The Great & Holy Vigil Of Easter
with the Baptism of Lauren Sullivan
The Easter Vigil is ancient in origin and is commonly held to be the most important service of the Church Year. The service marks the official transition from Lent to Easter. The Easter Vigil is also the time when most of the Baptisms of the Church occur because it ends a very long period of training and education in the Christian faith.
The Easter Vigil at Saint John’s begins in the courtyard of the Church at sunset gathered around the holy fire. A fire is made for each Easter Vigil and symbolizes the victory of life over death…light over darkness. The fire is made for more than symbolic reasons.
Once all of the Faithful are gathered around the fire, the priest blesses the fire using Holy Water and ancient prayers. Next the coals for the incense are be taken from the fire and blessed, and finally, fire is taken and used to light the Pascal Candle (the very large candle used at Baptisms and Funerals).
The Pascal Candle is called the Christ Candle and represents and symbolizes Christ’s victory over death and new and eternal life in Jesus Christ. It is also symbolic of the Pillar of Cloud that led the Israelites by day and the Pillar of Fire that led them by night. Once the Pascal candle is lit, it is then blessed with another ancient formula and ritual. First, a cross is carved in the Candle and as are the numerals for the current year, then on top and bottom of the cross the Greek A (Alpha) and Ω (Omega) are cut to symbolize Christ as the first and last, the beginning and the end. Then five grains of incense are inserted onto the cross and into the candle to represent the five wounds of Christ in His passion.
While the priest does all of this, these words are prayed:
“Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the ending. To Christ belongs all time and all the ages: to Christ belongs glory and dominion now and forever. Amen.”
From the fire the faithful will process into the Church, following the Pascal Candle, themselves holding while the words “The Light of Christ” is sung three times along the way.
Once in the Church, the Exultet is sung in the darkness with the cantor standing in the light of the Pascal Candle. The Exultet is ancient proclamation of Easter. It is one of the most stirring and beautiful chants of the church, and if you are to truly celebrate Easter- it is not to be missed!
After the Exultet, the Church is still in darkness, with only the Pascal Candle and the individual people’s candles being lit. In the darkness, we listen to four lessons that recall the history of our Salvation.
At the end of the lessons, the priest and altar party move to the Baptismal font for the Baptisms (this year we will be baptizing Lauren Sullivan).
The Baptisms occur in the darkness as well…it is a very stirring and moving event. After the Baptisms, the priest changes from violet to white vestments and the Easter invitation is issued- “Alleluia Christ is Risen!” After which, the Gloria (Glory to God in the Highest) is sung for the first time in over forty days. Bells are rung, the torches on the altar are lit, and Easter will have arrived in grand and fitting fashion.
The rest of the service continues in a royal and joyous fashion. A special sermon is preached on this night- written in the 300’s by Saint John Chrysostom- it is considered to be the best sermon ever preached; so much so that it is read on this night the world over as it has been for nearly a thousand years.