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Saturday, April 26, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Religion

For some, it's still Easter

Seattle Times staff reporter

A week after many Western Christians have celebrated Easter, Peggy Tramountanas has been busy all week gearing up for Easter.

She dyed Easter eggs red on Thursday and will again today, reminding her of the blood Christ shed. On Wednesday, she received the Sacrament of Holy Unction, blessed oil which she believes will renew and strengthen her spiritually and physically.

Tramountanas, 57, of Seattle, is Greek Orthodox and, like the more than 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, will be celebrating Easter shortly after midnight tonight.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is divided into 15 autonomous regions worldwide, largely along national, ethnic and cultural lines, the date of Easter each year is a complex calculation. It takes into account the date of the Jewish Passover, the first full moon of the vernal equinox, and the Julian calendar. While most of the Western world switched to Pope Gregory's calendar, created in the 16th century, Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar established shortly before the first century.

Rituals and liturgies in the Orthodox Church also date back to the beginnings of Christianity. The Eastern Orthodox Church was established after the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Christian church traditions in 1054.

The Western tradition became the Roman Catholic Church, while the Eastern tradition became the Orthodox Church, which rejected the primacy and authority of the pope.

The close tie to ancient liturgy is extremely meaningful to Carla O'Reilly, 59, of Renton. O'Reilly grew up Roman Catholic and converted to Greek Orthodoxy in 1997. In the wake of the changes wrought by Vatican II, she missed the more traditional liturgical practices of the Catholic Mass, such as the use of Latin.

"I was looking for my ancient Christian roots, you might say. I felt invited by God to become Greek Orthodox," she said.

So this week, she's been fasting — no meat, fish or dairy — praying, and going daily to Holy Week services.

Each day of Holy Week has special meaning for Orthodox Christians.

On Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, palm fronds are blessed and distributed, commemorating Christ's entrance into Jerusalem. On Holy Wednesday, the faithful are anointed with the Sacrament of Holy Unction. On Holy Thursday evening, they observe the Service of the Holy Passion, during which the 12 lessons of the Gospel are read. On Great Friday, the body of Christ is symbolically taken down from the cross and buried.

And on Holy Saturday evening, beginning around midnight, all lights in Orthodox churches are extinguished, representing the darkness that fell upon the earth, said the Rev. John Angelis of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.

The priest comes forth with a lighted candle, chanting "Come, receive the light, the light of the Resurrection." Each congregation member then receives the light for his or her own candle, and a procession moves outdoors, where the Gospel proclaiming the Resurrection of Christ is read and the hymn "Christ is Risen" is sung.

On Sunday, the Gospel of the Resurrection is read in many languages to emphasize the universality of Christ's teachings.

For the next 40 days, Orthodox Christians greet each other by saying "Christ is risen" and replying "Truly he is risen."

Much of the theology, and some of the practices were already familiar to Dana Tramountanas, Peggy Tramountanas' daughter-in-law, who converted from Catholicism about seven years ago.

"There are a lot more similarities than differences" in the theology of Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy, Tramountanas said. Indeed, she celebrates Western Easter with her parents, and Orthodox Easter with her immediate family.

But for her, "Orthodoxy is the most untouched Christian religion that I could find," she said. "I think it's a beautiful thing."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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