by death He conquered death.

resurrection of Christ

resurrection of Christ

Before we head into the kitchen to bake Resurrection Cookies again, I wanted to share this beautiful encounter between Christ and Adam when He descended into Hades.

We know that Christ was crucified on Thursday, and when His soul left His body, it spent three days and three nights in Hades.  We read in Matthew 12:40, For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

We also know that St. John the Forerunner (Baptist) was not only His forerunner on earth, but also in hell.  This is why we see him depicted in some icons with wings.  Because after the second coming, St. John will take the place of Lucifer as head archangel.  Full story here

For those of you in the Psalter Group, you are definitely familiar with Psalm 24.  For those of you not in the prayer group, perhaps you recognize the following passage from the pre-communion prayers or simply from the book of Psalms.  But I think it’s really interesting to learn who was actually saying the words spoken of in the Psalm.  We read in that Psalm that Christ descended into hell “divinely, in warlike… lordly fashion.”

The book The Feasts of the Lord tells us,

Christ descended into the sunless prison of Hades with thousands, myriads, tens of thousands and thousands and thousands of angels.  Before He reached reached the gates, Gabriel, the leader of the heavenly host arrived to announce the coming of Christ.  He said,

“Lift up the gates, ye princes.”

And Archangel Michael cried:

“and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors”.

The powers of the angels said: “stand aside, door-keepers, outlaws”.

And the authorities: “break chains, break your chains…Tyrant outlaws, be afraid.”

Christ appeared in Hades and caused great fear, tumult and horror.  Whereupon the leaders of Hell cried out loudly,

“Who is this King of Glory?”

Then all the powers of heaven cried:

“The Lord strong and mighty.  The Lord mighty in battle… The Lord of the powers, He is the King of Glory.

St. Epiphanios describes wonderfully Adam’s conversation with Christ.  Adam heard Christ’s footsteps approaching, just as he had heard them in Paradise after his transgression and disobedience.  Then, he had felt trepidation and fear, but now he felt joy and gladness.  The repentant Adam cried out to all the souls:  “My Lord be with you all”.  And Christ replied:  “And with thy spirit.”  And Christ took Adam by the hand, raised him up, telling what he had done for his salvation, as well as for the salvation of the entire human race.

Just thinking about this fills my soul with joy and gratefulness to Christ our God, knowing that not only did He suffer and be crucified, even after death He continued to fight for our souls.  May we become worthy of His gift.

Many prayers to all of you for a joyous and blessed Pascha! I’m still a little early but,

Christ is Risen!  Indeed He is Risen! 

Holy Week Coloring Pages

holy thursday

Some of you have emailed or sent messages via Facebook, asking about the Holy Week coloring pages.  I have re-uploaded the images and wanted to post a link so you could access them without a lot of searching. [Read more…]

Resurrection Cookies Recipe

resurrectioncookies

resurrectioncookies

I post a link to these awesome cookies every year, but this year I found this photo that summarizes the steps and so I thought I’d share it with the recipe again. It’s a great way to teach children the story of Christ’s Crucifixion and it helps them share in the joy of His glorious Resurrection! [Read more…]

What it’s all about…

christ-the-bridegroom

[Read more…]

Paschal Traditions

HolyWeekTreasureMap

Last night, we watched The Passion on Netflix.  I really need to watch it once a week to help me remember the sacrifice He made for us.

Ace watched it for the first time, too.  Normally, he watches Jesus of Nazareth but this year he really wanted to watch it, so I let him.  He covered his face during some of the scenes and became pretty emotional and I started to wonder if maybe he was still a little young for it but then he got up and read the Akathist to the Cross of Christ after it was over.  I’m glad he felt those emotions and is beginning to understand what Holy Week, and ultimately our entire Faith, is based upon. [Read more…]

This Is How We Do It: “Greek” Easter

I’ve always sort of cringed at the words “Greek Easter” for the simple fact that it’s not “Greek” Easter, it’s “Orthodox Easter”.  It is celebrated the exact same way (save cultural traditions), and has been for thousands of years, in not only Greece, but Russia, Serbia, Armenia, Syria and in every other Orthodox church around the world.

I was recently sent this article by actress Rita Wilson (wife of Tom Hanks) and I wanted to share it with all of you.

I’ve added some of our personal photos below, for those of you who may not be familiar with some of the things mentioned in the article.

Why Easter is Greek to Me: Xristos Anesti!

by Rita Wilson

From the Washington Post.com

(Actress Rita Wilson, whose mother and father both were born in Greece, is widely credited with landing Nia Vardalos a movie deal for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Wilson and her actor husband Tom Hanks had their own “Big Fat Greek Wedding” in 1988. They have two children.)

Why Easter is Greek to Me: Xristos Anesti!

Once every few years, Greek Easter falls the same week as “American Easter,” as it was called when I was growing up.

In order for “Greek Easter” to be celebrated the same week as “American Easter,” Passover has to have been celebrated already. We Greeks don’t do Easter until after Passover, because how can you have Easter BEFORE Passover? Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, after all. Unless it is one of the years when the two holidays align. Like this year.

Here are some of the things that non-Greeks may not know about Greek Easter: We don’t do bunnies. We don’t do chocolate. We don’t do pastels.

We do lamb, sweet cookies, and deep red. The lamb is roasted and not chocolate, the sweet cookies are called Koulorakia and are twisted like a braid, and our Easter eggs are dyed one color only: blood red. There is no Easter Egg hunt. There is a game in which you crack your red egg against someone else’s red egg hoping to have the strongest egg, which would indicate you getting a lot of good luck.

Holy Week, for a Greek Orthodox, means you clear your calendar, you don’t make plans for that week at all because you will be in church every day, and you fast. Last year, in addition to not eating meat and dairy before communion, my family also gave up sodas for the 40-day Lenten period. (Editor’s Note: Read why our eggs are dyed red here.)


During one particularly stressful moment, there were many phone calls amongst our kids as to whether or not a canned drink called TING, made with grapefruit juice and carbonated water was, in fact, a soda and not a juice, which our then 10-year-old decided it was, so we had a Ting-less Lent.

No matter where I find myself in the world I never miss Easter, or as we call it, Pascha. I have celebrated in Paris, London, New York City, Los Angeles, and in Salinas, California at a small humble church that was pure and simple.

When we were kids, our parents would take us, and now as parents ourselves we take our children to many of the Holy Week services including the Good Friday service where you mourn the death of Jesus by walking up to the Epitaphio, which represents the tomb and the crucified body of Christ, make your cross, kiss the Epitaphio, and marvel at how it was decorated, on Friday afternoon by all the women and children, with a thousand glorious flowers, rose petals and smells like incense.

Some very pious people will crawl under the Epitaphio. I have always been so moved to see this. There is no self-consciousness in this utter act of faith and love. There is no embarrassment to show symbolic sorrow at the death of our Savior.


At a certain point in the Good Friday service, the Epitaphio is carried outside by the deacons of the church, as if they are pall bearers, followed by worshippers carrying lit candles protected from dripping on your clothes and on others by having a red plastic cup that sits below the flame to catch the wax drippings. Every Greek person knows all too well the smell of burning hair.


One time, in London, I smelled something and turned to look at where the smell might be coming from, only to be horrified that it was coming from me and my head was on fire. But I digress.

It is somber and quiet as we follow the Epitaphio, in candlelight, from the altar to the outdoors, in order for it to circle the church before it returns back to the altar. We sing beautiful lamentations that make your heart break with their pure expression of sadness and hope.

One of my favorite services during Easter is Holy Unction. This happens on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Holy Unction is a sacrament. It is for the healing of our ills, physical and spiritual. It is preparing us for confession and communion. This sacrament has always been so humbling to me.

When you approach the priest for Holy Unction, you bow your head and as he says a prayer and asks for your Christian name, he takes a swab of blessed oil and makes the sign of the cross on your forehead, cheeks, chin, backs of your hands and palms. It is a powerful reminder of how, with faith, we can be healed in many ways.

The holy oil is then carefully dabbed with cotton balls provided by the church so you don’t leave there looking as if you’re ready to fry chicken with your face, and before you exit the church, you leave your cotton balls in a basket being held by altar boys, so as not to dispose of the holy oil in a less than holy place. The church burns the used cotton balls.

There have been times when I have left church with my cotton ball and have panicked when I am driving away. At home I take care of it. Imagine a grown woman burning cotton balls in her sink. But that is what I do.

Midnight Liturgy on Saturday night, going into Sunday morning is the Anastasi (Resurrection) service. We will arrive at church at around 11 p.m., when it starts, and listen to the chanter as he chants in preparation for the service. My kids, dressed in their suits and having been awakened from a deep sleep to come to church, groggily sit and wait holding their candles with plastic cup wax catchers.

As the service progresses, the moment we have all been waiting for approaches. All the lights in the church are all turned off. It is pitch black. It is dead quiet. The priest takes one candle and lights his one candle from the one remaining lit altar candle, which represents the light of Christ’s love (I believe).

From this one candle, the priest approaches the congregation and using his one candle he shares his light with a few people in the front pews. They in turn share their light with the people next to them and behind them. In quiet solemnity, we wait until the entire church is lit with only the light of candles; the light that has been created by one small flame has now created a room of shared light. (Editor’s Note: See Miracle of the Holy Light that takes place in Jerusalem at the tomb of Christ every year.)

And at a moment that can only be described as glorious, the priest cries out, “Xristos Anesti!” “Christ is Risen!” We respond with “Alithos Anesti!” “Truly, He is Risen!” We sing our glorious Xristos Anesti song with the choir. That moment, which happens about an hour, to an hour and half into the service and seems as if the service is over, actually marks the beginning of the service. The service then continues for another hour and a half.

When I was a kid, after the service was over, we would go to the Anastasi Dinner that the church would throw in the church hall, where we would break our fast, drink Cokes at 2:30 in the morning, dance to a raucous Greek band and not go home until our stomachs were full of lamb, eggs, Koulouraki, and we saw the sun rise. Or was it the Son rise?

But usually now, after Midnight Liturgy, we drive home with our still-lit candles. I always love seeing the looks on people’s faces as they pull up to our car seeing a family with lit candles calmly moving at 65 m.p.h. down the highway. When we get home, we crack eggs, eat cookies, drink hot chocolate (so not Greek) and I burn a cross into our doorways with the carbon from the candle smoke to bless our house for the year. (Editor’s Note: This tradition is in remembrance of the mark made on top of the Israelites doors during Passover.)

There have been many times when painters touching up the house have wondered why there was this strange black cross burned into our doorways.

The next day is usually followed by a late sleep in, then getting up and doing the same thing you just did but in the daytime at the Easter Picnic, usually held at a local park.

I have to say, the Greeks know how to do Easter. Make no mistake. This is the most important holiday in our church. It is a beautiful week. I haven’t even begun to touch on what the week is really like. This is a sampling of a sampling of what it is like. It is so much deeper, so much richer than I have written here.

But one thing is clear. It is a powerful, beautiful, mysterious, humbling, healing and moving week. It is filled with tradition and ritual. It is about renewal and faith. And even though it is still too early to say, Xristos Anesti! Alithos Anesti! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Holy Week Activities for Kids

In preparation for Holy Week, I try to find some fun activities to get the boys involved. This year, since I can’t attend any of the services (I’m still in my 40 days), I have even more time to spend reading about holy week and doing various activities with them.

One thing we all love are the Resurrection Eggs from FamilyLife ministries. There is an Orthodox translation of the booklet (also available from Phyllis Onest) called Pascha Eggs that we use every year. This is a great activity that both of my boys enjoy (that is becoming more difficult as Ace gets older and is no longer interested in “baby” games, etc.). We bought our set from Wal-mart quite a few years ago, but I know Hobby Lobby (print a 40% off coupon) and most Christian bookstores carry them too.

I also pulled out our JOURNEY TO PASCHA: A Daily Guide Through Holy Week binder. It is available through the Greek Archdiocese and can be downloaded for free here. The booklet goes through each day of holy week, describing each service and explaining what it means. There is an icon for each day as well.

Last year, I printed out the story explaining why we dye our Pascha eggs red. I added it to the back of our binder along with the coloring sheets for holy week. It is available here from Orthodox Christian Education. The coloring sheets can be found here (sorry for the scribbles) :).

The most recent thing I printed out is the Lenten Board Game from Phyllis Onest, director of education for the Pittsburgh metropolis (GOA). It has over eighty questions and answers and the board is composed of various icons from holy week, etc. The questions are a little advanced for Lucky, and some even for Ace, but I just paraphrase those ones into something slightly different to help them understand or make up my own questions on the really tough ones.

Listen to my latest interview on Come Receive the Light. The topic is Surviving Holy Week with Children.