Although he is regularly served expensive food, my white cat thinks I’m trying to starve him to death. He woke up early on Orthodox Easter, found the beet-red boiled egg I’d been given, and chewed one end of it off. Scattered around the gnawed egg, I found the pastel foil-wrapped chocolates the priest had sprinkled with holy water.
At the service I attended the night before, my friend held her three-year-old son in her lap. He wiggled and touched her face. He wore a little vest and tie and suit pants, reminding me of the little clothes I pulled onto my baby brother’s limbs, only sixteen years ago.
I loved how we passed the light, candle to candle, in the pitch-dark room. We do that at my church, too, and it’s gorgeous every time. With our flames in hand, we left the sanctuary to circle the building. This was a new thing for me. Off to the west, lightning tapped on and off. All around the building, and I was mostly thinking about how to hold my candle and trying not to run into anything.
When we got back to the front door, the priests and choir did some singing and proclaiming, basically winding up for the Easter pitch. One, then two, then four drops fell on my head, and I thought, will we really stand out here with the priests in the bright cream brocade, the torches, the big gold starts on poles, the incense, and let the rain pour down on us? I wondered, and wondered, and then we went inside.
I loved singing the same three phrases a million times: “Christ is risen from the dead/trampling down death by death/and on those in the tombs bestowing life.” We don’t repeat much of anything in the Anglican prayer book. That means you have only one time to let it sink in. I appreciate repeating words. It takes into account the slow, dumb nature of humans. After singing it twelve or twenty times, I actually started to think about “those in the tombs.”
Children in the sanctuary were wrapped in sleeping bags, fleece blankets, and Dad jackets. They slept and dozed and were walked up and down the aisle. The service had started at midnight. Then it was one. Two. (At my church, we do a long Easter Vigil, but it starts at eight, not midnight.) We were all probably drifting in and out of focus. Only the children could show their ebb and flow, their eyes closed or open, their bodies still or squirming.
I also loved hearing the lessons and singing in many languages: Greek, Russian, Latin, Spanish, Urdu, Belarusian. Especially the opening of John’s gospel in Greek. I studied ancient Greek to be able to read that piece in the original language. If you have that piece of literature, you don’t need anything else. It’s poetry, theology, philosophy.
After the service, we went outside again to bless the Easter baskets. I put Spanish wine and chocolates in mine. The others had candy and liquor, but also meat, bread, and dairy– they had observed Lent much more strictly. Our candles were used again, this time to light up the baskets, kind of like birthday cakes. The priest held a three-pronged candelabra and blessed our treats and how much we would enjoy them.
The evening culminates in a feast, down in the parish hall. I’ve seen a lot of drinking, but I’ve never seen grown people gulp bottles of beer so gleefully. That holy water must be effective… on people, and on cats.