I know, I know. This is a literary website, so what’s with all the church stuff? But anyone who’s Orthodox knows that for Holy Week, your life as you know it stops, and it’s all you can do to keep from making everything about your church community (which is kind of the point for us).
Now that Holy Week is over, I’ll try to get posts back to being about literature and design matters. (For example, don’t forget that the Newburyport Literary Festival is less than a week away! Andre Debus III, Steve Almond, Margaret Love-Denman, Pam Painter, Verilyn Klinkenborg, and many other distinguished guests will be in attendance, and unless you’re an idiot like me and scheduled your vacation at the same time as the festival, you’re constitutionally obligated to go.) Nevertheless, there remain a handful of wonderful Holy Week memories I want to spread around, starting with last night’s services and feast at St. Mary’s.
First, you gotta understand: we Orthodox just spent six weeks fasting (being vegan essentially) and spent the last week in church an average of two hours a night. Last night, the culmination of Holy Week—Pascha, or Easter—we were in services starting at 10pm, on through to about 1:15am. We sing, chant, cross ourselves like it’s going out of style, process out of the church to bang on “princes’ gates” to announce the Resurrection—in other words, we’re physically and mentally exhausted, but also feeling joyous. So what better way to break fast and celebrate than with a feast that goes for a few more hours!
Orthodox feast by drinking, eating, eating, drinking, and being incredibly silly. (We’re batty by the end of Holy Week; last night the choir repeated a particular hymn, and almost no one noticed; Fr. Anthony blew a prayer at one point and got the giggles at the altar.) Best-friend-from-church Bill brought a bottle of fifteen year old Laphroaig. We laughed our butts off at our friend Will, who called it “laff-rogg,” and gave him credit for inventing the name of a new Muppet.
Chris and Abra, who also made a batch of rum-and-whisky tiramisu, brought some Dogfish Head IPA, one of the top brews of the mid-Atlantic states. I should admit at this point that I’m a complete freeloader; I can’t cook, and I had no time to buy anything for the feast. So when I said, “Boy, I’d really love one of Chris’ Dogfishes,” Bill took a long drink of his and said, “Whelp, shoulda brought your own.”
Wine and vodka is in abundance, lots of uzo and arak, and you can usually find one of the deacons asking for people to take shots of his infused vodka with him. Oh, but then there’s the food!
Ham, lamb, meatballs, Chinese food, brie, pate (apparently?), kielbasa, cakes, pastries, cookies, brownies, baklava, and anything else, all homemade, that we can drown in to forget the deprivations of the fast. Oh, but then, off to the side at its own table, is the Eritrean food—if it’s possible to say that the Devil maintained any foothold during a Paschal party, it’s with Eritrean food. On one hand, the smell of the Eritreans’ food is so glorious that to describe it I’d have to use profanity. On the other hand, this is what you say as you eat your first bite: “Mmmmmm, oh man this is good. This is so good! I can’t get over how—hm, getting warm. Oh jeez it’s got a kick, huh? Wow, this is really hot. Very hot. Hot! Hot! Son of a . . . ! Make it stop, IT’S MELTING MY FACE OFF!!!”
Evil, evil I say!
By 3am, the silliness had really taken over. Bill and I were quoting lines from Airplane! (“Cigarette?” “Yes, I know.”)(“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”) At one point I was laughing with my head on our table. Fr. Anthony made a quick speech to thank a parishioner for her work getting the feast ready, and someone said, “Don’t forget the Eritreans!”
“The Eritreans! Yeah!” Father said, sounding like a frat guy giving a shout-out to an upperclassman. Wooo! Eritrea!
Then a few minutes later, the man who taught my catecumen class silenced half the hall by finishing a story with the yelled line, “And she said, ‘Nuh-uh! You just bitch-slapped her!’”
I love Pascha! Christ is risen! Truly he is risen!
More St. Mary’s Holy Week links:
St. Mary Orthodox Church website
Photos from Great and Holy Pascha
Audio from Holy Tuesday’s Bridegroom Matins
Video of Good Friday procession down Massachusetts Ave.
Video of Vesperal Liturgy
My Holy Week photoset on Flickr
Buy a CD by St. Mary’s Boston Byzantine Choir, or listen to a sample.