For many, Easter means going to church Sunday morning. But the religious high point of Easter actually arrives at different hours for different Christians.
That is especially true when the holiday falls on the same day for both western and eastern churches, as it does this year.
Eastern and western Christians calculate the day for Easter differently. The last year the dates coincided was 1984 and the next time will be 1990. The intervals are often more than three years.
Worshipers will be celebrating the biblical story of Jesus' Resurrection at all hours, starting tonight.
For many Catholics, the Holy Saturday Vigil services are very popular. As these people will be leaving their parishes this evening, Eastern Orthodox worshipers will be preparing to go to midnight liturgies. The Orthodox service includes a procession around the church and is usually followed by a festive meal at the church.
Early to Rise
Not too many hours after Orthodox Christians have returned home, some hardy Southern Californians will be getting out of bed, perhaps while it's still dark, to drive to an Easter sunrise service at some traditional outdoor site.
The bulk of churchgoers will attend services in mid- to late-morning Sunday. For large congregations, the large number of worshipers can cause seating problems unless the schedule or venue is changed. The 10,000-member Crystal Cathedral pastored by the Rev. Robert Schuller, for example, has scheduled four morning services, the first at 6 a.m. and the last at 10:45 a.m.
Only one Sunday service is planned by the 15,000-member Crenshaw Christian Center, a Los Angeles church pastored by the Rev. Frederick K. C. Price. But it will held for the sixth consecutive year in the Long Beach Arena, where 9,000 seats are available for the 10 a.m. service.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger M. Mahony will celebrate an Easter Sunday Pontifical Mass 10:30 a.m. at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, with the Knights of Malta, honored Catholic laymen, attending in full regalia. Mahony will also be in the archdiocese's cathedral for the Holy Saturday Vigil, which starts at 7:30 p.m.
For many Roman Catholics, in fact, the Easter eve service is about as well attended in parishes as the Sunday morning Masses, according to Father Joseph Battaglia, the archdiocesan public affairs spokesman.
Outside the Catholic parishes tonight one candle will be lit from a fire and parishioners will proceed into the darkened church, Battaglia said. As people work toward the pews, they will light their hand-held candles. The liturgy will begin with the "blessing of the new fire," accompanied by spoken references to Christ as the light of the world.
The liturgy also includes numerous readings from Scripture and the blessing of water--to be used in baptisms that evening, the next day and in upcoming occasions.
Light Over Darkness
The theme of light overcoming darkness will also be used by the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles in its traditional "Service of the Holy Flame" tonight at 11. As chimes strike midnight in the darkened church, a flame of light will shoot from the center of the chancel. Shrouds will be removed from the Easter lilies, the sanctuary will be filled with light and the choir will sing the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's "Messiah."
Meanwhile, Orthodox churches will have begun liturgies, sometimes quite lengthy, using traditions going back to their respective Albanian, Antiochian, Bulgarian, Carpatho-Russian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian or Ukrainian heritages.
At some churches, such as St. Innocent Orthodox Church in Tarzana, whose rector is Father Andrew Harrison, the emphasis is on the cross-ethnic and distinctly American character of the congregation. Nevertheless, tonight's 11:30 service at St. Innocent is patterned after the holy fire ritual used by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, according to a spokesman.
Walk Around the Church
After the fire ritual, the worshipers--like parishioners at other Orthodox churches--will go outside and walk three times around the church building before re-entering. After the formal service, amid greetings to one another of "He is risen!" a feast of traditional Easter food will be served.
Sunrise on Sunday will be at 6:17 a.m. Boy Scouts will light the trails up Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside, starting at 4:30 a.m., for worshipers going to what is said to be the oldest sunrise service in the country.
The nondenominational Mt. Rubidoux service, which will start two minutes before the official time of sunrise, will have Bill Bright, founder-president of Campus Crusade International, as its speaker.