30 p.m. sharp, the child and her mother would don their best Easter clothes and
wait at the bus stop holding a very heavy basket! Once they arrived at their church, the
little girl could see from afar, that there were many, many more baskets aligning the
church yard. Her excitement in anticipation of this wondrous evening was beyond words.
The church was filled with many strange faces that the child had never seen when they
attended church on Sunday. She asked her mother why. Her mother only responded that we
should pray for those people and not to worry about why they didn't come on Sunday. As
the little girl watched everyone kneel before the grave of Jesus, she breathed in the
intoxicating sweet smell of incense mixed with the perfume of early spring Easter lilies
and hyacinth plants adorning the altar. The sights and smells that permeated the church
on her first Paschal experience would be indelibly printed on her memory forever,
bringing feelings of love, promise and comfort. It was perfect!
Suddenly, in the dark stillness of the church as each person held a
taper, the choir began to sing. The child asked if there were angels singing in the church
tonight. Her mother responded that the angels singing were always here singing, but
tonight there were hundreds singing in celebration of Jesus going up to heaven.
Soon all the people processed outside and around the church three times
while singing, "Thy Resurrection, O Christ Our Savior, the angels in heaven sing, Enable
us on earth to glorify thee in purity of heart." The little girl held tightly to her
mother's hand until they re-entered the church. Everything now was bright and joyous
and when the priest would shout "Christ is Risen," the people would loudly respond
"Indeed He Is Risen," in both English and Slavonic.
After a time, the little girl's eyelids became heavy, but her heart
was light, and she fell comfortably asleep before the lengthy service ended. When she
awoke, her mother took her to the church yard to witness the blessing of the Easter
baskets while the choir sang "Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by
death and to those in the tombs bestowing life!"
The little girl has never forgotten that first joyous Paschal Liturgy
and the many, many more that followed. And now, even after fifty years, her senses
are still moved by the sights, sounds and smells she witnessed that morning. The little
girl did not realize it then but she will be one of the caretakers of the eternal stream
of praise that she had waited and fasted and prayed for all her life. Orthodox Christians
before her and after her will say, and sing and chant the same words as she heard that
morning. It was her privilege to be a part of this worship and she was blessed to be
introduced to it by a believing mother and grandmother.
By now, I'm sure you've guessed - that the little girl was me! The
child in me still waits in anticipation of Pascha: with joy and wonder and gratefulness.
May the child in you find this same sense of wondor. I wish you too, a