Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church marks beginning of Holy Pascha

As midnight approaches tonight, a priest will enter a dark sanctuary holding a lit candle. He will then proceed to light candles held by members of the church's congregation. They will all then march out into the street and begin shouting, "Christ is risen." Hymns will be sung. Bells will be ringing.

It is the beginning of the Holy Pascha known as Orthodox Easter.

"It is a wonderful ceremony that commemorates Christ," said Father David Hudson, the priest at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church on Gilbert Avenue in Columbus.

While Western Easter was celebrated last Sunday, Holy Transfiguration has had a week of special services leading up to this weekend.

"There has been something every day during the holy week," Hudson said.

For example, April 4 was Lazarus Saturday, which commemorates the raising of Lazarus, who had been in a tomb four days.

On Palm Sunday, church members recalled the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem and passed out palms.

There was a "bridegroom service" on Great and Holy Monday and Great and Holy Tuesday. Christ is seen as the divine bridegroom of the church.

Wednesday, members could be anointed with blessed oil, the Sacrament of the Holy Unction.

The 12 lessons of the Gospel were read Thursday, and a large crucifix was carried in a procession.

Friday was a day of strict fast. The body of Christ was taken down from the cross, wrapped in white linen and prepared for burial.

Tonight, bright vestments will be worn as members anticipate Christ's resurrection. A Vesperal Divine Liturgy will be read commemorating Christ's victory over death. Hudson said the church will hand out red eggs symbolizing the resurrection.

"Lent lasts for six weeks before the Holy Pascha. There is no eating of meat or dairy," he said.

Hudson, who was ordained in Romania, commutes from Alpharetta, Ga., to conduct services.

He said Holy Transfiguration is the only church of its kind within about 100 miles.

The Rev. Stephen Muse is a counselor at the Pastoral Institute and is one of the founders of Holy Transfiguration. He said in an email that the local church had "humble beginnings."

"I came to Columbus from Pennsylvania in 1992 to work at the Pastoral Institute," he said. "I didn't know I would be starting a church. In 1993, I approached Rev. Charlie Roper, who was then rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, about using their chapel to begin holding an Orthodox Liturgy. He and St. Thomas were immediately gracious in offering us space and putting me in contact with a Greek family he knew who sometimes attended services at St. Thomas. I went through the Columbus phone book and called numbers of people with names that sounded Greek, Russian, Romanian or any country where Orthodox Christianity is widespread."

The church began with six families.

Holy Transfiguration was officially established as an Orthodox Mission Church in Columbus under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in 1995.

Muse said he still remembers sitting in the home of former Columbus Mayor Bob Poydasheff discussing what the church should be called.

"We decided on the name Holy Transfiguration to always remind us that our entire lives are a journey toward salvation by being transformed in the uncreated divine light of Grace that revealed the transfigured Christ on Mount Tabor," Muse said.

The early services were held at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

"Within six months we were able to secure pledges enough to raise a down payment to purchase a cinder block church building in the Beallwood redevelopment zone which had become available. We were all committed to locating the parish in this area," he said.

After three months of renovation, the congregation moved in. All of the work in the sanctuary was done by members of the parish.

Muse said beautiful Byzantine-style iconography was painted in English, Greek and Romanian characters by Aurel Onut, a Romanian iconographer who worked on it daily for months. Muse called it "a small and precious treasure in Columbus."

He said from its beginning, Holy Transfiguration has been a parish dedicated to the multicultural diversity of Christianity. Upon entering the church, one sees a painting on the ceiling that depicts Christ in the New Jerusalem surrounded by people representing all the cultures of the world.

"Our services are almost entirely in English with a little Greek, and each Sunday we say the Lords Prayer in every language present, which generally includes Russian, Romanian, Arabic, Hispanic, Greek, Georgian and Eritrean. The fact that it is repeated in these different languages reminds us of Christ's words that the Church is meant to be a house of prayer for all the nations."

Muse said the church teaches "Christ is our life, not an add-on to our regular life."

He and members are concerned by some of what is happening around the world.

"As Orthodox Christians we have a shared sense of life with all Christians, especially the 300 million other Orthodox around the world," he said "Watch groups identify Christians as currently the most persecuted religious group in the world.

"I don't know if that is true, but the increased destruction of Christian places of worship, the beheadings of Christians, the closing of the Orthodox seminary in Turkey, and expulsion of the Christians from Turkey in the exchange of the populations and the continued occupation of half of Cypress all point to a slow destruction of Christianity in its ancient homelands.

"We must stand together for humanity as Christ did," he added. "This solidarity is what Orthodox Christians celebrate with awe and fear and trembling and gratefulness as we relive the events of Christ's last week on earth in preparation for celebration of Pascha in the early morning hours of Sunday morning. God offers us the divine life at a great price. When we recognize this, we slowly find ourselves, at great price, returning our own, with him, for the life of the world."