Exploring Easter outside the gate
Spring is a season full of transformation, and for many Christians nothing exemplifies that more than Easter celebrations. People celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a myriad of different ways – and some of the best chances to experience that come with overseas assignments.
Whether it’s a Last Supper reenactment on Guam or an all-night vigil in a historic Tokyo cathedral, opportunity abounds. There may even be treasures of tradition to unearth in local versions of one’s own church customs.
This year, before donning that Easter bonnet and heading to the base chapel, consider exploring how the locals are celebrating this special day off base. Here’re are just a few that we discovered.
Golgotha on Guam
The predominantly Roman Catholic island of Guam has a longstanding tradition in which the faithful climb Mt. Jumullong Manglo with crosses on Good Friday (April 18, this year) to commemorate the Crucifixion. Every year, hundreds of people make the two-hour climb to the more than 1,200-foot-tall summit in Umatac Village.
The more zealous carry a 600-pound cross made especially for the occasion every year; it’s then erected atop the mountain next to two others that are placed there earlier. It’s also common to see two men with their faces covered with a black cloth and crowns of thorns, flogging their backs as they ascend the mountain.
Many from Guam’s Catholic community begin the ascent from about 6 a.m. saying the Stations of the Cross on the way up. The hike to the top symbolizes how Christ carried the cross and suffered more than 2,000 years ago.
“It’s amazing to see children, grown adults and the elderly trek up the mountain. Each have their own reasons for doing the hike,” says Guam Visitors Bureau’s Josh Tyquiengco. “The view of the mounted crosses at the very top is impressive and spiritual.
“Probably one of my favorite places to stop by on the way up the mountain is a grotto-like area where a statue of the Virgin Mary is nestled,” Tyquiengco said. “You can see lit candles of different sizes placed around the statue and hear the muted sound of tiny flames crackling.”
Reliving the Last Supper
Another pre-Easter event on Guam is “The Living Last Supper,” a series of meditative monologues by actors performing as the Apostles interspersed with music and sayings from Jesus. A new tradition on island, the Lutheran Church of Guam will perform the dramatic reenactment for the second time on Maundy Thursday (April 17) in commemoration of events leading up to the Crucifixion.
In the play, actors representing the 12 Disciples and Jesus in full costume gather around a long table, emulating Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper. Jesus begins with, “one of you will betray me,” prompting the others to say their parts in turn. Afterward, every Christian present is invited to come forward and receive Communion.
The brainchild of Navy Chaplain Matthew Prince, who brought the idea from his church in the States last year, the performance drew scores of people and prompted this year’s encore performance, according to Kevin Graham, Lutheran Church’s office manager.
“Probably the most important thing I can say is that everyone is invited,” he says. “We may be guided by Lutheran tradition, but we welcome anyone who wants to hear about Jesus to join our services, whether you’re Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran or Presbyterian.”
Land of the rising Son
Those wishing to celebrate Easter – or Pascha, as Eastern Orthodox Christians call it – in a more or less traditional setting can find varying degrees of both worlds at two landmark churches in mainland Japan – historic Holy Resurrection Cathedral and the ultra-modern Saint Mary’s Cathedral.
The cathedral is a beautiful byzantine-style church in Tokyo’s Ochanomizu neighborhood and the headquarters of the Holy Autonomous Orthodox Church in Japan, sister of its better-known counterparts in countries like Greece and Russia. Built in 1891 under the guidance of St. Nikolai Kasatkin, it is a registered national landmark more commonly known as “Nikolai-Do” (Nikolai’s House), after its founder who is credited with bringing the faith to Japan.
Pascha services start Holy Saturday (April 19) at 11:30 p.m. and run until about 4 a.m. Early on, the huge congregation and choir walk a procession around the cathedral, while the interior décor is changed from dark purple to bright white. Symbolic of Jesus’ tomb after the Resurrection, they return to light candles pray and sing the Liturgy, or Mass, throughout the night.
“Christ is risen!” is proclaimed. People respond, sometimes raucously, with, “Truly he is risen.” It’s repeated in as many languages as possible to represent the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world in every tongue. Decorative baskets full of breads, cheeses and other foods not eaten during Lent are brought to be blessed by the clergy, and red eggs symbolizing the blood of Christ and new life are handed out afterward.
“Pascha in Orthodoxy means the victory of Christ over death,” said Rev. Kliment Kitahara Simon, a priest at the cathedral. “The cerebration gives us a chance to remember it and review our value of order of importance every year.”
Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward offers a chance to ring in Easter with the Roman Catholic tradition against the backdrop of a modern architectural wonder. With one of the nation’s largest pipe-organs and the 202-ft high bell tower, this 50-year-old stainless steel-plated modern gothic cathedral has a form of a cross, from which eight hyperbolic parabolas rise in a manner. The parabolas open upwards to form a cross of light, which continues vertically along the length of the four facades.
Easter at this ultra-modern cathedral is highlighted when “ the ceremonial lighting of Paschal Candle” is cerebrated on Easter Vigil (April 19). To begin, the priest blesses and light the Paschal candle in dark by extinguishing all candles and lamps, representing the darkness of a world without God. The light of Paschal candle is then passed and distributed to each candle of congregation, and finally the church is fully light up. Representing Christ’s resurrection, the Catholic followers celebrate the Christ’s victory over darkness and death, and see their faith reinforced in the ultimate joy.
“The core of our faith is to believe that Christ who was crucified and resurrected 2,000 years ago, is alive and staying with us, asking us for faith, forgiving our sins, sharing our sufferings and leading us to his country,” said Rev. Augustine Takehiro Kunii, a Passionist Community priest who used to serve at the cathedral. “The celebration of Holy Paschal Triduum (three days of Easter weekend) gives us a chance to remember it and review our values and priorities in our life every year.”
Easter is near, bringing with it a rare opportunity to celebrate the season at these and similar events around the world. This year, why not get off base celebrate with the locals? Chances are, you’ll experience a memorable Easter.
Services at landmark Cathedrals
Holy Resurrection Cathedral – ‘Nikolai-do’ (Eastern Orthodox)
Passion Week Schedule
- April 13: Vespers (Beginning of Passion Week) 5 p.m.
- April 14: Matins Presanctified Liturgy 7:30 a.m.; Great Compline, Matins, Hours 5 p.m.
- April 15: Hours, Presanctified Liturgy 7:30 a.m.; Great Compline, Matins, Hour 5 p.m.
- April 16: Presanctified Liturgy 7:30 a.m.; Great Thursday Matins, Hour 5 p.m.
- April 17 Great Thursday: Hours Vespers, Divine Liturgy 7:30 a.m.; Great Friday Matins (Passion Gospel) 6 p.m.
- April 18: Great Friday: Royal Hours 7:30 a.m.; Vespers (the removal of the Body of Christ from the Cross) 2 p.m.; Great Saturday Matins (Procession), Hour 6 p.m.
- April 19: Great Saturday Hours Vespers, Divine Liturgy 7:30 a.m.; Pascha Nocturne 11:30 p.m.
- April 20: Pascha Matins, Hour, Divine Liturgy 12 a.m.; Moleben 10 a.m.; Moleben 12 p.m.
Address: 4-1 Suruga-dai, Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (5 minute walk from Ochanomizu Station of JR Chuo line). For more information, call 03-3295-6879 or visit: www.geocities.jp/ynicojp2/enmain.html
St. Mary’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic)
Holy Week Schedule
- April 17: Maundy Thursday: Mass of the Lord’s Supper 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.
- April 18: Good Friday, Station of the Cross, 3 p.m. Solemn Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion 7 p.m.
- April 19: Easter Vigil 7 p.m.
- April 20: Easter Sunday Mass 8 and 10 a.m.
Address: 3-16-15 Sekiguchi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo (10 minute walk from Gokokuji Station (Exit 6) of Tokyo Metro Yurakucho line. For more information, call 03-3945-0126 or visit: cathedral-sekiguchi.jp