Ukrainian Orthodox church in Arnold celebrates Easter this week
After breaking a seven-week fast, the small but powerful congregation of the Holy Virgin Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Arnold celebrated Easter on Sunday in traditional style.
The service paid homage to the high holiday in all of its pageantry. The Rev. Mark Swindle dressed in crisp, ivory robes, a spray of white Easter lilies and hyacinths adorned the altar, holiday banners bedecked the altar, and candles lit Easter baskets waiting to be blessed.
“Oh death, where is your sting? Oh death, where is your victory?” Swindle asked worshippers during Sunday’s 3.5-hour service.
“Death is abolished. Death is over,” he answered. “Christ has risen from the dead.”
Like other Christian celebrations of Easter, Swindle reminded his flock that the Ukrainian Orthodox celebration known as “Pascha” celebrates that “Jesus Christ has risen from the dead for our sake.”
The choir sang throughout the special Easter service at Holy Virgin. It was followed by the blessing of the baskets, which brimmed with special bread, eggs, bacon, cheese, kielbasa, ham, butter and more. They were filled with the very same food that worshippers had abstained from during their weeks-long fast.
The small parish of 25 makes the service more personal than the average religious experience.
On Sunday, near the end of Holy Virgin’s services, as about 15 worshippers lined up at the altar to take their turn to kiss a gold cross, Swindle greeted each by their first name.
It’s that intimacy that still impresses Swindle’s daughter, Victoria Olena Swindle, 20, of Green Tree, who realizes it’s quite unique.
“It’s like I gained eight sets of grandparents,” she said.
A University of Pittsburgh library and information science student, Swindle’s daughter likes the Lenten traditions — the fasting with the culmination of hard work and abstinence on Easter.
“It’s a joyful day,” she said Sunday.
Indeed, such is the case of Ukrainian Orthodox Easter around the world, according to Rev. Swindle.
It’s the holy day among holy days.
Easter doesn’t just break seven weeks of fasting but also seven weeks of abstaining from some pleasurable activities, known as the “Great Fast” and the “Great Lent.”
“You can’t celebrate a feast without a fast in the Ukrainian church,” said Swindle, 48, who has been fasting and feasting all of this life for Pascha.
For Swindle, who likes to listen to polkas and other music on the radio, he unplugged it during the Great Lent and Great Fast.
The Easter celebration will continue for the next three days for this church.
In, fact, there will be a service on Monday, known as “Bright Monday.” Parishioners will continue to meet with family and friends to celebrate the holiday over the next several days.
Walter Sakal, 88, of Arnold who has been attending the Holy Virgin church all of his life, said, “This is a day we pray for every year,” he said. “We pray for Jesus Christ and, indeed, he has risen.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .