Bigger than Christmas, with eternal ramifications

Christian congregations in Philipstown this week looked forward to Easter on April 5, the most significant day of their religious year, as a time for spiritual, family and seasonal celebration.

But first, beginning with Palm Sunday on March 29, comes Holy Week, tracing Christ’s up-and-down course through a triumphant entry to Jerusalem, poignant meal with his friends before his betrayal, death and entombment — followed, according to Christian belief, by his resurrection on Easter Sunday and an eternal triumph over death, one eventually to be shared by everyone.

In informal comments, members of Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church in Cold Spring, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Garrison, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Cold Spring, and the Cold Spring Presbyterian Church told The Paper what Easter means to them and how they plan to observe it.

Not counting frond-waving attendance at Palm Sunday services, participation in Easter and the run-up to it often brings the faithful to church four days in a row. Three of them involve the Triduum, a kind of continuous service occurring at intervals over an approximately 48-hour period: The evening of Holy Thursday, also called Maundy Thursday, Christians commemorate Christ’s “last supper”; around noon on Good Friday, they mourn his execution by crucifixion; and on Saturday evening, at the Easter Vigil, they begin to celebrate the resurrection. Then Sunday Easter dawns, mixing religious and family celebrations.

The key to faith

“Easter is the cornerstone of our religion; Easter is what makes our religion,” said Mary Marion, one of seven women from Loretto who gathered for coffee and conversation at Cupoccino Café in Cold Spring on Wednesday (March 25), after weekday Mass. “The resurrection is what the whole thing is about.”

Ellen Egerter concurred. “Easter means Christ’s resurrection from the dead and proving to all there is eternal life for all. It’s the best thing to look forward to. And we have to be grateful,” she said.

Easter “is the most important feast in the church — more important than Christmas, because at Christmas God descends to man and at Easter man ascends to God,” Fran Pergamo added.

Parishioners of Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church convene after weekday Mass to discuss Easter. Lower row, from left: Mary Marion, Jennifer Hackney, Ellen McNelly, Eva Leonard; top row, from left: Ellen Egerter, Fran Pergamo, Fran Murphy
Parishioners of Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church convene after weekday Mass to discuss Easter. Lower row, from left: Mary Marion, Jennifer Hackney, Ellen McNelly, Eva Leonard; top row, from left: Ellen Egerter, Fran Pergamo, Fran Murphy

Fran Murphy — soon to take office as a Cold Spring trustee — regards Easter as “obviously the reason we are,” the reason that Christianity even exists. “Easter gives us hope, it gives us our faith, and we know there’s something in the future,” she said. With the Triduum, she explained, “it gives us the whole story.”

Ellen McNelly echoed those sentiments and mentioned two other things that characterize the transcendence and fun of Easter: “quiet contemplation … and chocolate!”

For Eva Leonard, as well as the others, Easter is also a time for loved ones. “It’s the family gathering that makes it more special,” she said. Her plans include cooking a whole lamb, stuffed with rice and pine nuts, for a dinner of an extended family of about 30. “It will be like the ‘last supper’ table,” she laughed.

With a baby at home, Jennifer Hackney said Easter — “God’s triumphing over all the sin in the world” — will entail “Easter Sunday Mass, an Easter egg hunt and a big meal with family.”

More than spring

Andy Reid, a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Philipstown, described Easter as complementing spring while bringing a spiritual dimension that goes beyond a mere seasonal change. “In our faith, we observe the death of Christ” and Easter as a great act “of rejuvenation, of rebirth,” he said Tuesday. Easter for Reid, his wife and two daughters traditionally means church services and then a celebration with other family members in a lamb dinner.

The clock tower at St. Philip’s (file photo)

“Besides being a family tradition, Easter is a time of rebirth and renewal that reminds us we are a part of the great cycle of life,” Preston Pittman, an Episcopalian, said in a similar reflection. Pittman, who serves on the vestry, or governing council, at St. Philip’s, said Wednesday afternoon that he typically takes a week of vacation between Palm Sunday and Easter and spends much of the time in church, “celebrating with music and readings the story of our heritage.”

Along with its other activities, on the evening of Good Friday St. Philip’s has a special concert; this year’s features Duruflé’s Requiem. Earlier that day, members of St. Philip’s will join their counterparts from other Christian congregations in Philipstown for an ecumenical Good Friday service at St. Mary’s. And when all the liturgical events wind down on Easter, “after the season of fasting during Lent, Easter Sunday’s dinner will be a feast of good food and drink,” Pittman said.

Like Pergamo of Loretto, Garrison resident and St. Philip’s parishioner Carol O’Reilly feels that “for Christians it [Easter] should be regarded as highly as Christmas. It goes beyond a pretty dress, Easter basket full of chocolates” and other candy, and a fancy brunch, she said, quoting from St. John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

She described the St. Philip’s service as “beautiful” and said that “a contemporary service in a 150-year-old church with hymns sung by a talented choir gives one the true sense of Easter. There is also an Easter egg hunt … Someone once said to me that it was ‘creepy ‘ to have the kids running amongst the graves but I explained that Easter eggs symbolize the empty tomb of Jesus; the bright colors on the eggs represent rebirth and a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave. Easter eggs are truly symbolic of the Resurrection.”

She encouraged everyone “to find a local church, with many here in Philipstown, and go to an Easter service. The message should be one of joy, salvation and eternal life.”

Joy and baptism

A St. Mary’s parishioner, Joe Barbaro, finds that “Easter means smiles on people’s faces. The gloom of Good Friday is over and people are happy.” Furthermore, he said Wednesday, “for those who don’t get this Trinity stuff, Easter is a nice introduction for the newcomer and a refresher for the semi-observant.” He noted that St. Mary’s offers “open baptism.”

St. Mary’s in the Highlands (file photo)

Led by its rector, the Rev. Shane Scott-Hamblen, St. Mary’s invites all who want to be baptized or want their children baptized, but somehow never got around to it, to attend the Easter Saturday/Easter Vigil service on the evening of April 4, and be baptized, and thus join the Christian community — without a lot of fuss.

“I like my religion on the liberal side, where everyone is welcome and no one cares where you’ve been or why you left,” Barbaro said. “St. Mary’s ‘open baptism’ on Holy Saturday is Father Shane’s way of making sure no one is left on the outside, when they really want to be included. I like that a lot. Easter is a great time to come on in and start smiling.”

St. Mary’s asks those interested in open baptism to contact Scott-Hamblen in advance, or to simply show up 15 minutes before the 7 p.m. Easter Vigil service starts and make their wishes known. Later, the parish adds, in a statement in its upcoming bulletin: “We will be delighted to have you attend the champagne reception in the Parish Hall following the vigil to celebrate this great occasion!”

Contact information on the churches mentioned, as well as others in Philipstown, appears below. See the calendar for Holy Week services at churches in Philipstown and Beacon.

First Presbyterian Church of Philipstown
10 Academy St., Cold Spring
845-265-3220 |

Our Lady of Loretto Roman Catholic Church
24 Fair St., Cold Spring

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
1 Chestnut St., Cold Spring
845-265-2539 |

St. Philip’s Episcopal Church
1101 Route 9D, Garrison
845-424-3571 |

United Methodist Churches of Cold Spring and Garrison
South Highland Methodist Church
19 Snake Hill Road, Garrison
United Methodist Church
216 Main St., Cold Spring

Graymoor Spiritual Life Center
Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
1350 Route 9, Garrison
800-338-2620 |

Church on the Hill
245 Main St., Cold Spring
845-265-2022 |

Photo by L.S. Armstrong

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government