When I was thirteen I was the only person in my family who liked church. My parents were lapsed Lutherans and I was in Lutheran catechism class, having been evicted from the children’s choir a year earlier because I turned alto. (So did my friend, and she and I were the mainstay of the children’s section of the choir so without us they had to abolish the whole thing.)
Easter came along. I’d been reading about celebrating Easter in Greece — it must have been in fiction, but clear enough that I knew that that was more about the Resurrection than what we got in a Protestant church. The Lutheran church in the Netherlands was at the time (early 1970s) throwing away all kinds of liturgical pomp-and-circumstance to stay in tune with the times or something, and I Did Not Like That.
So thirteen-year-old me stayed up until midnight on (what I didn’t know then was) Holy Saturday, said “Christos anesti” to myself, read a Resurrection Gospel, probably not the right one, and ate a chocolate egg that I’d painstakingly saved for the occasion.
This year it was a bit like that.
Spouse and I stayed up until midnight on Holy Saturday, said “Christ is risen”, held each other, drank a glass of wine and cried.
Strangest Easter ever, at least the strangest Easter since we started to celebrate it in the Orthodox church. Even stranger than the year that Spouse’s mother died on Holy Thursday and the only thing that kept me functioning was the reliable, predictable framework of the services. This time we didn’t even have that: there was only Hours and Typica every day of Holy Week, and there will be Hours and Typica every day of Bright Week. Even today, Easter Sunday itself, there was no more than that. Two people and Fr T in the church, maximum. There’s a signup list, which I put up (I had the relevant skill; same for editing and formatting the Hours for people to read), but I haven’t signed up for any of the days because it’s so much not the same thing.
I need the framework of the services. I know it’s possible to do all the important things at home but it’s the community, celebrating together, working together in the liturgical context, that’s the essence of being Orthodox for me, even though I don’t usually like to do things in a group. Some other parishes have livestreams, and I have a nagging feeling that I should watch those, but it’s not our community (if it was, I’d probably be singing at least some of the time) and I’d feel like I’m eavesdropping, outside-looking-in. For both of us, church is something we do. We serve, me in the choir and Spouse as hypodiakon in the altar. And being Orthodox makes it easy for us to serve instead of only listening.
On Holy Saturday Fr T asked me to help him dress the church in white for Easter: he the altar and I the rest. I couldn’t resist singing “Arise, O God, and judge Thou the earth” while doing that, just like we do every Holy Saturday, though I’m usually reading the verses while everybody else makes the church white around me. This is the moment of the resurrection for me, in normal years too, but much more this time. (Liturgy says I’m right: the Gospel read immediately after that is already a Resurrection Gospel.)
“Christ will rise without us telling each other” I wrote to a friend a while ago, and yes, so He did.