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  The Blessing of the Red Eggs is a ceremony that takes place in Eastern Orthodox churches every year at the Midnight Service which culminates on Easter Morning. In the Eastern Orthodox churches Easter is celebrated one week later than the rest of Christendom. I had the privilege of attending one of said Midnight services this past weekend on April 22, 2006. Not being a member of an Orthodox church myself I was very grateful to be so graciously permitted to observe and even participate in the 3 hour long service.  It was raining cats and dogs outside as my husband and I made our way for the first time to this tiny church in the woods. I'll bet that in daylight it looks like the suburbs, but at 11:30 at night in the rain it seemed other worldly. Outside the church hung a large picture, The Mandylion. Not like the Mandylion in the Vatican, but like  The  Vernicle, The Mandylion of The Tretyakov Gallery, from the Novgorod school in Moscow, Russia

The small sanctuary was dark and lit with candles. It was decorated on all sides  with icons of saints and of Jesus. I spent a while mentally identifying the icons. I was surprised to find I could figure out all but a couple. There were quite a few different crosses to identify and I smiled to myself as I found the CaraVaca cross, and was mystified as to why there was a Celtic cross. My husband and I took two of the 25 or so straight backed chairs. We sat all the way to the wall on the right hand side. There were more parishioners than chairs available within half an hour. They each walked in having purchased a candle in the small vestibule outside the sanctuary. Soon the "show" began. Various lights were adjusted to backlight the Painted Screens which separated a small room at the front of the sanctuary where the Priest his assistant and a small altar boy did all of their preparations. A small acapella choral group sang or more correctly chanted for almost the entire time. I felt transported back in time to an earlier age. The priest emerged from the backstage area and began chanting and shaking the censer and ringing bells at the same time.  He did this multiple times throughout the night. The Chanting for the most part was in English and I could clearly identify some King James passages that are like old friends to all Christians. "This is the day that the Lord hath made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

The Procession   After many musical numbers by the chanters in the corner, and a "Let us Attend" from the priest the congregation rose, the priest took a candle and lit the candle of one of the parishioners who in turn passed it on to the others. Then led by the priest and attendants we all filed outside and walked all around the chapel and back into the church, (sort of a Chinese fire drill in the rain) which was now brightly lit and the Celebration of Christ rising from the grave began. Strictly an observer to this point, I was able to participate in one part where the Priest would say CHRISTOS ANESTI !  (Christ has Risen !) to which our response was, ALITHOS Anesti !!! (He has risen, indeed ! ) My friend Judith a Chanter in a Greek Orthodox Church herself had prepared me for this, and it was fun to take part.

Something I was not prepared for was the repetition. I could be wrong but it seemed like each portion of the services except the Procession was repeated about 4 times.

The actual Blessing of the Red Eggs was only a very few minutes of the service. The priest chanted and prayed while shaking the censer over the woven basket full of hardboiled eggs that had been dyed red.  Then after the parishioners partook of Holy Communion, near the end of the 3 hour service, the priest took what looked like a long bristled basting brush, dipped it in Holy water and sprinkled it over the basket of red eggs. The choral group chanted beautifully and we were able to make out the name Mary Magdalene several times. If there was a direct mention of Tiberius Caesar and the Touching or Turning of the Red Egg, we missed it. The Conclusion was a Processional where we all filed up and the Blessed Red Eggs are handed out to the faithful .The priest blessed each person in line as they passed by stopping to kiss the cross he held and then his hand.  My husband and I were at the very end of the line and we did accept a Blessed Red Egg each and instead of kissing the cross and the priest, thanked him for letting us observe.

It was a very special event for us, and at the same time as foreign to us as a ritual from the Middle Ages. My friend, Judith was right the music was ethereal, and we felt welcomed as visitors to celebrate this High Holy Day with this small congregation in a very intimate setting. I am in awe of the parishioners who were able to remain standing for most if not all of the 3 hour physical ordeal. My husband nodded off for awhile and I had to walk outside for a few minutes to get some air not so heavy with incense. I felt like those faithful members of the church who didn't tire, who kept on standing, (not a one of them over 5 years of age slept) would have been able to tarry with Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane without slumbering unlike His sleepy disciples.

When we left I was anxious to get home and get comfortable, and I questioned how all that repetition edified anyone. Later the next day and the next, the beautiful symbolism and the spirit in the sanctuary stayed with me, and I've begun to understand just how it works. It's days later now and I can still imagine the smell of the incense and feel the whole experience subtly working its way into my conscious and subconscious mind. Many thanks to Judith for suggesting that I find an Orthodox Church and observe the Blessing of the Red Eggs.