Christians Will Greet Easter at Dawn Rites

Times Religion Writer

In a pre-dawn ritual throughout Southern California, thousands of Christians will get up early Sunday for sunrise services on the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, a day focused on New Testament accounts of Jesus risen from the dead.

The Easter services--some beginning even before sunrise at 5:45 a.m.--typically feature familiar readings and musical presentations, with only occasional departures from each annual event’s traditions.

Nevertheless, the Hollywood Bowl sunrise service, this year dedicated to Armenians affected by last December’s devastating earthquake, will feature a sermon by an Armenian churchman for the first time in the event’s 69 years--Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian of the Armenian Church of North America.

Armenian Christians, as well as Protestants, Catholics and Anglicans, celebrate Easter this Sunday. Eastern Orthodox churches, whose tradition requires that the holiday fall after the Jewish Passover period, will observe Easter on April 30.


Celebrities to Appear

The Bowl service, which traditionally involves entertainment celebrities, will include Cyd Charisse reading “The Master Is Coming” and songs by Robert Guillame, currently starring in the film “Lean on Me,” and Rhonda Fleming. Bob Ralston, long featured on the Lawrence Welk television program, will be an organ soloist.

The 1989 Easter message of the Mormon Church’s First Presidency will be read during the prologue, and Pope John Paul II’s Easter message will be read by Auxiliary Bishop Juan Arzube of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese, prior to the service’s musical finale.

Other clergy participating include the Revs. Harry Durkee of Hollywood Lutheran Church, Clarence J. Davis Jr. of Mt. Hebron Baptist Church, Patsy Nichols Redwood of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church and Roy McKoewn, founder of World Opportunities International.

Parking and admission are free for the service, which lasts from 5:15 to 7 a.m., but organizers also made their customary last-minute appeal for calla lilies. People who bring lilies to the Bowl between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. today were promised reserved seats.

The annual sunrise service atop Mt. Rubidoux in Riverside, which has an interdenominational Protestant flavor, will have a sermon by Dan Matthews, host of the Christian Lifestyle Magazine television program and executive director in Newbury Park of the Seventh-day Adventists’ Faith for Today productions.

Regular participants Robert Dyer and Horace Stevens, respectively, will read the poem “God of the Open Air” and sing a solo. The Mt. Rubidoux service, which usually draws about 2,000 worshipers, will be held for the 77th time since its inaugural service in 1909. The tradition has been interrupted only by one rain-out and three wartime cancellations. The service will begin at 5:30 a.m.

More than 11,000 persons are expected to turn out for sunrise services held at four Forest Lawn Memorial-Park cemeteries and organized by a variety of ministerial associations and church councils. All of them will start at 5:45 a.m.


The largest crowd is expected at Forest Lawn in Covina Hills where the speaker will be the Rev. G. Michael Cocoris, senior pastor of Glendora’s Church of the Open Door. Rich Buhler, an ordained minister who hosts the syndicated radio talk show “Talk From the Heart,” will speak at the 28th annual sunrise service at Forest Lawn in Cypress.

Auxiliary Bishop Carl Fisher of the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese will speak at the Forest Lawn-Sunnyside service in Long Beach, and the Rev. George Smith, senior pastor of North Hollywood First Assembly of God, will preach the sermon at the Hollywood Hills facility. In addition, a Spanish-language service will be held indoors at 5:45 a.m. in the Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection at Forest Lawn, Glendale, under the auspices of the Hispanic Baptist Churches of the American Southwest.

Among other early morning outdoor services are the 6 a.m. service in the amphitheater at Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes; the 25th annual Morro Bay service, starting at 6 a.m. adjacent to Morro Rock, and the 20th annual Easter Service on Horseback, sponsored by the Valley Horse Owners Assn., starting at 9 a.m. at Orcas Park in Lake View Terrace.

In San Diego County, three traditional sunrise services will be staged. The 72nd service on Mt. Helix in La Mesa, sponsored by the Wesleyan Church, will start at 6:30 a.m.; the 68th annual service atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla will begin at 6 a.m. and the 40th annual service at Cabrillo National Monument will start at 6:30 a.m.