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Russian Orthodox Easter Customs

Easter is the predominant springtime feast celebrated by the Russian Orthodox. For religious Russians, the entire Lenten Season, referred to as the Quadragesima, has a markedly different feel than normal, day-to-day life. Historically, all theatre and music performances were banned during Lent, as they were considered distraction from the Lenten proscription to reflect and repent. Today, these public restrictions have lessened, although many individuals still maintain a strict adherence to the requirements of Lent, including not eating meat, eggs or other animal products during the 40 day "fast".

Holy week, beginning with Palm Sunday, is a time of great activity in Russian homes, including spring cleaning and baking Easter bread. On Holy Thursday, Russians paint their Easter eggs using their traditional method of boiling onion peels and scraps of silk together with the eggs. Painted eggs are a universal symbol of Easter, but in Russia they take on even greater significance. Russian Easter eggs are believed to possess magical powers-from protecting crops to warding off evil spirits. Many hide an Easter egg in the foundation of their home, believing that it will bring prosperity.

On Holy Saturday, a strict day fasting in which no food may be eaten at all, families are nonetheless busy preparing for the Easter feast. The feast, served to break the fast after the midnight mass, includes the Paskha Easter cake, baked on Holy Saturday.

Like in Greece, Easter Mass in Russia is held on Saturday night. Worshipers congregate in a totally darkened church, which symbolizes the despair of a world without faith in Jesus Christ. Historically, the eve of Holy Saturday was considered a haunted time, in which satanic creatures tormented townsmen. People were afraid to go out after dark, but persevered to attend Mass, since Church was considered a safe haven.

As midnight approaches, worshipers light candles and then, at the strike of 12 o'clock, church bells announce the resurrection of Christ. An intensely joyful Orthodox liturgical chant can be heard throughout the streets of Russia until the conclusion of Easter Mass at dawn.

Worshipers return to their homes for a long family feast. Tables are traditionally decorated with fresh flowers and painted eggs. In addition to the Easter bread and Paskha cake, foods prohibited during the 40 Day Fast, such as sausage, bacon, cheese and milk, are also served.

After breakfast, people go out to visit friends and neighbors, bringing with them baskets of painted eggs and Easter breads to exchange. An old Russian fable tells that an Easter egg given from the heart will never spoil. People also visit cemeteries, bringing eggs, bread and even beer to their deceased relatives.

Like the egg cracking game in Greece, Russians also have a game they play with eggs on Easter. Children line up at the top of a hill and roll their eggs down, with the aim of keeping their egg intact while breaking their opponents' eggs.

Many of these beautiful Orthodox customs are now practiced in America and elsewhere around the world, as Orthodox churches have sprung up to meet the needs of immigrant communities. Perhaps this spring, you can visit an Orthodox church or community to experience the magic of an Eastern Easter.

Related Articles:
Greek Orthodox Easter Customs
The Story of Easter
Christianity and The Origins of Easter
The Great Easter Date Debate
The Easter Lily

Add Comment
Lois Jean DuPey from Canada
10:10 04/29/2011
The Mid Columbian Sin Cayuse Nation extends its greetings for Easter to its fellow believers. The Charity of Saint George at Astoria
Anna from Australia
20:39 04/14/2011
The Russian Orthodox Community here in Sydney and all over Australia - 2nd generation onwards- still adhere to most Easter traditions passed down by our parents. I just planted some wheat in little pots to display at Easter time, and we put a coloured egg in the wheat grass - then when we go to the cemetary to celebrate Easter for the departed (the second Tuesday after Easter day) we place the wheat pots, and more eggs and kulich on the gravestones of our loved ones. We have a service with many priests, lots of people go to Rookwood Cemetary on this day, which is the largest cemetary in the southern hemisphere, and most Sydney Russians are buried there. It is a lovely atmosphere.
gabby gill from Florida, US
09:13 04/07/2011
hi i like choclate
alyosha from California, US
23:23 03/25/2011
In my childhood we used to make paper flowers of bachelor buttons and some red flowers that we attached to verbi (pussywilliows). These were blessed at church several weeks before, then attached to icons which were taken to church on Easter Sunday to be blessed. Even here in San Francisco blessed with spring weather, fresh flowers weren't done. Lots of food and home flavored vodka!
bob from Bulgaria
14:13 03/18/2011
Pharmk8773 from Alabama, US
04:36 01/27/2011
Hello! egeedgg interesting egeedgg site!
alex from Montana, US
13:51 01/21/2011
happy skeet day
jacob from Colorado, US
15:14 01/05/2011
Hari Viruksen from United Kingdom (Great Britain)
08:50 05/23/2010
I'm famous dude for easter information.Thanks Easter on the net!
Nadejda from Connecticut, US
11:34 04/05/2010
I also Agree with Rachel, Ive never heard any of our services referred to as "masses"! As every service in our Church is beautiful, The traditions of Holy Pascha are something to experience first hand! Im very proud to be Russian Orthodox and very blessed to have been brought up with great traditions from my parents that I hand down to my son and still enjoy experiencing today! Christos Voskrese!

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