Orthodox Christians conclude Holy Week with Easter service


Sisters Maria Mavrodieva, left, and Lisa Mavrodieva work to make crosses from palm leaves at St. Elizabeth the Wonderworker Church in preparation for Palm Sunday services.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 at 4:02 p.m.

Correction: St. Elizabeth the Wonderworker Greek-Orthodox Church celebrated easter Sunday on May 5 following Holy Week, which ended with Saturday's midnight Service of Glorious Resurrection (Anastasis) and Divine Liturgy. An earlier headline on this story incorrectly described the time frame of Holy Week.

Panagiotes Mamangakis hasn't eaten meat or dairy in 40 days.

Mamangakis, an Orthodox Christian, has been eating lentils, vegetables and other protein-rich foods since March in observance of Lent.

The 19-year-old University of Florida sophomore breaks his fast Sunday in celebration of Easter.

While Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated Easter more than a month ago, Orthodox Christians base Easter on the Julian calendar.

The Orthodox Church observes Easter after the first full moon of the spring equinox and after the Jewish Passover, said Florin Curta, a medieval history and archaeology professor at UF. Orthodox Christianity has roughly 200 million adherents worldwide, and it dates back to the 11th century. The Christian church split over disagreements in theology in 1054, and the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church became separate.

The purpose of the fasting is to allow members to get more in touch with their spiritual sides, Mamangakis said.

“You allow yourself to become more connected to God,” he said. “There is a great emphasis on tradition, indeed. The Orthodox are proud of maintaining that.”

Orthodox Christians celebrated Holy Week this week, which began services last week in honor of Lazarus and Palm Sunday.

The Rev. Nikitas Theodosion, a priest at St. Elizabeth Greek Orthodox Church, said the church sees more visitors on Palm Sunday than any other day of the year.

During the past week, he said, there have been nightly services dedicated to the Passion of Christ, which is the Crucifixion. Mamangakis said that fasting becomes more intense during Holy Week.

Holy Week concludes tonight with a resurrection service that begins at midnight. The church also will celebrate with a mid-day service Sunday. Mamangakis said people will feast all day in celebration.

“Because we believe our church was formed at the Pentecost, we try to keep everything the way Christ wanted us to do,” said Mamangakis, whose favorite part of the week is the resurrection service. In one part of the service, all of the lights in the church are turned off and the priest lights a single candle, then everyone in the congregation lights their own.

“Symbolically, it represents Christ being able to raise everyone from the dead,” he said.

“Placing the emphasis on the resurrection makes the point that salvation for regular humans is possible,” Curta said.

Theodosion said the church sees a lot of visitors during their Easter services.

“It's a very beautiful service, and one that lots of people enjoy participating in and hearing and seeing,” he said. “There's an awful lot of symbolism in everything we do.”

Curta described the Easter service as an experience for every sense. He said it's filled with color, incense being burned and hymns.

“It's an extraordinary spectacle,” he said.

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