I had been planning it all week, but like all difficult things, when the time came to actually carry it out, I was lingering in the throes of early morning drowsiness. I have been trying for years to attend the Western Easter Vigil Service that I format every year for the parish where I am employed as an administrator. But for the last several years, the Eastern and the Western calendars have been in sync, and I would never miss a drop of Orthodox Holy Week, especially as I usually lead the service on the morning of Great and Holy Saturday.
But this year I had my opportunity, and I determined to seize it. I saw early on in the week that the monks at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist just across the river from me start their Easter Vigil at the ripe hour of 4:30am Sunday morning. Surely I could return from our parish’s Lenten Men’s Retreat in the Western half of the state soon enough to catch a few winks and rise at deep dawn to hasten to the tomb. But that was before I carefully reckoned the fatigue of driving two hours back and forth and the stamina of a 40-something year old. This morning, when the hour arrived to depart, I was listening more to Pastor Pillow than to my earlier enthusiasm.
But something or someone kept me from sleeping too deeply. I had not set the alarm as I did not wish to entangle the rest of the family in my affairs unwillingly and prayed that if the Lord wanted me to go, he would bid me to rise (like Lazarus). Well, my guardian angel did his part in waking me, but my response at first was less than prompt. Then the three hour length of the service and the words of songwriter Keith Green finally prevailed upon me, “Jesus rose from the dead, but you can’t get out of bed!”
As I quickly rose to catch the last hour of the sunrise celebration, the word that came to me most was the same one that propelled the women disciples who first witnessed the Lord’s resurrection: “Hasten! Hasten to the tomb, and announce the joyful tidings of resurrection!”
I am not sorry I did. I witnessed a monastery church full of people who proclaimed the resurrection not only with loud voices but with a boatload of hand-held bells which they vigorously rang at every mention of alleluia in Wesley’s treasured hymn, “Jesus Christ is risen today! Alelluia!…”
Happy Easter to all of our Western brothers and sisters, and here is a formal invitation to you all to celebrate with the Orthodox during our Holy Week in four weeks, April 28-May 4, and for the Feast of all Feasts, Great and Holy Pascha, bright and early on Sunday, May 5. If you are local to Boston, please see our own parish calendar for a service you might want to attend, or see this link for somewhere else in the country. Also, please refer back to the excellent article on Orthodox Holy Week for a further description of each service which may be advertised locally.