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March 09, 2018

Easter: Western versus Eastern Orthodox Christian Practices

With Easter fast approaching (though you'd never know it in New York City, given that Ol' Man Winter is still hanging around), I have contributed to a couple of Facebook threads with regard to the differences between the Western Christian versus Eastern Orthodox Christian dates for both Easter and Christmas. I decided to put this on my Notablog because it has sparked some discussion.

I was baptized Greek Orthodox. In fact, my grandfather, the Rev. Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, was the first pastor of one of the first Greek Orthodox churches in Brooklyn, the Three Hierarchs Church on Avenue P and East 18th Street. A monument to him can be found in this Google pic; it is the concrete monument in-between the two trees on the right side, outside the front of the church building.

I was asked on one Facebook thread about the significance of Midnight Mass on Christmas, and I remarked that I had never attended a midnight service in the Greek Orthodox church for Christmas, though I had attended a midnight "divine liturgy" for Easter Sunday. Midnight Mass is a practice that apparently began in the 400s.

There are certain differences with regard to the dates on which both Christmas and Easter are celebrated among the Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches in the Western tradition versus the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy. First, with regard to Christmas, the Greek Orthodox celebrate the day on December 25th, along with Western Christianity. There is a difference in dates, however, between the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox celebrations of Christmas. The Greeks follow the revised Julian calendar (which corresponds exactly to the modern Gregorian calendar, adopted by Western Christians), while the Russian Orthodox celebrate Christmas Day on January 7th, the date of the old Julian calendar.

Here's another piece of religious trivia: I was always puzzled, growing up, why the Greek Orthodox commemorated Christ's crucifixion on the evening of Holy Thursday, with the Twelve Gospel readings pertaining to the events that Western Christianity commemorates on Good Friday. On Friday afternoon, however, the Greek Orthodox commemorate the taking down of the body of Christ and its placement in the Epitophios (signifying Christ's tomb).

I later learned that the reason the Greeks begin their commemoration of the Passion on Thursday evening is that, following the Jewish tradition, the new day begins after sundown; so Thursday evening is treated as Good Friday, and the taking of Christ's body down from the cross takes place on Friday, before sundown (which would have been the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, a day on which the body could not have been removed from the cross).

Also, another important fact: the Orthodox Easter almost always follows the Jewish Passover, because tradition holds that Christ came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover; the Last Supper is treated like a traditional Passover Seder. Every so often, the Eastern Orthodox, Western churches and the Jewish Passover all fall together, but typically, you'll always find the Eastern Orthodox Easter following Passover. So, take this year as a perfect example: In 2018, the Jewish Passover takes place from Friday, March 30th to Saturday, April 7th. The Western churches, however, celebrate Easter on April 1st. But according to the Greeks, April 1st would have been Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus came into Jerusalem during the Jewish High Holy days of Passover. And he is resurrected on Sunday, April 8, after the conclusion of Passover (and the end of the Jewish Sabbath).

So if you treat Thursday evening as the beginning of Day 1 and Friday evening as the beginning of Day 2 (and the onset of the Jewish Sabbath), then Saturday evening is the beginning of Day 3. In some churches, the resurrection is celebrated at midnight, while in other churches, it is celebrated at dawn---but in each case, it is meant to signify the Third Day. Having attended the midnight liturgy in the Greek Orthodox church, I can attest to the moving symbolism of the service: It begins with the lighting of a single candle from the altar, signifying the light of the resurrection, and that light is passed from the priest to a member of the congregation, who then passes it to another and another, until the whole church is lit up with the candles of the faithful to celebrate the resurrection. And the congregation sings the hymn of "Christos Anesti" or "Christ is Risen." "Anesti" is "of the resurrection", which is why people who are named Anastasiya or Anastasia, celebrate their "name day" on Easter Sunday, the name being a derivative of the resurrection. Ironically, my mother was named Anastasiya; she passed away during the Greek Holy Week in 1995. At her funeral, the priest remarked that it was just like my mom to have passed away on the Greek Orthodox Good Friday so that she could be resurrected with Christ on Easter Sunday, her name day.

My name day is, of course, Christmas---my actual name is just Chris, but in Greek, it is pronounced "Christos", which is the "annointed one", the word from which Christ is derived.

I have always found these subtle but important differences in the cultural and religious traditions to be of historical interest.

Now I just have to finish up that essay I've been promising for a few years comparing the 1959 version of "Ben-Hur" to the 2016 version. Oy vey.

Song of the Day #1571

Song of the Day: When You're Smiling/The Sheik of Araby is a Tin Pan Alley duet made famous by the rip-roaring pair of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. Keely Smith would have been 90 years old today. "When You're Smiling" was written by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher, and Joe Goodwin in 1928; "The Sheik of Araby" featured the music of Ted Snyder and the lyrics of Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler, and was a response in song to the popularity of "The Sheik," which starred the smoldering silent screen star, Rudolph Valentino. Greatly influenced by Louis Armstrong, trumpeter and vocalist Louis Prima, a native of New Orleans, brought a spicy touch of Sicily to the popular sounds of jazz and early rhythm and blues. In fact, it was in the largely Italian-owned social clubs of the city that Prima learned much of the vernacular of early jazz. But it was in the magic pairing of Prima with jazz singer Keely Smith that the two would launch one of the earliest and most successful lounge acts on the Las Vegas strip. Though the pair divorced in 1961, their studio and live recordings were legendary. Prima died in 1978 at the age of 67, and Smith died at the age of 89 in December 2017. But at their height, they were selling out five shows a night at the Sahara in Vegas. Check out their duet of this classic medley (with smokin' saxman Sam Butera) and Smith's own 1958 live recording of it as well [YouTube links].

March 05, 2018

Song of the Day #1570

Song of the Day: The Champion features the music and lyrics of Chris DeStefano, Brett James, Christopher Bridges, and Carrie Underwood, who recorded this song to open NBC's coverage of Super Bowl LII, but it was used by NBC throughout the 2018 Winter Olympics, which ended on 25 February 2018, and is an appropriate post-Oscar tribute to all those who took home statuettes last night. Check out the Champion vocal pipes of Underwood in the Super Bowl opening and in the official video, which features a rap by Bridges (aka Ludacris) [YouTube links].

March 04, 2018

Song of the Day #1569

Song of the Day: Star Wars: The Last Jedi ("A New Alliance") [YouTube link], composed by John Williams, constitutes proof that a Jedi master composer can continue to provide new thematic content to a long-time Star Wars franchise with which he has been associated since 1977. In this cue from one of this year's Oscar-nominated scores to the latest installment of the franchise, we hear a familiar theme, but The Maestro takes us in other directions, transporting us into a galaxy, far, far away, as our annual film music tribute comes to a conclusion. At 86 years old, Williams earns his 51st Oscar nomination with this score; he is only four years younger than the Academy Awards. So, until next year's Film Score February, enjoy the 90th Annual Academy Awards, hosted for the second consecutive year by Jimmy Kimmel. And May the Force Be With You!

March 03, 2018

Song of the Day #1568

Song of the Day: The Omen ("Ave Satani"), composed by Jerry Goldsmith, whose birthday we celebrated on February 10th, is the theme that opens the devilishly scary original 1976 film, "The Omen," starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. The film would spawn two sequels, and a 2006 reboot. This song actually received an Oscar nomination in the Best Original Song category, the only song sung in Latin to ever be so nominated---though it would lose to "Evergreen" from the Streisand version of "A Star is Born". Goldsmith still walked away with a well-deserved Oscar for Best Original Score, because it did everything that could ever be asked of a soundtrack: contributing to and augmenting the things we see on the screen. And that it does quite well! Now, let me be clear about one thing; I've been called many things by many folks: a Hegelian, a Marxist, even a nutjob, but one thing I am not is a "Satanist," even if I'm highlighting this song on this day. I am a fan of many film genres and their corresponding scores---horror films among them. And this is certainly one of the most eerie soundtracks to ever be honored in this category---definitely not something to listen to before you go to bed, unless you want 666 nightmares before dawn! Check it out on YouTube. Don't say I didn't warn you! Now here's a bit of ironic horror cinema trivia: On this date, March 3rd in 1692, Elizabeth Selwyn, accused of being a witch, was "Burned at the Stake in Whitewood, Massachusetts" [a metal track from "Horror Classics and Other Tributes to the Darkside" by Those Left Behind]. Before the flames consumed her, she cast a Satanic curse on the town to last for all eternity (spoiler alert: nothing lasts forever). Well, that's how the 1960 British film "City of the Dead" [YouTube film link] opens. It is known to some horror film fans as "Horror Hotel" (which was slightly edited for its American audience) and scared the daylights out of me when I first saw it as a kid. As did "The Omen" [YouTube film clip]. All the more appropriate then to feature this selection from Goldsmith's Oscar-winning score on this devilish date (called "The Witches' Sabbath" in "The City of the Dead")!

March 02, 2018

Song of the Day #1567

Song of the Day: Ferdinand ("Home") features the words and music of Justin Tranter, Nick Monson, and Nick Jonas, who sings the lead from this song, which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, but is not among the nominees for this year's "Best Original Song" Oscar category. It is, however, a highlight from the 2017 3D-animated flick, "Ferdinand." Check it out on YouTube.

March 01, 2018

Song of the Day #1566

Song of the Day: Me, Myself, & Irene ("Totalimmortal") was originally recorded by AFI, and featured on their extended play album, "All Hallow's E.P." The song was subsequently covered by The Offspring, and heard over the closing credits for this "black comedy," released in 2000, starring Jim Carrey and Renee Zellweger. Check out the original and its Offspring [YouTube links].