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April 08. 2012 12:21AM

Spirit of hope lifts faithful on Easter


Jesus leaves the tomb in this stained glass scene at Grace Episcopal Church in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Christians across New Hampshire are celebrating Easter today, with services at churches, hilltops, the beach and even a hockey arena.

For believers, Easter is the holiest of days, commemorating Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead. Services are marked by music and prayers of celebration, in sharp contrast to the more solemn observances of Holy Week.

Eastern Orthodox churches follow a different calendar; for them, this is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. They'll celebrate Easter next Sunday.

Marie Cassady, executive director of Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, said hundreds come from all over New Hampshire and nearby states to attend the sunrise service held in the nondenominational outdoor sanctuary every Easter.

“People arrive in the dark. The gates open at 5:30 ... and the service starts at 6, just before the sun rises,” she said.

Photo Gallery: Easter 2012

What draws people, Cassady said, is experiencing in a literal way “the message of Easter, from darkness into light.”

After the service, participants are invited to the Hilltop House, where they can warm up before a roaring fire with coffee and doughnuts.

“We get a lot of people that say this is the only thing they do like that the entire year,” Cassady said. “It's the once a year they attend any kind of church service.”

For years, Bow Mills Methodist Church has held a 6 a.m. sunrise service at Dimond Hill Farm in Concord, with its panoramic eastern views. For church members and neighbors, it's become a traditional way to observe Easter.

This year, three crosses will be erected, one large and two smaller, in the direction of the rising sun, according to the Rev. Virginia Fryer, pastor.

There will be music, Scripture readings and a dramatic presentation of travelers who encounter the empty tomb of Christ and ponder its meaning, Fryer said.

A sunrise service is an especially powerful way to commemorate Easter, she said; it recalls the women who went to the tomb and found it empty. “They come from the darkness of the grief they're in to the light of hope that Jesus has been risen from the dead.

“We enact our faith simply by being there,” Fryer said. “We're moving from the darkness into the light with the rising sun. It reminds us that that's the essence of our faith, that even in the darkest times, God brings hope for us.”

That theme was also to be central to the “Hajmeh” service at Our Lady of the Cedars in Manchester, a Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

The Rev. Tom Steinmetz, pastor, explained the traditional service, held the night before Easter, begins with the church in darkness. “And people are called forward to light their candles from the blessed Easter fire that's been blessed earlier that day on Saturday.”

Worshippers carry their lit candles outside, followed by the clergy. The priest then bangs on the closed door of the church with a cross, demanding entrance.

“The priest represents Christ leading people back into the kingdom of God, opening the doors for the people who were in darkness,” Steinmetz explained.

Each year, Steinmetz reads a homily by St. John Chrysostom, a late-4th-century theologian and bishop of Constantinople. It's a message that remains as relevant as ever, he said: that the resurrection brings salvation for rich and poor, weak and strong, saint and sinner alike.

Some churches in recent years have found nontraditional ways to celebrate Easter.

Manchester Christian Church is holding its Easter service at Verizon Wireless Arena on Elm Street in Manchester today at 10 a.m. Doors open at 9 a.m. and no tickets are required.

In Concord, Cornerstone Community Church will have its regular 10 a.m. service at Red River Theatres on South Main Street, with special music and an Easter egg hunt for the youngsters.

And the Next Level Church is holding its annual “Helicopter Egg Drop” for families who preregistered to attend one of its four church services this morning at Regal Cinemas in Newington.

Some Seacoast area churches hold an ecumenical service at 6 a.m. every Easter at the end of High Street at North Beach in Hampton.

Nita Niemczyk, secretary for Trinity Episcopal Church in Hampton, said she's noticed something about the service: “For some strange, odd reason — and the Christians will say it's just a miracle — the sun always comes out. It can be cloudy and look like it's going to storm and yet the sun always comes out.”

“God is everywhere,” she said.

Niemczyk advises folks who want to attend to dress warmly — and wear flat shoes. “It's difficult to dress up for Easter but be in high heels on the beach,” she said.


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