Orthodox Easter – a few facts you need to know about this holiday
Good Friday, Clean Thursday and other notions all Russians know
On the 28th of April people in Russia will celebrate Easter, one of the main holidays known as Paskha (Пасха). In this post, Elena Killiakova, our author of Matryoshka’s Diary tells about historical background, traditions and the way Russians celebrate this holiday.
When do Russians celebrate Paskha? There is no set date
The name presumably originates from the Jewish holiday of Pesach, which was dedicated to the release of Jews from Egyptian slavery. Other people believe it comes from the Greek phrase “I suffer”. In accordance with Christian tradition, the word signifies transitioning with Christ from death to eternity and from earth to heaven.
- Russian Easter shifts from year to year because it falls on the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon. Paskha is usually celebrated later than Catholic Easter, because the Russian Orthodox Church follows the old Julian calendar, unlike the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, which have been using the Gregorian calendar since the 16th century.
- Some people fast before Easter
Paskha is preceded by 40 days of Great Lent, the most important event in the Orthodox church year. Those who observe it are not supposed to eat meat, dairy and, on some days, even vegetable oils. On the last Friday before Easter (Good Friday), no food or drink should be consumed until the evening.
- “Clean Thursday”
Russians are supposed to do all their pre-Easter chores during the last week before the holiday, also known as the Holy Week. Houses should be thoroughly cleaned before “Clean Thursday”, which is when Russians dye and decorate eggs. On Saturdays, everyone cooks traditional Easter food and those who fast are not allowed to taste it while cooking. It is also common to bless the food at church during the night service.
- Night church service
In Russia, the Easter church service starts on Saturday evening and lasts until dawn. This is usually an impressive ceremony with candle lights and liturgical chants, attended even by those who don’t attend mass frequently. At midnight, the bells are rung to announce the resurrection of Christ; the priest says “Christ is risen!” and parishioners are supposed to respond with “He is truly risen!” If you are visiting Russia during Easter, make sure you attend the church service – it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Easter eggs
Easter eggs are arguably the most important part of the holiday. Hard-boiled eggs are traditionally painted using onion skins. Exchanging eggs is one of the most popular Easter rituals.
- Traditional food
On Easter morning most families in Russia, no matter how religious they are, usually enjoy a traditional breakfast of eggs, kulich (кулич)—a special kind of yeast bread, and paskha—a pyramid-shaped cake made of cottage cheese and raisins. Even though food stores offer ready-made kulichi and paskhas, many people prefer to make them using family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation.
- Christ is risen!
Russians rarely stay at home on Easter; this holiday is all about family gatherings and festive dinners. During the day people exchange Easter eggs, kiss each other on the cheek three times, and often say “Christ is risen!” to each other, responding with “He is truly risen!”
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