Every year around this time, as the joy of Pascha is still fresh in my mind, my thoughts return to an old YouTube video. Back in 2006, I was new to YouTube, as were a lot of people. The novelty factor was still strong; it was fun to see what kinds of silly or stupid things people would post, and I came across one video in particular that featured a grown man in a bunny suit singing about “Eastern Orthodox Easter.”
At the time, I thought it was silly, and not altogether original or that good even, but almost as it is impossible not to look at the aftermath of a car accident on the side of the road while driving by, I have found it hard to resist the temptation to look at this video around each Pascha (no offense to the guy who made the video, if he happens to find this article—he did look like he at least had a lot of fun making the video!). Perhaps it’s a waste of time to watch it every year, and something I should confess…
That being said, this year I was thinking about this video again, and it struck me that the video is unintentionally useful for missionary purposes. That’s because this video shows one view of how the common man, the average Joe, views the Orthodox Church here in America. Listening to the lyrics of this, err, song, I realized that it gives us some insight into how we are perceived by many of our fellow citizens here in America (and probably other parts of the Western world).
The video opens with the performer stating: “Easter Bunny here. Y’all think Easter’s over but I’m here to tell you about a little something I call ‘Eastern Orthodox Easter.’” The performer then announces that most people think that Easter is just one day in April, but if you look, you will notice that actually there is another Easter—Eastern Orthodox Easter.
The reason for two dates is because approximately two out of every three years, the Orthodox date of Easter is different than the West’s date, due to a difference in calendar. I remember seeing the same thing on some calendars throughout my life, just as I remember reading in my middle school textbook that “in 1054, the Eastern Orthodox Church was formed, when it broke with the Pope.” Naturally, we dispute that version of the events, but it left the impression in my mind that the Eastern Orthodox were kind of like Roman Catholics, but a popeless, Greco-Russian cultural variety thereof. Thus when I left the Protestant Church, I didn’t even consider Orthodoxy, but went straight to Roman Catholicism. It was some time before I finally gave Orthodoxy a fair shake, and thank God, I found out that Orthodoxy is not just for Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners. The video’s performer thus highlights the exotic and “other” feeling that allows people to gloss over Orthodoxy without investigating it; it’s just “too exotic for me” I suppose most people say to themselves, without ever delving deeper.
He continues: “Whatcha know about Eastern Orthodox Easter? Yeah, didn’t think so. You ain’t even ready for this.” Indeed, most people have no idea what the “Eastern Orthodox” Church is. Even the name Eastern contributes to the exotic feeling mentioned above. Some ask if Greek Orthodox is the same thing. I never introduce myself as Eastern Orthodox, preferring to self-identify as an Orthodox Christian, but most of the time, this elicits a blank stare, which is usually alleviated when I say, “you know, like Greek Orthodox?” Then follows the look of acknowledgement…
The video continues: “stomach sore from thousands of crunches?” Obviously used as a filler, something to rhyme in this quickly-composed song, the performer doesn’t realize how close he comes to the truth. Pascha, the Orthodox word for Easter, follows the Lenten period, when we fast and do many prostrations in repentance for our sins. We mortify the body in order to help cure the soul, while the modern world often exercises to maintain illusory beauty. Thousands of crunches, no. Thousands of prostrations? Hopefully. Yet how many people know about the saving medicine of Orthodoxy, the path to spiritual cure that has saved many of us from destruction? How many people in the world would benefit from the Church, the Hospital of sinners, where they could find their cure? Yet they do not know about it, or dismiss it, because it is so poorly understood.
“When you feel like you’re a week behind…” Orthodoxy uses a different calendar; it’s outdated many think. We must explain why we use a different calendar, why we celebrate some things at different times than our Western Christian friends. We must show why Orthodoxy is relevant to the modern man, going deeper and beyond the surface differences. The best way to do this is for Orthodox simply to be good Christians! Orthodox, know your faith! Read the Scriptures daily, pray, fast, and live the life that is made available to you through the grace of God. Do not throw away the grace that is given, and leave outsiders with no impression that you are in any way different from society at large. Otherwise, our different calendar and our incense and our Eastern looking Church buildings will remain a symbol of our inaccessibility instead of something that stands apart, and draws the curious inquirer in, or worse, they will give the impression that we are attached to our faith because of our ethnicity, and not because our faith itself matters personally. This applies to converts as well as those from historically Orthodox cultures, who can easily be perceived as contrarians or those who are just interested in exotic things.
“Just another day to find the money egg, fool!” Easter is not about bunnies, and chocolate, and eggs, although such things can be used to teach some aspects of the feast. No, it is about Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Pascha, as we should call it, is the culmination of the Savior’s work, the victory over death and sin. Do we live the resurrected life? Have we died to sin and death, and arisen with Christ, through Holy Baptism? Then let us not mimic the ways of this world, and let our celebration of Easter “Eastern-Orthodox style” not simply be a remix of the first one that “normal” people celebrated a few weeks before.
We Orthodox have to take a large share of the responsibility for how we are perceived. Yes, those who are truly seeking the Truth can find Christ and His Church, despite the shortcomings of our witness, but this is no excuse. The persecutions of the communists, the poverty under the Turks, are all understandable reasons why the Orthodox Church did not expand as much as other Churches in the Early Modern Age, but these days are gone. There is no longer any material or physical reason why Orthodox cannot and should not expand as far and wide as possible. Thankfully, in many places, this is exactly what is happening, but the need is great. We must show other Christians that we are not an exotic “other” but are rather the eldest Christian Church, with something to offer all peoples, a perspective that provides continuity and balance in a sea of relativism, in the face of shifting sands of the whims of man. While other Churches are caving theologically, Orthodoxy is a witness stretching back into antiquity. It’s up to us to live our faith as a faith, to explain it to others, and invite everyone we can to Church with us!
The performer closes by stating: “We got eggs, Easter bunnies…you ain’t never seen anything like this…Easter, Eastern Orthodox style.” Well, as explained, the bunnies and eggs are missing, but he and anyone else who gets past the superficial exoticness will be led to agree that they have not seeing anything like Orthodox Pascha. It is the most beautiful religious service, beyond anything that most people would imagine, and it is accessible to all people! In addition, we Orthodox proclaim that every Sunday is a kind of “little Pascha” because every Sunday we commemorate the Resurrection of Christ, and sing the hymns that talk about His Descent into Hades and arising on the third day.
So for those non-Orthodox reading this, come and see Pascha, or any other Orthodox Christian liturgy. Don’t assume we are exotic or culturally distant. And Orthodox brothers and sisters, let us make our Churches welcoming to all peoples, open, and welcoming. Let us not put any barriers up that would prevent the seeking heart from finding its true home.