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Traditions of Orthodox Easter celebrations


Easter is the oldest and most important Christian holiday. It was established in honor of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the center of the entire biblical tale and the basis of all Christian doctrine. This is one of the biggest celebrations in the whole world: "holiday of holidays and a celebration of celebrations."


Interestingly, Easter was originally celebrated only as the day of the liberation of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. The Hebrew word "Pesach" and the Aramaic "Pascha" (in different interpretations - "transition", "exodus", "pass") are associated with the last, tenth punishment that God sent to Egypt because Pharaoh refused to free slaves. According to the Old Testament, God passed (pesah) by Egyptian houses and spared those families who anointed the doorways with the blood of a lamb, while the rest of the firstborn died. After that, Pharaoh released the Jews and the great exodus from Egypt began. Until now, Pesach is one of the main Jewish holidays.



Easter refers to "sliding", holidays. This means that it's date changes every year. It is known that the rules for calculating the date of the Bright Resurrection of Christ were established at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325. Calculating the exact date of Easter is complicated and directly depends on the solar and lunar calendars. The holiday is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon in the period after the vernal equinox (March 21). Easter mainly falls between April 4 and May 8 according to the new style (and respectively March 21 and April 25 according to the old style).

The dates of Easter celebrations for Catholics and Orthodox differ due to different calendars. Eastern Christians (Orthodox) use the Julian calendar, that is, their holidays are calculated according to the old style. Western Christians (Catholics) live according to the Gregorian calendar (new style). There are a variety of explanations for this.

In the 9th century, the Byzantine Church dominated and comprehensively spread its influence, as evidenced by missionaries' use of the Slavic language under the leadership of Saints Kirill and Methodius. But the Christian East, despite the unifying forces of Christian Hellenism, was initially and always culturally pluralistic: from the first centuries of Christianity, Syrians, Armenians, Georgians, Copts, Ethiopians, and many other ethnic groups used their languages in worship, developing their teachings and traditions. The church schism that occurred in 1054 divided the united Christian Church into Roman Catholic in the West, centered in Rome, and Orthodox in the East, centered in Constantinople. The division has not been overcome to date. An important event was also the Turkish conquest of the Middle East and the Balkans in the 15th century, which interrupted the missionary expansion of the Orthodox Church. The spread of Islam to former Christian territories meant that Christians could only survive in enclaves and were legally excluded from proselytizing. And it turned out that only the Russian Church was able to continue the tradition of Saints Kiril and Methodius, and did it almost without interruption until the modern age.



Most often, Catholic Easter comes earlier, but sometimes the holiday falls on the same day for different branches of Christianity. The last time this happened was in 2017, when the Bright Resurrection of Christ was celebrated on April 16. In 2024, Catholic Easter is celebrated on March 31, and Orthodox Easter is celebrated on May 5.

Easter is one of the three most popular holidays in Russia. Spiritual preparation for it begins with great Lent, which begins on Clean Monday and ends on Lazarev Saturday. Clean Monday falls 7 weeks before Easter Sunday, which brings purification from sinful moods through fasting. The early church fathers compared it to the journey of the soul through the wilderness of the world. Spiritual fasting is designed to strengthen the inner life of the worshipper, weakening the desires of the flesh and bringing him closer to God. In many Eastern churches, fasting is still observed with considerable rigor. Lazarev Saturday comes 8 days before Easter Sunday and means the end of Lent. Next comes Palm Sunday, in memory of the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, followed by Holy Week, which just ends on Easter Sunday.



In the old days, people prepared very diligently for the bright holiday. Housewives washed tables, benches, benches, windows and doors. The stove and walls were whitewashed. Sometimes the peasants asked the priests to hold a water consecration. The clergy consecrated the wells. Peasants dipped their crosses into consecrated reservoirs, believing in the healing power of such water.

Many Eastern Orthodox churches observe the Easter vigil, which ends the evening before Easter shortly before midnight on Holy Saturday. At this time, a series of 15 Old Testament readings is read out. Also, this Saturday evening is often celebrated with a candlelit procession near the church.

Easter celebrations begin with Easter matins - early morning prayer or part of the all-night vigil. This is usually accompanied by the ringing of bells. At the end, everyone exchanges a "Kiss of Peace."


After the Eucharist, fasting is break, and feasting and festivities begin. Orthodox Easter is celebrated with great joy, no wonder it is popularly called "Great Day". The celebration was held widely - with round dances, games, and songs. Easter in Russia was celebrated from 3 to 7 days, and in some regions - even before Trinity, which is celebrated 50 days after Easter. The peak of the festivities fell on Krasnaya Gorka – this is the folk name of St. Thomas's Day, the Sunday following Easter, when Christ appeared before the Apostle Thomas, who doubted the miracle. Residents of pre-revolutionary Russia danced, sang songs, built bonfires, and had fun in every possible way. Also, many weddings were traditionally celebrated on Krasnaya Gorka, as the church resumed weddings.


A favorite pastime at Easter was egg rolling. Also at Easter, carousels and large swings were put up. It was thought that the future harvest depended on swinging on them. That is why they swung most often from Easter to Trinity, just during the active growth of wheat. There was also a belief that swings help to find a husband or wife faster.



On Easter, the bells in the temples sound especially solemnly – spreading the good news about the triumph of goodness and light throughout the district. Two sounds are distinguishable in the church tradition – the measured rare beats of the gospel and the joyful Easter chime, all according to the canon. In everyone, this kind of music is designed to give rise to bright feelings and imbue with hope and faith in the good. The villagers believed that on a Great Day, it was necessary to ring the bell several times – this was supposed to bring happiness. Also, before the revolution, there were Easter songs that were passed down from generation to generation. With the advent of Soviet power, this tradition has almost disappeared.



With the end of Great Lent, the prohibition on dancing was also lifted. An integral part of the Easter festivities were round dances (circular or longitudinal), which led to special songs. The main Easter hymn – "troparion": "Christ is risen from the dead" - was performed during the church service. But in some villages, it was heard not only in the temple. It was called "shouting Christ." Women could sing it anywhere - at work, on the street, during festivities and festive feasts.



Many proverbs and sayings have formed for the celebration:

• Like the Annunciation, so is the Bright Week.

• At Easter, the sky is clear and the sun is playing - for a good harvest and a red summer.

The morning meal after strict Lent was an important moment of Easter celebration. On ordinary days, people ate rye bread, vegetables, and cereals, and for the holiday they always baked sweet cakes made of white flour, cooked cottage cheese Easter, and painted eggs. These dishes were consecrated in the temple during the service and brought home.

The Easter table is special, it brings "light and grace": the thought of peace and understanding. No dish appears on the festive table by chance. So, cakes are baked in memory of how Christ ate bread with his disciples so that they would believe in his resurrection. Previously, the indispensable decoration of the Easter cake and the Easter table was a sugar or butter lamb. This symbol has traditionally served as a reminder of the sacrificial death of Christ in atonement for the sins of all mankind. Subsequently, the Old Testament Easter lamb on the festive table was replaced by Easter - a curd mass compressed in the form of a truncated pyramid with images of crosses, spears, canes, sprouted grains, sprouts, and flowers. In its shape it resembles Golgotha. Easter is also considered a symbol of the Holy Sepulchre.



In the Orthodox tradition, eggs are a symbol of new life, the origin of the universe. In ancient Russian manuscripts, there is a curious interpretation attributed to John of Damascus: "Heaven and earth are like an egg in everything: shell, like heaven; hymen, like clouds; protein, like water; yolk, like earth." Early Christians used eggs to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the rebirth of believers. It was also believed that the eggs consecrated in the temple had special miraculous and healing properties. During the meal, the father of the family peeled the first egg, cut it, and distributed a piece to each household. Throughout Easter week, eggs were given to relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances, treated guests, and distributed to beggars.



There are several versions of why eggs are painted once a year, at Easter. According to one of them, a follower of Christ, Mary Magdalene, after the resurrection of her mentor, told the Roman emperor Tiberius about the miracle and presented him with a chicken egg as a symbol of a new life. The emperor doubted and replied that such a thing was as impossible as a white egg could not turn red. A miracle happened: the egg changed color and turned red. The red color of the egg symbolizes the blood of Christ shed on the cross for the redemption of all people, the egg itself is the tomb of the Savior, and the split egg is the exit of Jesus from the grave or his resurrection. In Poland, children are told that the Virgin Mary painted eggs to cheer up the baby Jesus, so Poles can have Easter eggs in all colors of the rainbow. In Australia, eggs are often painted green, the color of spring and hope, and Christians in Istanbul prefer yellow eggs, as this is the color of the sun. It is not acceptable to paint eggs in dark, gloomy colors. And the most elegant was the "pysanka", which were usually made by the whole family: they took thin hooks made of wire, dipped them in melted wax, painted them on the shell, and only then dipped the eggs in paint. In those places where the wax strip passed, the paint did not stick and magical patterns were obtained.



In late Christianity, the tradition of beating eggs came into being. People take hard-boiled colored eggs and beat them against each other with the shells. The winner is the one who has the eggshell intact. In some countries, they even organize competitions. It is believed that winning the battle of eggs brings good luck and happiness for the whole year. The Easter game has gained great popularity in Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and many other countries.



Generally, the festive table did not differ much from region to region. But in some places, the Easter food was very unusual. For example, in Tatarstan, the Kukmor Udmurts consider goose porridge to be the main dish. In addition to her, the women cooked unleavened tortillas in the morning, an omelet baked in the oven, and small balls of hard-boiled pastry fried in a frying pan and then oiled. The differences in the celebration of Easter in this region are explained by the fact that the Christian holiday coincides with the local one – Akashka (Akayashka). It symbolizes the beginning of spring and the agricultural year. According to the ritual, family members read prayers before meals, sing special drinking songs, visit relatives on the paternal side, and symbolically sow a field. Today, this holiday is celebrated not for a week, as before, but for one or two days.



Easter is still the brightest family holiday, and many people remember and honor Easter traditions. In 2024, it coincided that not only Orthodox Easter is celebrated on May 5, but also the Day of Communion. Communication is expressed in different ways: through thoughts, ideas, feelings, looks, gestures, actions, and words are not always needed for this. Many world traditions and celebrations are proof that, like bridges, they create connections between people. This is a great reason to remember how important it is to communicate with each other, show support, care, and spiritual sensitivity, tirelessly expand your horizons, opening new "bridges" and opportunities.



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