With May at the threshold, Russia gets ready to celebrate Easter, the most consecrated festivity for the Orthodox Christians. Preceded by Maslenitsa and the 40-day Great Lent fast, this sacred occasion marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Kept by many through times of the Soviet anti-religious propaganda, today, the uplifting Easter celebrations claim attention from both believers and non-believers alike. Get your comprehensive guide to Orthodox Easter in Russia.
Even for not deeply religious people, the wondrous occasion of Easter manifests the solemn night service, sacred procession, bell-ringing, kulich and dyed eggs.
In Russian culture, Easter is also known as Pascha. It comes from the Hebrew ‘pasque’ that means "Passover" and goes back to the time of the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. To strengthen the belief in this victory over death, on Sunday, people greet each other with “Christos voskres”, meaning "Christ has Risen". In response, one says “Voistinu voskres” ("Indeed, He has Risen")- expressing a fundamental belief in the rising and eternal life.
Just as in the Catholic world, Orthodox Easter is celebrated in spring. But as the date is not fixed (each year, the spring's full moon happens at different times), it can be any time between April and May. One more thing to keep in mind: the Orthodox Easter Sunday is calculated based on the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian one, primarily used in the Catholic tradition. This difference can make up to one month difference.
During the last Sunday before Easter, the believers usually recall Jesus entry to Jerusalem. Although he was greeted with the palm branches, in the Russian culture, those were replaced with the willow ones. Since the times of ancient Russia, the willow designated the spring, new life, and upcoming renewal. In the Orthodox tradition, willow branches are also often called “willows of virtue”.
Among other essential preparations before Easter is the Great Lent. Not only it’s important to hold back from certain foods but also reconcile with offenders and worship. But even if the person did not fast, it does not mean entering the church is forbidden, everyone is welcomed during this holy time. Easter usually begins with the night church service on Saturday Eve, followed by the liturgical singing and rounds of blissful singing and hugging.
The main symbols of the Orthodox Easter in Russia are kulich – a Russian semi-sweet Easter bread, cheese pascha – a sweet dish made of cottage cheese and raisins – and eggs. Kulich is usually baked from the kvass dough (kvass is a traditional fermented Slavic beverage), whilst its process is also seen metaphorically as the Resurrection of Christ. Once the dough sours, it later comes to life again, just as Christ did once. Often kulich bears the symbol ХВ, that stands for "Christos voskres".
Another symbol of Easter is an egg that symbolizes a new life. As opposed to chocolate eggs or bunnies in the West, Russians use real eggs. Although different colour variations are possible, there is one that is red and with a special meaning. It signifies the blood of Christ.
Want to get a feeling of the Orthodox Easter in Siberia? Then head to the museum-estate of V.P. Sukachev. One week prior to the holy occasion, the museum hosts numerous workshops to make Easter gifts with your own hands. Visitors can work with various materials such as sisal fiber, lace, flax, cardboard, gypsum, foamiran and others. All the works can be taken with afterwards.
If you happen to be in Russia around the Orthodox Easter time and want to join the overall celebrations, don't forget this comprehensive guide.
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