The joyous Easter season or Paschaltide is finally here! In the Orthodox Church, this season starts on Easter Sunday (May 2nd) and continues for forty days until the eve of the feast of Ascension, which falls on June 10th this year.
Bright week is the first week after Easter Sunday. It is the most joyous time of the liturgical year in the Orthodox Church. It is not like any other week because of a few differences:
The second Sunday after Easter is called the St Thomas Sunday or Antipascha. This is when we remember the appearance of Christ to the Apostle Thomas, which happened eight days after the Resurrection.
Thomas was not with the rest of the disciples when they saw the resurrected Christ, so he didn’t believe them: “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands, and put my finger where the nails have been, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)
But Jesus appeared to Thomas and said: “Put your finger here and look at My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27)
Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” Christ answered, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:28-29)
Even though we have not seen Christ with our bodily eyes, we have all met Him one way or another in our lives. We have all had a look at His Kingdom and felt His grace at some point. And this is why we believe.
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
On the third Sunday after Easter, we commemorate the Myrrhbearers: Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Salome, Joanna, Susanna and others. After the Sabbath was over they came to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body. Inside the open tomb, they found an angel who said:
“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:6-7)
The Myrrhbearers were the very first people to hear the news of Christ’s resurrection that day.
On this day, we also sing the Holy Friday hymns, like this Troparion:
“The angel came to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb and said: Myrrh is fitting for the dead, but Christ has shown Himself a stranger to corruption.” (Holy Friday Troparion)
The fourth Sunday after Easter is dedicated to the healing of the paralytic which we read about in the Gospel of St John.
While in Jerusalem, Jesus came across a paralyzed man who has suffered for thirty eight years. Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well and then said:
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8)
Jesus cured the man who then picked up his mat and walked away. Christ performed this miracle even though it was a Sabbath and the law forbade to carry your mat on Sabbath. Christ shows us that after his resurrection the only thing that truly saves and justifies is faith in Christ, not the law:
“We have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
In the middle of the fourth week after Easter, we celebrate the feast of Mid-Pentecost. On this day, we remember what Jesus taught at the Festival of Tabernacles.
The Festival commemorated the wanderings of the Jews in the desert. During the Festival a priest would always mix water with wine and pour it over the altar - that way the jews remembered the gift of drinking water in the desert when Moses struck the rock (Numbers 20:11).
But Jesus said: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)
This is why, on the feast of Mid-Pentecost, a Small Blessing of the Waters usually takes place.
Here is a Mid-Pentecost hymn which explains why we celebrate this feast:
“Christ God, the Creator and Master of all cried to all in the midst of the Feast of the law: Come and draw the water of immortality! We fall before You and faithfully cry: Grant us Your bounties, for You are the Fountain of our life!” (Mid-Pentecost Kontakion)
On the fifth Sunday after Easter, Orthodox Christians remember dialog between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
Jesus asked the woman at the well to give Him a drink of water, to which she replied, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) At that time the Jews did not associate with Samaritans.
Here is what Jesus revealed to the woman:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13)
Christ also told the woman about the true worship:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Jesus’ words also reveal to us that salvation is offered to everyone: the Jews, the Samaritans, and all the other nations of the world.
Finally, on the last Sunday of Paschaltide, we commemorate the healing of a blind man. The man was born blind and Jesus healed him by putting clay that He made on his eyes. The man told everyone:
“The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” (John 9:11)
Once again, this miracle was performed on a Sabbath day, when clay-making and washing were forbidden by the law. By breaking the law, Jesus showed us that He is indeed the Lord of the Sabbath and is equal to God the Father.
On the Sunday of the Blind Man, we sing this beautiful hymn:
“I come to Thee, O Christ, blind from birth in my spiritual eyes, and call to Thee in repentance: Thou art the most radiant Light of those in darkness!” (Kontakion of the Sunday of the Blind Man)
The Orthodox Church approaches the Great Lent which will start on March 15th according to the Julian calendar. In order to prepare for the Lenten journey, the Church gives us four pre-lenten weeks to help us understand why we fast.
To the monastics of the Convent of Saint Elisabeth, the New Year is an occasion to reflect on the value of the Lord's generous gift of time and making the best use of it so we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven