Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Destruction and Reconstruction of Christ the Savior Cathedral

In less than a month, God willing, I will be in this Church to witness the reconciliation of the Russian Church inside Russia with the Russian Church Outside of Russia... which is the final page of the story.

Form more, click here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Wise Thief

This video has a nicely done version of the "Wise Thief", which is the Exapostilarion of Holy Friday:

"The Wise Thief didst Thou make worthy of Paradise, in a single moment, O Lord. By the wood of thy Cross illumine me as well, and save me."

I have heard it said that the Greeks come to the Holy Friday service to hear the hymn "Today He Who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree," but the Russians come to hear about the thief who stole paradise.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

TIERS: $425 Million, down the rat hole

Before reading the following articles, you should keep in mind that one of the primary reasons we were told that the old system had to be replaced was that it cost the tax payers $1.5 Million a year to maintain the old system. So to save that $1.5 Million, we have already blown $425 million, and still don't have a program that works as well as the old one does. And so in only 283 years, we should break even, and maybe by then TIERS will actually work.

Audit: $425 million system for social services worse than old one, tests find

08:47 AM CDT on Thursday, April 19, 2007
Associated Press

AUSTIN – The new social services computer system that the state has spent six years and $425 million developing is slower, less accurate and more difficult to use than the old system it is supposed to replace, according to an audit released Wednesday by the Health and Human Services Commission's inspector general.

The Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, or TIERS, was supposed to improve access to state benefits by reducing operating and maintenance costs and improving the accuracy and timeliness of eligibility and benefit decisions. The system was implemented in Travis and Hays counties in 2003 and rolled out into Williamson County last year.

TIERS was paired with another new program that aimed to allow people to apply for benefits online, over the phone or by fax through the use of four new call centers run by a private contractor.

But the program was suspended, and the commission announced last month that it was ending the contract. On Wednesday, the commission defended TIERS, saying, "The new system works."

Inspector general Brian Flood's report included a test that found it took 45 minutes longer for experienced employees to process the case in TIERS than in the old system.

Report questions TIERS computer system
Health and Human Services chief defends system
By Corrie MacLaggan


Thursday, April 19, 2007

A new report raises serious questions about whether a computer system used to determine eligibility for programs such as food stamps and Medicaid works.

State officials rebutted the findings in the report and maintained that the computer system, known as TIERS, does work. But they are delaying a planned statewide expansion because Texas failed to meet federal requirements.

This decision comes a year after Texas halted a statewide rollout of call centers to enroll low-income people into state programs and a month after state officials announced that they are canceling an $899 million contract with Accenture LLP to run the call centers, manage the Children's Health Insurance Program and maintain TIERS.

The report, released Wednesday, said the commission did not effectively manage the call center and computer system projects, which have cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars.

The Health and Human Services Commission's inspector general, Brian Flood, recommended hiring an independent consultant to determine whether to fix TIERS, go back to the old system called SAVERR or choose another system. It takes at least 45 minutes longer to determine eligibility in TIERS than in SAVERR, Flood found.

Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins said Wednesday night that the report, requested a month ago by 30 of the state's 31 senators (except Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston) contains inaccuracies and represents an incomplete view of the situation.

Hawkins said that TIERS (which is pronounced "teers" and stands for Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System) works and that it's a vast improvement over SAVERR (System for Application, Verification, Eligibility, Referral and Reporting), the 35-year-old system lawmakers decided in 1999 to replace.

"Why anybody would think it's feasible to say disregard the expenditure of public funds and go back to an old system already determined to be inadequate is beyond my thinking," said Hawkins, who said that the Office of Inspector General did not interview him. "I think it would be horrible public policy."

[My inserted comments: It was horrible public policy to throw $425 million away, by contracting the program to a vendor, and then paying them the full amount before they had actually delivered a working program. It is not bad public policy to recognize that this waste has already occurred, and to use a system that actually works rather than continue to use one that doesn't in order to avoid recognizing that this waste has already occurred.]

TIERS is in operation in Travis, Hays and Williamson counties and was supposed to expand to seven more Central Texas counties this month and to the rest of the state by late 2008.

Hawkins said that the problems federal officials found with the program were issues with staff training, not technology.

"We have no reason to believe we won't be able to satisfy (the federal officials) with the information they need and the changes they request," said Deputy Executive Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein.

The report found that state officials let the new enrollment system go live in January 2006 even though Accenture informed the state that it would use a subcontractor's employees to manually enter data into TIERS because TIERS was not compatible with a software program used in the call centers.

Having those private employees — rather than seasoned state workers who understood state policy on eligibility — entering data about applicant income and employment into TIERS to determine eligibility was a major problem, said Michael Garbarino, deputy chief counsel of the Office of Inspector General.

Judy Lugo, president of the Texas State Employees Union, said after watching a presentation Garbarino made to Capitol staffers Wednesday afternoon: "This is what we've been saying all along."

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the commission, said the agency thought it would work to have Accenture subcontractors entering data into TIERS, but that when the pilot in Travis and Hays began in January 2006, the system was overwhelmed with more applications than expected. Backlogs, along with problems attaching payment stubs and other documents to applications, led to thousands of Texans receiving benefits late. The system was supposed to save the state money, but the savings never materialized.

In April 2006, Hawkins indefinitely postponed statewide rollout of the areas served by the call centers, and last month, he announced that the commission would part ways with Accenture.

Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who led the Senate effort to request the report, said he hopes the commission fixes TIERS rather than going back to SAVERR.

"I just want to get it working right," he said.

The House Committee on Human Services is expected to hear a report today from a subcommittee that has been studying TIERS and the centers.

The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said he will recommend that there be more legislative oversight of TIERS and the call centers and that the state not expand the use of either until the problems are fixed.

Herrero said he wants to "ensure that there's a system in place that is actually cost-effective, reliable, dependable and not causing anyone to lose the services they're qualified to receive."

A report by the Health and Human Services Commission's Office of Inspector General raises questions about a computer system, known as TIERS, which powers call centers to enroll low-income Texans into programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. Agency Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins responds.

Report: State officials made the decision to privatize the call centers using an analysis that relied only on pre-TIERS information, even though the commission had already decided that TIERS would be used in the call centers.

Hawkins: It is irrelevant because the decision on whether privatizing would be cost-effective would not have been affected by whether the system, TIERS, or the old system, SAVERR, was used.

Report: The commission decided to award the contract to Accenture — rather than the other bidder, IBM — by relying on a questionable evaluation tool.

Hawkins: The report fails to take into account that Accenture's bid was about $50 million lower.

Report: State officials let TIERS developer Deloitte hand over management of the system to Accenture in late 2005 even though TIERS had more than 500 deficiencies.

Hawkins: The number includes duplications and issues that had already been solved.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Today is the Day of Rejoicing

The first Tuesday following Bright Week (Easter week) is Radonitsa (which means "Day of Rejoicing"). On this day, Orthodox Christians go to the tombs of their loved ones, and share the joy of Pascha with them.

After work, I stopped by Anastasia Titov's grave, for the first time since her funeral. I served a Panikhida (memorial service) for her and some of the other Orthodox people I know who are buried in that cemetery. I was afraid that it would be raining, but the rain stopped just before I got there, and then resumed after I was finished and back in my car. Although Anastasia has no relatives in this part of the country, I could see that I was not the first one there. There were Easter eggs left on her tomb; as well as some palms and pussy-willows, flowers, and a candle decorating her grave.

The words of the Paschal Troparion had a new significance to me, as I sang out loud before her grave:

"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life."

What a joy it was, indeed... because Indeed He is Risen. And indeed, she is with him, and will rise again just as He is risen.

Texas Observer: Trail of TIERS

Trail of TIERS

Albert Hawkins is pushing another fouled-up, expensive idea
by Dave Mann

Perhaps the biggest boondoggle in Texas government at the moment involves a computer program at the state Health and Human Services Commission that has consumed more than $415 million and seven years of effort. It still doesn’t work.

Yet HHSC Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins continues to ignore forceful warnings about the system’s flaws, and is pushing the much ballyhooed software into wider use at his agency.

An Observer review of internal HHSC documents shows that Hawkins has been told repeatedly by federal officials and his own auditors over the past two years that the agency’s new system simply wasn’t functioning. In one instance, the agency even misled federal officials about the software’s progress, according to internal agency documents.

The software is called the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, or TIERS for short (pronounced, appropriately enough, “tears”). It is supposed to bring efficiency to state benefit programs and make it easier for needy Texans to get their food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits.

So far, it’s done the opposite. In pilot programs, the software has mysteriously swallowed data and left applicants wondering if they will ever receive their benefits. At other times, it has paid out too much money, but how much is impossible to tell because the software doesn’t produce the data auditors need to check for mistakes or fraud.

Flaws in the TIERS system contributed to last year’s failure of the agency’s grand experiment to let private call centers run by the consulting firm Accenture handle applications for state benefits [see “What Hawkins Knew,” April 6, 2007]. The call center plan has been suspended indefinitely, and HHSC canceled its contract with Accenture last month.

But TIERS somehow soldiers on. The state and federal tax dollars it has already burned could have provided health coverage for every kid in the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 2007.

HHSC officials contend they have fixed many of the problems, and Hawkins is moving forward with plans to slowly expand TIERS across Texas. “TIERS is a successful system today,” says HHSC spokesperson Stephanie Goodman. “It provides benefits to hundreds of thousands of clients every month.”

But federal officials and some state lawmakers remain deeply suspicious, and in recent weeks have tried to halt TIERS expansion. It’s not just the well-being of needy Texans at stake. If Hawkins sticks with the software and the project continues to fail, the state risks incurring federal sanctions and wasting even more taxpayer money.

Hawkins didn’t create the TIERS mess, but he has perpetuated it. HHSC set out to build its new computer system in 2000—three years before Hawkins took over the agency. It wanted to replace an aging system— antiquated, but it worked well enough—with gadget-heavy, Web-based software. The new system was supposed to be easy to use and handle every task a state worker could desire, from processing Medicaid applications to calculating how much food stamp money to pay out. HHSC hired Deloitte Consulting LLP to build the software. The project was botched from the beginning.

After three years, the state and its contractors launched a trial run of TIERS in two Central Texas counties, and they have yet to move much beyond the pilot program, which handles about 250,000 clients a month, according to HHSC. Goodman says HHSC successfully expanded TIERS to Williamson County last fall without hearing any complaints. But state workers in the pilot area have complained for years that the software takes far too long to process applications.

What’s given HHSC the greatest heartache is the system’s inability to maintain case histories—for example, how much a Medicaid provider was paid three years ago, or whether a food stamp recipient mistakenly received too much money, and if so, how much.

The lack of reliable case histories prevents auditors at the HHSC Office of Inspector General from investigating cases of Medicaid fraud and recovering overpayments. HHSC auditors haven’t pursued a single fraud investigation among the hundreds of thousands of cases handled by TIERS in 28 months. Similarly, they halted all inquiries into cases using TIERS in April 2005, according to a report last fall by the Texas State Auditor’s office.

Internal HHSC documents obtained by the Observer reveal the extent of the problem. For example, the HHSC Inspector General’s office believes, based on sample data, that TIERS is paying too much taxpayer money in the food stamp program. But without case histories, the auditors have no way to determine how much money mistakenly went out, and can’t recoup the overpayments. Goodman, the agency spokesperson, says the data are retrievable from TIERS, but the system has trouble putting the information into a format auditors can use.

The federal government requires the state to track and recoup overpayments in the food stamp program, and to conduct fraud investigations. HHSC’s inability to perform either task in the two counties using TIERS is not only wasting taxpayer money intended for needy Texans, but also violating federal law.

For three years, the feds and HHSC’s own auditors have nagged the agency to correct the software failings. In August 2005, HHSC auditors recommended three steps that might limit the continued waste of taxpayer money, including requiring a supervisor to review and approve any food stamp payments of more than $125. HHSC officials later assured federal officials the safeguards were in place as early as June 2005. That appears to have been untrue. HHSC auditors have found “no confirmation” of safeguards such as supervisor approval “anywhere in TIERS or otherwise,” according to an auditor’s memo last fall. HHSC’s Goodman says those safeguards were automated in late 2006 and the amount of overpayments issued by TIERS fell substantially.

Hawkins was well aware of the problems. He met personally with staff from the HHSC Inspector General's office on April 27, 2005, and again on September 29, 2005. At both meetings, auditors warned Hawkins that the agency’s auditors couldn’t track overpayments or investigate fraud in the TIERS data, according to a memo written by Garbarino last fall. Hawkins’ office didn’t respond to three interview requests for this story.

Hawkins moved ahead with an expansion of TIERS before the flaws were corrected. He decided to link the launch of the Accenture call center network in 2006 with an expansion of TIERS. Hawkins planned to roll out the call centers and TIERS statewide and simultaneously.

While the call center flameout drew widespread coverage, the failings of the state’s new software have garnered little publicity. In early 2007, HHSC quietly moved ahead with its planned expansion of TIERS.

After HHSC notified federal officials of its plans, the feds reprimanded the agency in a March 23, 2007, letter denying HHSC approval to expand its problematic software. Of course, HHSC has ignored the feds before. As the Observer reported on April 6, Hawkins twice pushed the Accenture plan forward without federal approval. The feds issued a stern warning to HHSC not to try that stunt again. “[The Food and Nutrition Service] will not participate in further funding of this project if the State elects to move forward with an expansion of TIERS without FNS’ prior approval,” the letter read. HHSC had hoped to expand TIERS to seven more Central Texas counties by the end of April. Those plans are in doubt.

You couldn’t blame the feds if they decide to cut off funding for TIERS. The state has already burned through about $231 million in federal money developing the software. (The state tab is approaching $200 million.)

Hawkins told a House subcommittee on April 4 that his agency had, remarkably, solved most of the problems with the software, including the case history problem. He said agency leaders met with federal officials on March 29 to discuss TIERS and that the feds were pleased with HHSC’s progress. “We were able to present to [federal officials] documents showing that changes have been made,” HHSC Deputy Commissioner Anne Heiligenstein told lawmakers at the hearing. “Their reaction was very positive.”

Despite that happy talk, sources at the Capitol say federal officials are suspicious of HHSC’s claims, though they took state officials at their word. Asked if HHSC’s progress had satisfied the federal government, Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman with the federal Food and Nutrition Service, said, “That’s under review. [HHSC] has provided answers to the questions and discussion points. Those are under review.” Federal officials will visit Texas in April to test just how fixed the computer system really is.

Meanwhile, time may be running out for TIERS. Several state lawmakers are losing patience with the repeated failures. Sen. Bob Deuell, a Greenville Republican, offered a rider to the state budget to allow HHSC to update its old computer system as a temporary fix until TIERS or another system can function successfully. Other lawmakers want to scrap the software and make HHSC start over with a system that won’t waste so much money.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Jerusalem Post: Jesus Tomb Film Scholars Backtrack

Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack

Several prominent scholars who were interviewed in a bitterly contested documentary that suggests that Jesus and his family members were buried in a nondescript ancient Jerusalem burial cave have now revised their conclusions, including the statistician who claimed that the odds were 600:1 in favor of the tomb being the family burial cave of Jesus of Nazareth, a new study on the fallout from the popular documentary shows.

The dramatic clarifications, compiled by epigrapher Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem in a paper titled "Cracks in the Foundation: How the Lost Tomb of Jesus story is losing its scholarly support," come two months after the screening of The Lost Tomb of Christ that attracted widespread public interest, despite the concomitant scholarly ridicule.

The film, made by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and Emmy-winning Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, prompted major criticism from both a leading Israeli archeologist involved in the original dig at the site as well as Christian leaders, who were angered over the documentary's contradictions of main tenets of Christianity.

But now, even some of the scholars who were interviewed for and appeared in the film are questioning some of its basic claims.

The most startling change of opinion featured in the 16-page paper is that of University of Toronto statistician Professor Andrey Feuerverger, who stated those 600 to one odds in the film. Feuerverger now says that these referred to the probability of a cluster of such names appearing together.

Pfann's paper reported that a statement on the Discovery Channel's Web site, which previously read "a statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters...concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family," in keeping with Feuerverger's statement, has been altered and now reads, "a statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters... concludes that the probability factor is in the order of 600 to 1 that an equally 'surprising' cluster of names would arise purely by chance under given assumptions."

Another sentence on the same Web site stating that Feuerverger had concluded it was highly probable that the tomb, located in the southeastern residential Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot, was the Jesus family tomb - the central point of the film - has also been changed. It now reads: "It is unlikely that an equally surprising cluster of names would have arisen by chance under purely random sampling."

Israeli archeologists have said that the similarity of the names found inscribed on the ossuaries in the cave to the members of Jesus's family was coincidental, since many of those names were commonplace in the first century CE.

The film argues that 10 ancient ossuaries - burial boxes used to store bones - that were discovered in Talpiot in 1980 contained the bones of Jesus and his family. The filmmakers attempt to explain some of the inscriptions on the ossuaries by suggesting that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and that the couple had a son, Judah.

One of the ossuaries bears an inscription reading "Yeshua son of Yehosef" or "Jesus son of Joseph;" a second reads "Mary;" a third is a Greek inscription apparently read by one scholar as "Mary Magdalene;" while a fourth bears the inscription, "Judah, son of Jesus." The inscriptions are in Hebrew or Aramaic, except for the one in Greek.

But Shimon Gibson, who was part of the team that excavated the tomb two and half decades ago and who appeared in the film, is quoted in Pfann's report as saying he doubted the site was the tomb of Jesus and his family.

"Personally, I'm skeptical that this is the tomb of Jesus and I made this point very clear to the filmmakers," Gibson is quoted as saying.

"We need much more evidence before we can say that the Talpiot tomb might be the family tomb of Jesus," he added.

In the film, renowned epigrapher Prof. Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Hebrew and oriental languages at Harvard University, is seen reading one of the ossuaries and stating that he has "no real doubt" that it reads "Jesus son of Joseph." But according to Pfann, Cross said in an e-mail that he was skeptical about the film's claims, not because of a misreading of the ossuary, but because of the ubiquity of Biblical names in that period in Jerusalem.

"It has been reckoned that 25 percent of feminine names in this period were Maria/Miriam, etc. - that is, variants of 'Mary.' So the cited statistics are unpersuasive. You know the saying: lies, damned lies, and statistics," Cross is quoted as saying.

The paper also notes that DNA scientist Dr. Carney Matheson, who supervised DNA testing carried out for the film from the supposed Jesus and Mary Magdalene ossuaries, and who said in the documentary that "these two individuals, if they were unrelated, would most likely be husband and wife," later said that "the only conclusions we made were that these two sets were not maternally related. To me, it sounds like absolutely nothing."

Furthermore, Pfann also says that a specialist in ancient apocryphal text, Professor Francois Bovon, who is quoted in the film as saying the enigmatic ossuary inscription "Mariamne" is the same woman known as Mary Magdalene - one of the filmmakers' critical arguments - issued a disclaimer stating that he did not believe that "Mariamne" stood for Mary of Magdalene at all.

Pfann has already argued that the controversial inscription does not read "Mariamne" at all.

The burial site, which has been contested from the start by scholars and church officials alike, is some distance from the Church of the Holy Sepulchrr in the Old City, where many Christians believe Jesus's body lay for three days after he was crucified.

According to the New Testament, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, and an ossuary containing Jesus's bones - the explanations of the movie director notwithstanding - would contradict the core Christian belief that he was resurrected and then ascended to heaven.

Rita Wilson: Why Easter is Greek to Me: Xristos Anesti!

From the Washington Post

Once every few years, Greek Easter falls the same week as “American Easter,” as it was called when I was growing up.

In order for “Greek Easter” to be celebrated the same week as “American Easter,” Passover has to have been celebrated already. We Greeks don’t do Easter until after Passover, because how can you have Easter BEFORE Passover. Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, after all. Unless it is one of the years when the two holidays align. Like this year.

Here are some of the things that non-Greeks may not know about Greek Easter: We don’t do bunnies. We don’t do chocolate. We don’t do pastels.

We do lamb, sweet cookies, and deep red. The lamb is roasted and not chocolate, the sweet cookies are called Koulorakia and are twisted like a braid, and our Easter eggs are dyed one color only: blood red. There is no Easter Egg hunt. There is a game in which you crack your red egg against someone else’s red egg hoping to have the strongest egg, which would indicate you getting a lot of good luck.

Holy Week, for a Greek Orthodox, means you clear your calendar, you don’t make plans for that week at all because you will be in church every day, and you fast. Last year, in addition to not eating red meat and dairy before communion, my family also gave up sodas for the 40-day Lenten period.

During one particularly stressful moment, there were many phone calls amongst our kids as to whether or not a canned drink called TING, made with grapefruit juice and carbonated water was, in fact, a soda and not a juice, which our then 10-year-old decided it was, so we had a Ting-less Lent.

No matter where I find my self in the world I never miss Easter, or as we call it, Pascha. I have celebrated in Paris, London, New York City, Los Angeles, and in Salinas, California at a small humble church that was pure and simple.

When we were kids, our parents would take us, and now as parents ourselves we take our children to many of the Holy Week services including the Good Friday service where you mourn the death of Jesus by walking up to the Epitaphio, which reperesents the dead body of Christ, make your cross, kiss the Epitaphio, and marvel at how it was decorated with a thousand glorious flowers, rose petals and smells like incense.

Some very pious people will crawl under the Epitaphio. I have always been so moved to see this. There is no self- consciousness in this utter act of faith. There is no embarrassment to show symbolic sorrow at the death of our Saviour.

At a certain point in the Good Friday service, the Epitaphio is carried outside by the deacons of the church, as if they are pall bearers, followed by worshippers carrying lit candles protected from dripping on your clothes and on others by having a red plastic cup that sits below the flame to catch the wax drippings. Every Greek person knows all too well the smell of burning hair.

One time, in London, I smelled something and turned to look at where the smell might be coming from, only to be horrified that it was coming form me and my head was on fire. But I digress.

It is somber and quiet as we follow the Epitaphio, in candlelight, from the altar to the outdoors, in order for it to circle the church before it returns back to the altar. We sing beautiful lamentations that make your heart break with their pure expression of sadness and hope.

One of my favorite services during Easter is Holy Unction. This happens on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Holy Unction is a sacrament. It is for healing of our ills, physical and spiritual. It is preparing us for confession and communion. This sacrament has always been so humbling to me.

When you approach the priest for Holy Unction, you bow your head and as he says a prayer and asks you your Christian name, he takes a swab of blessed oil and makes the sign of the cross on your forehead, cheeks, chin, backs of your hands and palms. It is a powerful reminder of how, with faith, we can be healed in many ways.

The holy oil is then carefully dabbed with cotton balls provided by the church so you don’t leave there looking as if you’re ready to fry chicken with your face, and before you exit the church, you leave your cotton balls in a basket being held by altar boys, so as not to dispose of the holy oil in a less than holy place. The church burns the used cotton balls.

There have been times when I have left church with my cotton ball and have panicked when I am driving away. At home I take care of it. Imagine a grown woman burning cotton balls in her sink. But that is what I do.

Midnight Mass on Saturday night, going into Sunday morning is the Anastasi service. We will arrive at church at around 11 p.m., when it starts, and listen to the chanter as he chants in preparation for the service. My kids, dressed in their suits and having been awakened from a deep sleep to come to church, groggily sit and wait holding their candles with red cup wax catchers.

As the service progresses, the moment we have all been waiting for approaches. All the lights in the church are turned off. It is pitch black It is dead quiet. The priest takes one candle and lights his one candle from the one remaining lit altar candle, which represents the light of Christ’s love ( I believe).

From this one candle, the priest approaches the congregation and using his one candle he shares his light with a few people in the front pews. They in turn share their light with the people next to them and behind them. In quiet solemnity, we wait until the entire church is lit with only the light of candles, the light that has been created by one small flame has now created a room of shared light.

And at a moment that can only be described as glorious, the priest cries out, “Xristos Anesti!” “Christ is Risen!” We respond with “Alithos Anesti!” “Truly, He is Risen!” We sing our glorious Xristos Anesti song with the choir. That moment, which happens about an hour, to an hour and half into the service and seems as if the service is over, actually marks the beginning of the service. The service then continues for another hour and a half.

When I was a kid, after the service was over, we would go to the Anastasi Dinner that the church would throw in the church hall, where we would break our fast, drink Cokes at 2:30 in the morning, dance to a raucous Greek band and not go home until our stomachs were full of lamb, eggs, Koulouraki, and we saw the sun rise. Or was it the Son rise?

But usually now, after Midnight Mass, we drive home with our still-lit candles. I always love seeing the looks on peoples faces as they pull up to our car seeing a family with lit candles calmly moving at 65 m.p.h. down the highway. When we get home, we crack eggs, eat cookies, drink hot chocolate (so not Greek) and I burn a cross into our doorways with the carbon from the candle smoke to bless our house for the year.

There have been many times when painters touching up the house have wondered why there was this strange black cross burned into our doorways. The next day is usually followed by a late sleep in, then getting up and doing the same thing you just did but in the daytime at the Easter Picnic, usually held at a local park.

I have to say, the Greeks know how to do Easter. Make no mistake. This is the most important holiday in our church. It is a beautiful week. I haven’t even begun to touch on what the week is really like. This is a sampling of a sampling of what it is like. It is so much more deep, so much richer than I have written here.

But one thing is clear. It is a powerful, beautiful, mysterious, humbling, healing and moving week. It is filled with tradition and ritual. It is about renewal and faith. And even though it is still too early to say, Xristos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

Actress Rita Wilson, whose mother and father both were born in Greece, is widely credited with landing Nia Vardalos a movie deal for "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Wilson and her actor husband Tom Hanks had their own "Big Fat Greek Wedding" in 1988. They have two children.