Hundreds of thousands of Southern Californians will celebrate Easter late tonight and early Sunday, the last time this century that the date of Christendom's most important holiday coincides for Western and Eastern churches.
Eastern Christian tradition requires that the day recalling Gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection be observed after the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, in keeping with the sequence in the New Testament. Although the Easter dates for the two branches of Christianity usually coincide every four or five years, the next time will not be until April 15, 2001.
The 70th renewal of the Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service, which follows the Western religious calendar, will reflect the dual celebration this year by having two principal sermons--one by Father James Pappas, a priest at Los Angeles' St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and the other by Episcopal Bishop Frederick Borsch of the six-county Los Angeles Diocese.
Outdoor sunrise services are a popular tradition in the normally balmy Southland. The services atop Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside and Mt. Helix in La Mesa have been held even longer than the Hollywood Bowl observance.
But few Orthodox Christians are likely to show up. That's because the liturgical high point for Eastern Christians comes at midnight tonight when darkened church interiors are brightened to proclaim "Christ is Risen."
At St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Redondo Beach, for instance, Father Fred G. Fotion, holding a lighted candle, will announce, "Come, receive the light," and the flame will be spread to candles held by parishioners. The congregation will then file outside the church to symbolize Christian missions to the world. At many Orthodox churches, the midnight liturgy is lengthy and often followed by the exchange of Easter eggs and a fellowship meal.
In Roman Catholic parishes and in many Episcopal churches, Holy Saturday vigil services are planned for tonight. Archbishop Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, who will take part in the traditional blessing of the animals at 2 p.m. today at the plaza near Olvera Street, also will preside at the 7:30 p.m. Easter Vigil at St. Vibiana Cathedral.
Many Protestant churches have expanded schedules of services Sunday morning, and some have sunrise services on their own grounds. Two such outdoor services--in exceptional ocean-view settings--are scheduled for 6 a.m. at Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, a church affiliated with the Swedenborgian Church, and for 6:15 a.m. at Malibu Presbyterian Church, 3324 Malibu Canyon Road.
Several interdenominational services for worshipers interested in greeting the dawn at 5:34 a.m. also are available.
The Hollywood Bowl service is one of the longest--from 5:15 to 7 a.m. It will parade 13 clergy, several of them of Eastern European heritage, and half a dozen choirs off and on the stage. Joining them will be actors Charlton Heston and Rhonda Fleming as well as soloists Bob Ralston, former musical director of the Lawrence Welk TV program, and 13-year-old flutist Gregory Jefferson, among others.
The 5:30 a.m. service on Mt. Rubidoux, a ridge that is easily reached on paths with the help of flashlight-bearing Boy Scouts, features a talk by Norm Nelson, speaker for the radio program, "The Morning Chapel Hour," music by the 50-voice Ramona High School Choir and solos by Horace Stevens.
Sunrise services at four Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks all begin at 5:45 a.m. About 2,500 worshipers are expected at the Covina Hills park for the 21st annual servicesponsored by the Pomona Valley Council of Churches and two ministerial associations. Ted Engstrom, president emeritus of World Vision Inc., is the main speaker. Music will be provided by the 100-voice Sanctuary Choir and Orchestra of the Covina Assembly of God Church.
As many as 3,000 worshipers will assemble for the service at the Cypress cemetery. San Pedro Regional Bishop Carl Fisher of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese will give the Easter message. The Rev. James Froede, senior minister of Long Beach's Covenant Presbyterian Church, will speak at the Forest Lawn Sunnyside service, and the Rev. Bill Miller, pastor of Burbank's Victory United Brethren in Christ Church, will speak at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.
Forest Lawn is not the only cemetery providing a venue for outdoor Easter rites.
Clergy of six Whittier area churches will conduct the second annual sunrise service, starting at 5:30 a.m., at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier. The 45-voice Long Beach City College Master Work Chorale will sing. The local council of churches will receive a special offering at the service to help fund a shelter and food program for homeless of the area.
Clergy of Westlake Village churches will begin their annual sunrise service at 6 a.m. at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park. The Easter message will be given by the Rev. Robert C. Bos of Westminster Presbyterian Church.