• Institute for a Greater Europe

The Institute presents: Orthodox Easter Traditions 2021

The Institute Presents: Orthodox Easter Traditions 2021


Culture in Greater Europe is a wonderful thing, and we love to explore the different ways countries celebrate their traditions. Today is Easter for those following the Eastern Orthodox Church, the second largest Christian Church, whose date is different as religious holidays follow a different Calendar, the Julian Calendar, rather than the Gregorian Calendar. Either way, it is an important holiday for many, including sects and followers in countries where they are of a minority faith. We appreciate and thank all those who helped us get together these traditions, and wish all those celebrating, and all others, a happy easter with friends and family.




Contents


Albania - Daniel Prroni

Bulgaria - Ana Popova

Egypt - Abdelrahim Abdallah

Georgia - Irina Mugdusi

Greece - Anna Giapitzi-Papandreou

Lebanon - Camille Saikali

Moldova - Alexandru Musteata

Montenegro - Milos Mirkovic

North Macedonia - Adrian Waters

Romania - Diana Petrut

Russia - Daniil Chubar

Serbia - Adam Kovac


Albania - Daniel Prroni


Orthodox Christian, the third largest religion in Albania, celebrate the resurrection of Christ at Easter Mass, a moment that symbolizes the rebirth of hope, the strengthening of faith in God for all believers and the transition from the temporary to the eternal. It is worth remembering that these official holidays were banned during the communist regime. People were not allowed to go to church or perform religious rituals. After the overthrow of the communist regime, all believers began to openly and freely celebrate their festive days according to the respective calendars.


Believers participate in Orthodox Easter services at the Resurrection of Christ, the Orthodox Cathedral in the capital, Tirana. The cathedral is one of the largest in the Balkans. It has a large 16-bell tower with an Orthodox-style cross, which holds four "church candles" that stand for the light of the four accounts of the Gospel Resurrection. Generally, after church services, people celebrate with their families and friends.


Orthodox Christian decorate Easter eggs. They dye many of their eggs red to symbolize the blood of Christ. Orthodox also cook a special Easter sweet bread, drink brandy and eat roast lamb for the Easter dinner. In fact, all Albanians prefer to participate in cultural or traditional Easter events, because in Albania, Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims often "borrow, mix and adapt" religious holidays and practices in Albania, a testimony to the religious tolerance and coexistence.

Bulgaria - Ana Popova

In Bulgaria, Easter is called “Великден” (“Velikden”, bulgarian for “Great Day”), and as the name implies, it is one of the most significant holidays in the Bulgarian calendar. Same as in most countries, eggs are painted in different colours. This fun ritual takes place either on Thursday, the day before Good Friday, or on Saturday afterwards. The first egg for that year has to be painted in red colour. The oldest woman in the family is then going to use that first red egg to draw a cross on each family member’s forehead as a wish for health. This first egg will also be kept until next year, when it will be cracked open and used for fortune telling by judging on the colour and condition of the yolk.

The women in the family hold a contest of traditional pastry baking. The so called “Kozunak” (bulg. козунак) is very hard to make and takes hours of hard work. The oldest women in the family will usually have their secret recipes that they would pass on to the new generations if they do well in that contest.

On Saturday evening before Easter Sunday, every family goes together to the church and brings flowers and painted eggs as gifts. After the Worship, everyone will make sure to get a candle from an eternal fire. Right before midnight, these lit candles will be carried on a walk around the church and the wind would spare the light of those who believe and whose sins have been forgiven. At midnight, the priest proclaims three times “Христос Воскресе!” (Bulgarian for “Christ has risen”) and the congregation replies “Во истина Воскресе!” (Bulgarian for “He truly has risen”). After the special services in the Church, the families will carry (or at least attempt to carry) those eternal flames back home.

From that moment on, the good luck crack tradition starts. Everyone on the table will pick a coloured egg from the basket and people will take turns in tapping their eggs against the eggs of others. The person, who has the last unbroken egg (the so called “Борец” (Bulgarian for “fighter”), will have a successful year and a lot of health.

Egypt - Abdelrahim Abdallah

This weekend, around 10-20% of Egyptians who are Coptic Christians celebrate Easter, marking the resurrection of Jesus as described in the Holy Bible. The main event is usually Easter Mass, which is attended by political figures as a sign against Muslim extremists who renounce the celebration of Easter arguing that it goes against core Islamic beliefs. More conservative Coptic Christians also observe Holy Week, building up to the break of their longest fast, which lasts 55 days, on Sunday right after mass.

Accordingly, extravagant dining tables with meats, poultry and the like, which are all luxuries Copts will have been abstaining from during the fast, belong to traditional Easter celebrations. Interestingly, Easter is also celebrated by a wide base of Egyptians as Sham El-Nessim, literally the smelling of the breeze, which is an ancient Pharaonic festival celebrated at the beginning of Spring to thank the deities for the harvest and enjoy the spring breeze. Unlike the traditional Coptic celebrations of Easter, the traditional Egyptian Sham El-Nessim is a lot more fish-centered and always involves herring and other kinds of salted fish.

Due to the pleasant weather and the combined celebrations of Easter and Sham El-Nessim, Egyptians traditionally hit the (few) public parks and enjoy a little picnic in the sun while feasting on salted fish and herring.


Georgia - Irina Mugdusi


Orthodox Easter is an important holiday in Georgia. On Good Friday the eggs are painted red with the roots of a plant found in the woods- Enrdo (Rubia). Often the families prepare the Easter cake, each family has its own recipe. Otherwise, they are bought in the stores. People who follow religious rituals attend the liturgy (mass) on Holy Saturday and Sunday night. From the morning of Sunday on, everyone tells each other "Christ is risen".

In the afternoon, almost everyone prepares the festive table with the main Easter dish, Tchaqapuli - lamb in tarragon sauce and tkemali (sour Mirabelle plum), chicken and khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) and of course eggs and cake are also served at the table. Red wine is a must on this occasion. Visits are made to relatives and cousins.


Easter Monday is also a holiday and, on this day, people go to the cemeteries to "announce" to their dead relatives that Christ has risen. Everywhere in front of the tombs, iron tables and benches are set up to make a small festive table. All the families of the cousins gather around, to celebrate this sacred feast, it is really a great occasion to see each other. Then visitors light the candles in front of the graves, and when they leave, they leave beautiful slices of Easter cake and some eggs on the graves, so that they can be picked up later by the cemetery caretakers, as a gift that brings satisfaction to the souls of the ancestors.


Greece - Anna Giapitzi-Papandreou

During the Holy Week, there are church services every day and people usually fast. On Holy Wednesday, a priest anoints the faithful with the myrrh. On Holy Thursday the 12 Gospels are read and people usually paint some eggs red, which symbolises the blood of Jesus as well as joy according to our religion.

On Holy Friday, people follow the Epitaph around the city centre and they pass beneath it to be blessed by Jesus. On Holy Saturday the Resurrection is celebrated at midnight in church after the priest distributes the Holy Light, which comes all the way from Jerusalem, and then people gather home to eat and celebrate.

On Sunday of Easter, families gather together, they cook lamb and other delicious foods and deserts and they drink. After the feast, Greeks clink the red eggs with one another. The one that has the strongest egg that has not been broken, continues to clink with others. Every time we clink, we say “Christ has Risen!” and the other person replies “He has truly risen”. The clinking symbolises the Rise of Christ since the egg symbolises life!

There are also special traditions in different regions of Greece. For example, in Crete and in Thrace, they burn a doll, which symbolises the “Burning of Judah”. In Corfu, the Resurrection begins earlier and is called “the First Resurrection” and people throw pottery and jugs full of water out of their balconies as a means of celebration. In Arcadia, right after the Resurrection, people let small colourful air-balloons fly in the air, a tradition that began from the sailors of the region, back in 1910.

Lebanon - Camille Saikali

In Lebanon, Easter is celebrated by cooking and eating a sweet pastry called "maamoul". This tradition is the same for Orthodoxes and Catholics. Maamouls can be filled with dates or nuts.

Palm Sunday is very important in Lebanon and occurs the Sunday before the Holy week. Families go to their traditional church and walk around the church with the children holding branches from olive and palm trees. This event marks the entrance in the Holy week.

Orthodoxes in Lebanon rarely hunt for eggs. Instead, they do an "egg battle" after the Easter Sunday lunch. This tradition happens through duels in order to know who has the strongest eggs. The strongest the egg, the happiest will be the year of its owner. Those eggs were boiled and decorated beforehand. Often the decoration is organised with the children the Friday before, or even on the Sunday morning.

Since Easter traditions are very family-oriented and focus so much on spending a whole weekend with the children, it is one of the most popular Christian holidays in Lebanon. For instance, many people attend Church on Palm Sunday but not on Christmas.


Moldova (Republic of) - Alexandru Musteata


Eggs painted in red, “Pasca”, “Cozonac'' and your family gather together this is the short definition of Easter in the Republic of Moldova. It is a kind of holiday that is dedicated to families. Traditions associated with it represent a mix of Romanian customs and Russian Orthodox Church rules. In terms of traditional meals, red eggs are present all over, and people will bump the eggs while saying “The Christ is risen”. Traditionally, households will cook, starting from the Friday before Easter, a cake well known in the region called “Pasca” and “Cozonac” but also different pies. The night before Easter is the most important part in terms of religious traditions. Religious service starts on Saturday evening and goes until 3-4 AM on Sunday. The “holy light” is brought from Jerusalem by a special plane organized by Moldovan Church and usually paid by businessmen or politicians. The light is distributed to all charges in the country closer to midnight. Those who do not want to take part in the religious ceremony, will come at 3-4 AM a basket with traditional cake, eggs, salt, meat and cheese and the priest blesses it . Eastern is considered a day of forgiveness and for 40 days prior to Easter Sunday people are encouraged to fast and ask for forgiveness from everyone around.


Montenegro - Miloš Mirković

Easter is considered to be the most important Christian holiday. Before Easter, there is a fasting period of 40 days. For those who wish not to fast, usually, it is important to fast at least on Good Friday. On the day of Easter everyone is greeted by saying “Hristos vaskrse” – Christ has risen, and the other person responds “vaistinu” – It is true. As we have the same tradition for Christmas, it is not unusual that somebody mistakenly says Hristos se rodi – Christ is born, which always provokes a laugh. Early on Easter morning, people go to church for the Easter liturgy.


The most famous tradition is of course the coloring of the eggs. Although many dye them in various colors, and it is interesting for children, especially to put stickers on them, it is considered that they should be dyed in red. The first egg that has been colored is put apart until next Easter, and it is considered to be the protector of the house (“čuvarkuća“ – literally house protector).

On the day of Easter, families reunite with relatives, usually in the family houses in the countryside. Traditions vary across the country and each of its parts, mainly between the south and the north, but everyone wishes to spend this important holiday with friends and relatives.


North Macedonia - Adrian Waters

In Macedonia, Orthodox Christians prepare for Easter with a forty-day fasting period (known as Lent) prior to the festivities. The Bible says that Jesus spent forty days in a desert fasting and praying, which is why Macedonian Christians avoid meat, eggs, milk or anything deriving from an animal source. The official celebrations begin on Maundy Thursday when housewives dye three eggs in red (the colour of Jesus’s blood) early in the morning, with the first one (which is dedicated to Jesus) being painted before sunrise because it is believed that it will last for a whole year if it does not see the sun. The second egg is for the head of the household and the third for peacefulness and health. Once the three eggs are ready, the first one is placed near a door or window that looks to the East so that when the sun rises it shines upon them the rays of God. Afterwards, it is positioned near a religious icon in the home and kept all year for good health. The number of painted eggs depends on the number of family members. Eggs are also painted for every guest who will come to the house.

This tradition of the painted eggs derive from certain Biblical stories. According to one of them, when Mary Magdalene met the Roman emperor Tiberius to tell him about Jesus’s death and resurrection, she held an egg and said “Christ has risen”. Tiberius responded that Jesus rising from the dead is as likely as the egg she was holding turning red. Before he could finish speaking, the egg in Mary Magdalene’s hand became red all of a sudden.

On Good Friday, church services are held in the evening to remember the last moments of Jesus’ life. It is customary for church-goers to go under the table where the mantle with Christ’s body is placed. This symbolizes the leaving of all problems and burdens into the hands of God. At midnight on Saturday people gather around the local church, holding burning candles in their hands while the priests say the final prayers to mark the resurrection of Jesus. After midnight everyone greets each other with Христос Воскресе! (Hristos Voskrese!, meaning “Christ is Risen!” ) to which the reply is Навистина Воскресе! (Navistina Voskrese!) or Вистина Воскресе! (Vistina Voskrese!), i.e. “Indeed, He has risen!”. During Easter Sunday Macedonians play an egg-cracking game, in which the goal is to ensure that your egg shell remains intact. The cracked eggs are then peeled and eaten by the players. According to folk beliefs, the winner will have good health for the rest of the year. This game symbolizes Christ’s return from the dead.

For Easter housewives prepare a special bread called “pogacha” that is decorated with braids and which are made holes to fill with Easter eggs. In some parts of the country, sweets and eggs are hidden in the yard and in the garden, and children start looking for them after Easter breakfast. Households residing in urban areas decorate their homes with plastic eggs, while in the countryside they do so primarily with flowers.


Russia - Daniil Chubar

First of all, of course, eggs. A lot of them. People dye them all possible colors, put stickers on them and then exchange them with their family, friends or sometimes even colleagues, why not. When you give someone an egg you say “Christ is risen!”, and that person replies with “Truly is risen”. These words might also be said without exchanging of eggs. Of course, it is quite a religious thing to say and some people ignore this ritual. Famous Russian journalist and atheist Vladimir Pozner once replied to “Christ is risen!” with “They say” on his show.

Next attribute is called kulich and it is something like a sweet bread with sweeter cream on top of it. Usually, kids only eat this top part which enrages their babushkas. Also there is a dish called Paskha (Russian word for Easter), which is cottage cheese with raisins. There is probably more of special dishes, though.

Interesting that Easter is a holy day when random kids knock your door and if you open – you have to give them something sweet (or maybe an egg if you really hate those kids who knocked at 7am on Sunday).

And of course, Easter starts with a huge church service, as big as a Christmas one.

Romania - Diana Petrut

In Romania, Easter traditions vary greatly from region to region. The most well-known custom is painting Easter eggs, which is done on Good Thursday. It has been said that Mary Magdalene visited Jesus while he was on the cross and, crying, placed a basket full of eggs at His feet. Jesus’ blood fell onto the eggs, turning them red, which is why red is the most popular colour for Easter eggs. Nowadays, other colours, such as yellow, green, blue or black are also widely used.

In Bucovina, the eggs are decorated through a special technique, using beeswax.

Another important custom is preparing the household for receiving guests during the Easter days and cooking traditional dishes. Lamb, “Pasca” cake and sweet bread have a special place on the Easter table of Romanians.

On Easter Sunday, at midnight, Romanians go to church to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. They take candles with them to “receive light” and circle the church three times. At the end, everyone receives anaphora, which is bread and wine, symbolizing the flesh and blood of Jesus. The anaphora is eaten in the morning, in small quantities, before breakfast, after saying “Christ is Risen!”, and receiving the reply “Indeed, He is Risen!”. This saying is also used when tapping the Easter eggs and as a greeting for the days following Easter.

In Transylvania, a custom taken from Hungarians and Germans involves the “sprinkling” of young women. On Easter Monday, boys and men “sprinkle” girls with perfume, in order for them to be beautiful and fresh the whole year. As a reward, the girls then offer men Easter eggs, cakes and drinks.


Serbia - Adam Kovač


In Serbia, those of the Orthodox faith will observe a forty-day long fasting period before Easter. The week before Easter, on the holiday known as „Cveti“, children will tie a ribbon across the waist or their head symbolizing growth and health. They also wear bells, that are to symbolize lambs (the innocence).


Eggs are painted on Good Friday, and that is the only activity really allowed on the day. Nothing is to be eaten for lunch as well. The first egg to be painted is always red, often titled „the House guardian“. It is sometimes excluded from the traditional knocking of eggs that happens on Easter morning itself.


On Saturday, on the day before Easter, comes the preparation of the Easter-specific foods. Serbian regions have great differences in what that food is or even if it is specified. It will, in most regions, consist of animal products, since they were not allowed for the forty days prior. Things like cheese salted meat.


On Easter itself, most churches hold either midnight or early morning liturgy. It is after that moment that the fasting period is official over. For the entire day of Easter celebrations, people greet each other with the words „The Christ is resurrected“, to which the person that greeted should say „The Christ was resurrected indeed“. This clumsy translation, however, does not correctly translate the true form of this statement, since in their native tongue these are both two-word phrases. Serbs have the same tradition for Christmas as well, only then it is the birth, rather than resurrection…


In some places, the red egg is used to paint the cheeks of the children, in hope of them being healthy. The egg used, the house guardian is then preserved until the next Easter. Then comes into play one of the rare universal components of every Easter breakfast – an Easter bread. Sometimes the bread has additional elements, such as the eggs. All of the family should be present when it is eaten, and for the rest of the day. Finally, after breakfast, everybody picks their champion among the many colorful eggs for the upcoming competition. Eggs are knocked against each other, with only one standing as the victor. In some places, it is actually the victor who is designated as the house guardian, and it is to be preserved for another year.


Only on the second and third day of Easter (in Serbia it is not rare for holidays to be celebrated for three days rather than one), are you supposed to leave the house to go to other family and friends and spread the joy of Christ resurrection with them…



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