Last year, Raeann Trakas had to watch Eastern Orthodox Easter services on TV.
This year, she needed to make reservations to attend services at SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral, offered in both the church and the hall.
Trakas, a Greek Orthodox convert, said she is just happy to be able to return for Easter, or Pascha, services this year after last year, when Holy Week services could be seen only on a virtual basis.
She, her husband, Tom, and children Zoe and Theo attended First Resurrection services on Saturday morning at SS. Constantine and Helen Cathedral in Merrillville.
Easter for Eastern Orthodox Christians is held today, a month after other Christians, because Orthodox faithful follow the Julian calendar rather than the more modern Gregorian calendar, said the Rev. David Bissias, priest at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Hammond.
Local Eastern Orthodox faithful gathered on Saturday night at a service that continued to midnight, when candles were lit and parishioners sang "Christ Has Risen; Christ Has Risen Indeed."
Agape vespers were held at a morning service today.
Why do Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on a different date?
"The complicated rule to calculate the date of Easter in both traditions — the first Sunday on or after the first full moon following March 21 — means that the Orthodox might celebrate on the same Sunday as all others, or may be separated by nearly five weeks," Bissias said.
Parishioners at St. Demetrios were required to make reservations for Easter and Holy Week services, as has been the case since the church reopened for services late last summer.
Parishioners also have been required to wear face coverings and follow social distancing guidelines.
"While safety dictates limitations on the number we can have, we are most grateful to be celebrating in our churches this year, having canceled last year due to the pandemic," Bissias said.
And on Saturday night some parishioners, who weren't able to RSVP in time, attended services outside the church.
"Although limited indoors, we do expect many more people to join us outside (we have external audio speakers)," Bissias said Friday.
Reservations also were mandatory at SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral this year because of the still remaining safety concerns of COVID-19, said the Rev. Ted Poteres, priest at the cathedral.
"We won't have full capacity. It's not business as usual. They call to reserve," Poteres said before services.
The capacity at the cathedral is about 1,200, but this year, due to social distancing concerns, parishioners were asked to attend services in the hall, once the church was filled, Poteres said.
Priests were assigned to both the church and the hall.
Not all Eastern Orthodox Christians had to RSVP for services, including at the Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church in Merrillville.
"We are having all our normal services, but we are taking precautions," said the Rev. Jacob Van Sickle, priest at the church.
Parishioners were asked to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart.
"We have quite a bit of room, and we have an overflow area in the hall," Van Sickle said earlier in the week.
Quite a few parishioners still are remaining home so the Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church, like most churches in the area, still livestream services, Van Sickle said.
Coffee hour, after morning services, was reinstated six weeks ago with seats set up apart and masks removed only when dining.
"Following the Easter service on Saturday night, we will be breaking the fast by going into the hall," Van Sickle said.
Typically parishioners will bring their own baskets of food, including sausages, pierogi, prime rib sandwiches, wine and vodka.
Historically, church parishioners at Protection of the Virgin Mary Orthodox Church are of Russian descent with about half that percentage today, Van Sickle said.
"Services are in English," Van Sickle said.
Similarly, there was no need to call and RSVP during Easter for parishioners at SS. Peter and Paul Macedonian Church in Crown Point, according to the Rev. Georgij Gligorov, priest at the church.
"We will have regular services. There are no restrictions. We recommend parishioners wear masks and practice social distancing. We are not playing cops," Gligorov said. "We don't have reservations."
There is hope that things are getting safer given that a vaccine is readily available to most people.
"People are getting the shots. And in the past year we didn't have many cases. Our community was preserved," Gligorov said.
For Trakas, making reservations for church services at SS. Constantine and Helen was a small price to pay for being able to attend church services in person.
"It's the reason for Easter and the importance of family. These holidays need to be spent with families," Trakas said.
Trakas also celebrates the so-called American or earlier Easter with her parents, which also includes a dinner and Easter egg hunts.
But the Orthodox Easter for her is what brings about the true religious meaning of Easter.
"When I became an Orthodox Christian it took on a whole new role for me. It means a whole lot more," Trakas said.
Easter Sunday for Trakas today will entail having about 16 to 18 family members at her Porter home. Guests will dine on lamb and other Greek specialties and take turns cracking pre-colored deep red eggs, the color of which represents the blood of Christ.
"I'm excited because we will all be together this year and celebrate properly," Trakas said.
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