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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Churches big, small prepare for Easter

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

For its Easter presentation of "The Witness," Pacific Island Praise, an interdenominational group of Christians on O'ahu, flew in an actor from Arkansas whose special skills include the ability to realistically portray Jesus being crucified.

Parishioners from Word of Life Church rehearse their Easter production of "He Did This Just For You," which tells the story of Jesus being taken to be crucified on the cross.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Tonight, Word of Life Christian Center finishes its four-night run of a multimedia extravaganza, complete with sound effects, special lighting, integrated media clips on screen, audience interaction, a live band and a cast and crew of 200.

The Easter story is being performed across the island in venues that range from theaters to sanctuaries to, yes, malls.

Meanwhile, other churches are taking a quieter approach to the passion play, with no greater embellishment than the voices of young children raised in song. And some churches are observing Easter simply with worship and words.

Although the approaches vary widely, each church has its reasons.

For those putting on big productions for Easter — which along with Christmas attracts the most church attendees all year — part of their aim is to spread the gospel to those who wouldn't necessarily hear or see it, organizers say.

"For us, doing it is an outreach," said Helene Waihe'e, sister of the former governor, who belongs to Waiola Worship Center, a small church in Kane'ohe and one of the groups contributing to a 60-member cast to stage "The Witness," a portrayal of the last days of Jesus. She described it as a traditional telling with some modern touches, including jazz dance.

"... We don't want to just tell (the story of Jesus' last days) to people who know it. When we do something like this, it's to make people who would otherwise not be attracted to this listen."

The venue, Windward Mall, does help, she said.

"Most people who'll pay for a ticket already know the story," Waihe'e said. "At the mall, we're getting a whole new audience."

Trevor Lewin from Arkansas is playing the title role in "The Witness," which is now in its 21st year and has at times in its history gone from a nine-person show staged at the Waimanalo Seventh-Day Adventist church to a huge production held, at its height of popularity in 1988, at Blaisdell Concert Hall with a cast of 160.

Kuna Sepœlveda, who played Peter's wife in "The Witness" during the early 1980s, is the driving force behind Word of Life's musical drama, "He Did This Just for You," which finishes its run tonight at the the church's Kaka'ako sanctuary.

"It's not just to do something big for the sake of something big," Sepœlveda said. "It's because we believe, for the church, performing arts is one of the strengths God has given us. "Every church has its own strength and personality to cause them to stand out. We believe reaching out through drama, performing arts, media, is something God has given us as a means of communicating the simple message of the Gospel in a relatable way."

Simpler services

Elsewhere, the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus will dawn with a whisper, rather than a bang.

Judy Marks of Calvary Chapel prefers the kinder, gentler celebrations of Easter, noting that "the focus is always the word of God."

As the sun inches its way over Diamond Head today, 2,500 worshippers, a mixture of Calvary congregants and tourists, are expected to be singing their Easter alleluias at Magic Island.

"It's a lovely, lovely way to start a beautiful morning," said Cal Smith, a Calvary Chapel member and regular sunrise-service worshipper. "The breeze is soft, the music is wonderful. As the sun rises, you just have a feeling of love and warmth."

With a backdrop of O'ahu sky and Pacific Ocean, that sunrise should be a big show of humanity united in faith, but certainly not the biggest.

About 16,000 in all are expected to crowd Stan Sheriff's Center for two Easter services this morning, led by Wayne Cordeiro, New Hope Christian Fellowship pastor.

Elsewhere on O'ahu, while most of us were sleeping, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" was scheduled to be sung this morning by about 500 members of six Christian churches banding together for the Hawai'i Kai Community Service at Maunalua Bay Beach Park.

And keiki were to raise their voices in song at Apostolic Faith Church in Kalihi.

Last night's Easter vigil Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic church in Kuli'ou'ou was to run nearly 3 1/2 hours.

With a record number of non-infant baptisms this year — 258 statewide, versus 145 a decade ago — Roman Catholic churches were looking at especially long vigil Masses, which traditionally are the longest services of the year.

"To get Catholics to something longer than 50 minutes is a major deal," The Rev. Hal Weidner, of Holy Trinity, said with a laugh. He said he expected the service to draw about 250 of what he called "the passionate."

He noted the importance of Easter celebrations for families who have suffered the loss of a loved one: "It's not about Easter bunnies, it's wondering about whether they're still alive (in heaven)."

Steeped in tradition

Even after today, Easter is not over.

The Eastern Orthodox Christian church, which follows the Julian calendar (the solar calendar introduced by Julius Caesar), rather than the Gregorian calendar (created by Pope Gregory XIII, who headed the Roman Catholic church 1572-85) will celebrate Easter in May.

Greek Orthodox Catholics follow a lunar calendar for setting Easter: It's the Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox — and by tradition, it must be after Passover, said The Rev. Dean Kouldukis of Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

"The worship service and worship cycle has not changed since the third century," Kouldukis said. "How we celebrate today is how people celebrated in the ancient past."

On May 4, Kouldukis will finish up his 9 a.m. Saturday morning service, in which he dresses in Lenten purple (their color of repentance), then spend the rest of the day outfitting the ornate cathedral in Easter whites, right down to his vestments and right up to the banners hanging from the ceiling.

Easter vigil Mass will begin at about 11 p.m. that night, and the expected 200 worshippers will leave at about 2 a.m. May 5

Easter is the foundation of Eastern Orthodox faith, and so is considered by followers to be the most important holiday of the year.

"It's one of the most beautiful and uplifting services in the Eastern Orthodox church," said Kouldukis. "Candles are held, and priest comes out with his candle lit, proclaiming (Jesus') resurrection, sharing the light. Once the candles are lit, tradition is that the lighted candle goes home with the person and stays lit in their home. There's such a joy about it, a joyful, uplifting service."