On the evening of Holy and Great Thursday, my fiancee and I traveled in from the West Coast in order to celebrate Holy Friday and Pascha with my godfather, Fr Anastasios Hudson, and the community of the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos in Greenville, NC. At approximately 4:00 pm on Holy Friday, Fr Anastasios and those of us attending the Holy Friday service, where we pray Matins for Holy and Great Saturday, left Raleigh, NC, and drove 90 miles to Greenville.
Arriving at around 5:30 pm, we began to prepare for that evening’s service by placing flowers on the Kouvouklion, or funeral bier, where the Epitaphios, which contains an icon of Christ and represents His burial garments, is placed. Those present then venerated the Epitaphios, and the service began promptly at 6:30 pm.
The Holy Friday service is an especially beautiful service. Fr Anastasios and those present chanted the Lamentations in front of the Epitaphios, which speak of Christ’s burial and foretell His coming Resurrection. Fr Anastasios was kept especially busy during the service, going between serving as a priest and helping his psaltis, John, and I chant.
We then processed with the Kouvouklion outside the Church, around the perimeter of the property, while chanting the Trisagion Hymn: “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” At the end of the procession, the Kouvouklion was held high above the doorway, and those faithful present passed underneath it to receive a blessing. The Epitaphios was then removed from the Kouvouklion and placed on the Altar.
The Holy Friday service ended around 9:00 pm. Even though the service lasted two and a half hours, with the beauty of the service, it seemed to last only an hour!
We then traveled back to Raleigh at 9:00, and, after arriving safely at 10:30 pm, retired for the evening.
In the afternoon on Holy Saturday, we rested in preparation for the Resurrection of Christ: Pascha! After preparing various foods to bring with us for the celebration of His Resurrection, we left Raleigh at around 8 pm for Greenville. Arriving at 9:30 pm, we began preparing for the Paschal service. We began the services at 10:30 pm, beginning with Nocturnes, then Matins, and finally Liturgy.
Near the beginning of Matins, the lights were turned off and all candles extinguished, except for those on the Altar. Fr Anastasios then distributed fire to the candles held by those in the congregation, while he chanted: “Come, receive ye light from the Unwaning light, and glorify Christ, who is arisen from the dead.” It is always so beautiful to watch the Church light up with candlelight as more and more candles are lit. We all then proceeded to exit the Church, with candles lit, and stood outside the main doors, where Fr Anastasios read the Gospel. Fireworks were lit in celebration of His Resurrection, as is done in Greece. The Paschal Troparion was then chanted: “Christ is risen from the dead, by death hath He trampled down death, and on those in the graves hath He bestowed life!” Such great joy is brought by chanting these words!
We then proceeded back into the Church, and continued with Paschal Matins, followed by Divine Liturgy. Fr Anastasios would regularly say while censing, “Christ is Risen!”, and everyone cheerfully responded, “Truly He is Risen!” There was a record attendance this year for Pascha: 30 people! It was great to see old faces from when I went there in January for Nativity, and to meet new faces.
Following Liturgy, there was a potluck of many different types of meats and cheeses, helping us break the Fast and celebrate Christ’s arising from the dead.
At around 2:30 am, we drove back to Raleigh. Unfortunately, due to my and my fiancee’s schedule, we had to leave in the afternoon on Pascha to head back to the West Coast. Even though we were joyful because of Christ’s Resurrection, it was hard to say goodbye to our friends. God-willing, though, we will be able to return again soon.
Christ is Risen!