It has been commented that in a certain cathedral of our Russian Church Abroad Pascha is quite glorious, but in the monastery it shines forth with great warmth, if somewhat more humble. Perhaps this is due to the concentrated prayer and relative ascetic labors of conducting the full typicon of Great Lenten services with the ensuing atmosphere of great spiritual concentration and repentance. Even so, the monastery services on Pascha and Bright Week are very joyous and for Pascha the singing is quite glorious and joyful.
This year was no exception. Pascha evening, at 8PM, after an afternoon of cleaning and decoration of the church sanctuary, the reading is begun from the Acts of the Apostles. It is our tradition to read this in whatever language is desired. Meanwhile, the refectory has been festively decorated with colored dishes and platters of cheeses, Pascha cheese, the famous kulichi, or Pascha sweet bread, eggs, and chocolates, a true break fast.
At 11:15 His Grace, Bishop Luke, abbot of the monastery, is met by the monastery clergy, who proceeds to the altar after venerating the Shroud one last time. Thereupon the service of the Midnight Office commences, at the end of which, deacons and two priests return the Shroud to the altar and place it upon the altar table, where it will stay for 40 days. The church is filling up with the many pilgrims who have arrived for the feast of feasts. The large bell is rung very slowly and little by little faster until 12 midnight. The clergy, who have vested in their silver and white Paschal vestments attend to Vladyka as he begins the chant, “Thy Resurrection, O Christ God…,” censing the altar. This is repeated with the singing in a louder voice, and then a third time, with all the lights turned on and the Royal Gates thrown open. Thus begins the procession, out of the church and around once, only once on this night as the crowd is too large to do any more turns around the church. The clergy climb up upon the steps of the main entrance as Vladyka intones the beginning of Paschal Matins with the ensuing “Christ is Risen From the Dead,…” Straight after this, all return to the church with the full pealing of all the monastery bells. And thus starts Matins.
In the monastery tradition, the bishop and the clergy chant antiphonally the Paschal canon from the middle of the church, with the choir responding. Each clergyman in turn censes the entire church, announcing to the faithful as he proceeds, “Christ is Risen,” heard in Slavonic, English, Greek and even Spanish and other languages. It has become traditional to include even Georgian chants in the service.
Paschal matins is immediately followed by the Divine Liturgy. The Gospel is read in Greek, English, Spanish and Church Slavonic with the smaller bells being run. Many were the communicants on this night. At the end of the Liturgy, Vladyka blessed the Artosi, three of them in total. And then follows the Paschal greeting, all according to order.
This year, perhaps due in part to the multitude of pilgrims but also to having a bishop serving, the service was not over until almost 5AM. Then there was a procession, “with glory,” to the refectory with a trezvon of bells, whereupon the brethren, seminarians and pilgrims silently broke the fast after the special prayer permitting this was read by Vladyka, who also sprinkled the food with holy water.
At the end of breakfast, except for a few energetic souls, most immediately went to rest. At 12 noon a festive lunch was served in the refectory, again full of many pilgrims along with the community. After lunch, Vladyka Luke received all in his chambers for a reception, where people had the opportunity to greet His Grace with the feast.