Eastern Orthodox Christians Celebrate Easter; It's the Most Sacred Day of Year for 300 Million People Worldwide

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

For the world's roughly 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians, today is Easter, or Pascha.

Though the Orthodox observe the holiday more than a month after Catholics and Protestants, it is also the most sacred day of the year for them, said the Rev. Nicholas Louh of St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church in Jacksonville.

"The Orthodox church is the church of the resurrection," Louh said. "In Orthodox churches, the first image you see are the icons of the resurrection."

The Orthodox are spread across congregations often named for different ethnic origins - from Bulgarian, Greek and Romanian to Russian, Serbian and Syrian.

There are an estimated 6 million Orthodox in the United States, said Nikki Stephanopoulos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. There are at least 3,000 in Northeast Florida.

Whatever their national origins, the Orthodox share a history of rich church architecture, iconography and historic liturgies.

And a belief that today is Easter.

What makes Orthodox Christianity different?

The Eastern Orthodox teaching is that its roots go back to biblical times, said the Rev. Nikitas Theodosian, pastor of Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in St. Augustine.

The first Orthodox parishes were founded in what is now called the Middle East shortly after the death of Jesus, he said. The Eastern and Western churches were unified until a schism in about 1054 A.D. split the Christian world into Roman Catholic (Western) and Orthodox (Eastern) branches.

Despite developing along national lines since then, Orthodox churches in America are becoming ethnically and racially diverse, Stephanopoulos said. …