Orthodox Easter in Russiа: С днём Светлой Пасхи
28 April, 2019
Since today is Easter day what’s better than having a closer look to one of the most important Orthodox Catholic celebration? For those who are curious to know more about Easter in Russia, here you are. In this article I’m going to “unravel you the secrets” of Orthodox Easter and, on top of that, to give a little dictionary which I hope will be helpful on this very significant day.
Страстная седмица (Holy week)
Вербное воскресенье – Willow Sunday
Willow Sunday, the first day of the Holy Week, is the sixth Sunday of the Great Fasting and represents Christ’s entrance in Jerusalem.
Великий понедельник – Great Monday
On Great Monday farmers would clean and paint their houses, since it was thought to help keeping their animals and their dear ones “pure”.
Чистый вторник – Clean Tuesday
Back in the days on Clean Tuesday people used to prepare an ointment with water and crushed weed and flax seeds. This was used to oil cattle so that they could’ve stayed healthy.
Страстная среда – Holy Wednesday
On this day people used to wet their cattle with melted snow.
Чистый четверг – Clean Thursday
On Clean Thursday, according to tradition, people should wash themselves till dawn to avoid future illnesses, should dry their winter clothes and thoroughly clean their homes. Another very important custom was that of baking bread, setting a fire with the candles that had been used in the function celebrated on the day before, and preparing black salt. Each and every rite have a common purpose, that is, bringing about health, wellbeing, and an abundant harvest. (For those who would like to dig a little deeper on the history of these traditions here you a link to Russian Wikipedia)
Страстная пятница – Holy Friday
Holy Friday represents the day on which Christ was crucified. Even though this event was tragic, people still believe that every seed that’s planted on this day will give a rich harvest.
Страстная суббота – Holy Saturday
The day before Easter day. On Holy Saturday people gather in church around midnight for the Easter function. It was believed that those who fell asleep during the celebration would have had a bad harvest, whereas the one who participated actively could’ve had their fields blessed in order to get the exact opposite.
Traditions and Symbols
According to tradition, Easter in Russia begins from a liturgy that starts on Saturday night and goes till Sunday morning. Right before the Easter mass колокольный звон takes place: it is one of the most important rites and consists in 5 minutes where people can personally ring the church bells in order to be “purified”. Then, people enter the church in their bright-coloured traditional Easter clothes and bring their food on a table where it’ll be blessed. After mass, people go outside and do 3 laps around the church saying each other “Христос Воскрес” – “Jesus has risen” and answering “Воистину Воскрес” – “Has risen for real” then cheek-kissing each other 3 times. This whole ceremony is the beginning of a 7-day celebration called Красная горка (The red slide), during which people use to seed their fields and celebrate weddings.
Now, let’s have a look to some of the most representative food-related symbols of Easter in Russia, like the ever-present typical sweets and drinks:
Кагор: Typical French dry red wine produced in the vineyards near Cahors, a little city in Southern France. During the reign of Peter the Great it had been imported for the first time and, since then, it has made its way into Russian culture. In fact, in the beginning, it was used in churches during the Eucharist to symbolise Christ’s blood, and then it started to be served on people’s table during Easter day.
Творожная Пасха: This is a typical dessert made with tvorog, kind of Russian cottage cheese, that’s served for Easter in Russia. It symbolises Christ’s casket and his resurrection at the same time, in fact on the sides we see “ХВ”, which means “Jesus has risen”.
Кулич: Sweet bread with nuts and candied fruits and frosted on top. On the frosting, same as on творожная Пасха’s sides, people use to write “ХВ”.
Let’s move to the blessed hand-painted eggs that can be divided into two categories:
Крашенки: Monochromatic eggs whose name comes from the Russian verb красить – colour.
Писанки: These are real masterpieces that owe their name to the Russian verb писать – paint (among many other meanings). What’s interesting about this tradition is that it was common to everyone, regardless of their social status. In fact, Royal family members used to gift each other handcrafted eggs made by Fabergé that nowadays can be admired in the Museum located at walking distance from our school. (Here you are a link to the museum’s site where you can find further information)
And, last but not least, the little dictionary Easter edition:
Easter Sunday – Holy Sunday
Jesus has risen
He has risen for real
Пресный – сдобный
Insipid – rich
Поститься – пост
Fast – Fasting
Eating whatever you want after 40 days of fasting
Describes the ritual of cheek-kissing 3 times then saying: “Иисус воскрес” which is answered to: “Воистину воскрес”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this close up on history and tradition of Easter in Russia, and that it helped you have a better understanding of this population’s cultural background. Now, to conclude, let me wish you Happy Orthodox Easter!