Today is Palm Sunday according to the Julian calendar (and Easter according to the Gregorian calendar) and many Orthodox Christians, including the community of Nanwalek, prepare for the last week of the Great Lent, Great Week, to celebrate Pascha, Christ’s resurrection on the third day, on Sunday.
Easter, and preparation for Pascha, is the most important religious time of the year for Orthodox Christians. Nanwalek also observes this feast with great reverence and appreciation. For this reason, this is a good time to post a segment of the Easter Service I recorded a few years back. This section focuses on the Paschal Troparion – “Christ is risen from the dead, Trampling down death by death, And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” In Nanwalek, it is sung during the Russian Orthodox Easter Service in three languages: English, Russian/Church Slavonic, and Sugt’stun.
The segment captured in this video – also available on the Video Collections page – is from the Paschal Vigil during the procession around the Church. Fr. Sergei Active sung the troparion the first time for that year and it was followed by the Psalms.
Below is a description of Easter as part of Nanwalek’s social and religious life. I wrote this section for my dissertation in order to try to capture the meaning of Easter in Sugpiaq Russian Orthodoxy and for the community of Nanwalek.
“The preparation and the execution of the rituals, traditions, and customs are all carried out in a social context, complete with the observance and enactment of social hierarchy. Yet, Easter is a deeply spiritual event, a mystical transformation, where God, by the death and resurrection of His Son, grants the possibility of eternal life. It is a shared experience, which cannot escape all who go through Great Lent and the celebration of Easter together. I have never experienced such a complete understanding of communitas as when I was standing in the dark church with the rest of the community at the beginning of Easter service. We were waiting for Father and the rest of the church leaders to assemble the procession, this time not holding the plastenica (the shroud), but rather candles to symbolize Christ’s resurrection. After complete darkness, Father’s candle, the only light in the Church, illuminated the faces of the people we only sensed before. The light was slowly passed down, candle by candle, person to person. The doors of the Church opened, the bell started to ring, and we all joined the procession led by Father and the men honored with carrying icons and devotional items. After the third round of circling the church building along the outside walls with lit candles in hand, we gathered around the stairs to listen to the Easter Evangelium, and to sing the Easter troparion (hymn) for the first time; in English, in Russian, and in Sugtestun. Despite my attention being divided between my video camera and the service, I could feel the joy and reverence emanating from the people around me. It was an end of darkness, and light was to come. The time of sadness was over, and we were all overjoyed.
The feeling of happiness only grew during the several-hours-long Easter service. Around four o’clock in the morning, when the service and the blessing of the foods were over, laughter filled the Church as we all exchanged eggs, sampled festal foods, and greeted one another with the traditional Easter greeting: Kristusaaq Unguirtuq! Piciinek Unguirtuq!”