Pascha night this year was warm and quiet in Sydney, Australia. At 11 pm, the thermometer still showed 22 degrees Celsius. It seemed that nature itself was rejoicing along with thousands of Orthodox Christians who gathered at, and in front of, SS Peter and Paul Cathedral, to participate in Paschal services. His Grace Bishop George of Canberra officiated, joined by the Senior Priest of the cathedral, Protopriest George Lapardin and Protodeacon Alexander Kotliaroff.
A remarkable unity was palpable among all who came to worship that night. People prepared well for this day, donned their Sunday best, many with children and grandchildren in tow. At 11 o’clock, candles were being prepared, and as midnight approached, flame was passed along from the church. The priests emerged in their white vestments, and parishioners with banners and icons greeted them amid the ocean of worshipers. Just before midnight, the great bells began to peal, announcing the moment of the Resurrection of Christ throughout the surrounding streets.
At midnight, during the procession of the cross, the clergymen declared “Christ is Risen” in Slavonic and thousands of voices shouted their response, “Indeed He is Risen!”
The Paschal matins is an especially joyful and festive service. The choir sang grandly under the direction of Andrei Laptev. During the singing of the second hour, some of the believers began to disperse to their homes to enjoy the traditional kulichi and eggs, which they had already gotten blessed. But most of the worshipers remained in the cathedral for another hour of services. As they emerged afterward, they kissed each other three times.
I met many acquaintances that night, not only from Sydney. There were people from Woollongong and Brisbane. “How could we miss the Paschal matins,” said one woman to me, “It fills you with joy enough for weeks on end.”
On the eve of May 1, Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral gathered Orthodox Christians to greet the Paschal night.
On this most important of all holidays, entire families of believers came for the festive services. Midnight office began close to midnight, but many people came much earlier. From 8 pm, readings from the Acts of the Apostles began, when every person was free to approach and read passages aloud in the church in whatever language he wished. At that time, the Rector of the parish, Protopriest Nikolai Karipoff, blessed the Paschal foods.
For all Orthodox Christians, Pascha is the main celebration of the year, a day of special joy.
During Great Saturday and after Paschal services, kulichi, cheese paschas, eggs and just about anything that was brought to the church was blessed with holy water, prepared for the feast table after the long and strict period of Great Lent.
Beginning on Paschal night and for the next forty days, we all greet each other with the words “Christ is Risen!” and “Indeed He is Risen!” The three kisses are expressions of the Paschal legacy we inherited from the Apostles and their disciples. We greet each other with these words and fraternal kisses after the celebration of the Resurrection of the Savior.
This was my first time present at Melbourne’s Paschal services, and in addition to the joy of seeing many of my friends and acquaintances, I also sensed how widespread this bliss was. The services were sung in their entirety, by the clergymen and choir. Despite the enormous number of worshipers, there was no sense of crowding. It felt truly special to hear the declaration of the Good News of the Resurrection for the first time that night. Melbourne contributed to our joy with splendid, warm weather, which only after the services served up peals of thunder and bolts of lightning, and a cleansing torrent of rain.
Christ is Risen!