Long Island Orthodox Christians gathered together early Sunday and illuminated churches with candles and prayer in celebration of Easter, the holiest day of their calendar.
Congregants across Long Island cried out "Christos Anesti" and "Truly He is risen" to commemorate the day Christians believe Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. The Orthodox Church uses a different calendar than Protestant and Catholic churches, which celebrated Easter on April 4.
In services that began just before midnight, Greek Orthodox clergy spoke in multiple languages on altars festooned with candles and white flowers and on church steps surrounded by candlelight. Several noted that worshippers could celebrate this year’s holiday, perhaps not in the fullness of the pre-pandemic days, but with more freedom because they were allowed to attend services in-person again. Many Easter services were held virtually last year because of the coronavirus.
"What a wonderful and beautiful celebration this was," the Rev. Christopher Constantinides told parishioners at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Paul in Hempstead.
In a year of a pandemic and so much suffering, the holiday should remind congregants that "there is someone who transcends how hard life is" because Jesus was beaten and crucified, the Rev. Constantine Lazarakis told congregants at Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons.
"And what that means is every time we feel crucified, every time we get sick, every time we're broke, every time we're bullied, every time we're at our wits end, we don't have to go it alone. Because God is with us," Lazarakis said in a midnight service.
Clergy then spread the light of their lord and demonstrated their faith by extinguishing church lights and kindling worshippers' candles until the church interiors blazed in the dark. They then brought those candles outdoors for more prayer.
Those candles represent "the strength of God to defeat all of your challenges, to transcend all suffering and to know the joy of God's infinite love for eternity, no matter what the external circumstances of our life may be," Lazarakis said.
"Having prayed for a perfect holy peace for a sinless day, let's commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God," the Rev. Dean Panagos told St. John's Greek Orthodox Church in Blue Point.
Clergy passed out eggs as parishioners exited the church and wished them a good feast for the holiday known as Pascha.
"Let no one depart hungry," Constantinides said.
With Debbie Egan-Chin and James Carbone