Easter Practices in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Traditions

burning candle in a dark room, orthodoxAt Farenga Funeral Home, we are honored to be part of the diverse community that makes up Greater Queens and Astoria, and we love serving people from an array of cultural and faith backgrounds. In our work in funeral service, we see firsthand every day the comfort and connection to tradition that can come from embracing your family and cultural heritage and the traditions of your faith.

Many of the families in the Greater Queens community celebrate Easter, as a part of their deeply held Catholic or Greek Orthodox faith. During Holy Week, Christian churches worldwide retell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s a story of light overcoming darkness that has endured for thousands of years. Some of the traditions followed by our Orthodox and Catholic neighbors include reflection and rituals such as foot washing, cross processions, and live reenactments.

While there are similarities between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, the Orthodox Easter is often later than the Catholic one. This is due to the different calendars each church follows, as well the Orthodox Church’s adherence to the rule that Easter (also called Pascha) must take place after the Jewish Passover.

Orthodox Easter preparations begin with 40 days of strict fasting leading up to Easter Sunday. Many Orthodox Christians attend liturgies during Holy Week. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are reserved for the “bridegroom” services, which retell various parables and affirm Christ’s unconditional love. Holy Thursday features the Passion service, a retelling of the story of Christ’s arrest, trial, beating, crucifixion and death. On Friday afternoon, many attend the “unnailing” service and the lamentation or funeral service Friday evening. During this time, a giant wooden structure decorated with flowers and bearing a shroud with Christ’s image is carried in a procession around the church. A morning Resurrection Service, at which parishioners throw bay leaves and palms announcing that Christ has shattered the gates, is held first on Saturday. Then a vigil begins at midnight and continues until about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.

In the Catholic Church, Holy Week begins the Sunday before Easter with Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, marking the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The three days preceding Easter, also called the Easter Triduum, are especially important for Catholics.

Holy Thursday includes a reenactment of the Jesus’ Last Supper, which He shared with His apostles on the night He was betrayed and arrested. Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, features the veneration of the Cross. Holy Saturday is a vigil to keep watch for the expectant rising of Christ, followed by Easter Sunday.

Despite the difference in dates, there are many similarities between Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Easter customs. These include egg decorating, large communal meals, and Easter baskets.

Regardless of how your family chooses to celebrate Easter, and the reasons why you observe the holiday, the team at Farenga Funeral Home hopes you have a wonderful time with family and friends.