Bright Week, otherwise known as Renewal Week, begins on Pascha Sunday and ends on the following Sunday of Thomas. The name probably originates from the fact that the newly baptized catechumens from Pascha are newly illumined and bright. For them it is a time of regeneration and renewal. These newly baptized in ancient times wore all white for a week, hence the week sometimes being called White Week.
The seven days of Bright Week are seen as one day, a continuous Pascha celebration. According to the 66th canon of the Council in Trullo: “From the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until New Sunday (i.e. Thomas Sunday) for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries. For in this way shall we be exalted with Christ; raised up together with Him. For this reason on the aforesaid days that by no means there be any horse races or any other public spectacle.” Furthermore, because of the continuous paschal celebration, there should be no fasting this week. And as the above canon states, this is a time of renewal for all Orthodox Christians and not just the newly baptized. It is a time for the faithful to bear spiritual fruit and generate new virtues for our own illumination as well.
In the Roman Empire, especially in Constantinople, this week had special joy and was celebrated with great pomp and splendor. The emperor would call the newly-baptized and the poor to a rich meal, while on Bright Thursday the Patriarch would have an honorary dinner for the clergy. Rich gifts were distributed by the emperor and official visitations were made. Prisoners with light offenses were released as well. These traditions are somewhat carried out today in Greece where state officials visit hospitals and military camps, and military sanctions are lifted.
The services of Bright Week are done joyfully and with the Royal Doors fully open. This unblocked view of the altar symbolizes the open door of Christ’s empty tomb as well as the rent veil of the Jewish Temple, which was torn apart at the moment Christ died. The Gospel of John and Acts are read as well, which are the two New Testament books of renewal and beginnings.