Easter in Russia

Believers in Moscow flocked to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to take part in the Midnight Easter service, which was led by the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Aleksi II on this Easter weekend.

In Russia the holy day is observed both by believers and non-believers, many of which were busy last week painting eggs and baking kuliches – traditional Easter bread. Russia’s top kitchen also prepared traditional food for the event.  The Kremlin kitchen was bustling with the making of Easter items for lawmakers, especially the famous Russian/Ukrainian traditional Easter breads.  It was quite a sight—the same bakers and cooks who formerly fed Soviet bosses now busied themselves with baked Easter bread for the new Russian bureaucrats.

Easter is the most important day in the Orthodox calendar and Russians attach great significance to the more than 1,000 year history of Christianity in Russia.   Important traditions are celebrated in the various regions of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus during this holy holiday, 27 April 2008, which was celebrated in the Eastern half of the world about a month after the Western (Roman Catholic) date for Easter which is also observed by Protestants in the West. 

Leading up to Easter many Russians observed the Great Lenten fast, a 40 day fast in which no meat, meat products, milk, eggs, alcohol or oil is consumed in meals.  This tradition which is marked annually by all the Orthodox churches worldwide, calls believers to prayer and repentance and is a small picture of the isolation and plain diet which Christ experienced during the 40 day period prior to his resurrection. 

Kulich, or sweat Easter bread, has hundreds of recipes but the Kremlin bakers say that nobody does it better than they. It takes two days to turn flour, eggs and dried fruits into a piece of culinary art.  The Kremlin’s chief baker explained that even in Soviet times they used to bake Easter bread in the Kremlin. 

Those who work in the Kremlin no longer have to hide their faith. In fact, orders for Easter bread increased again this year.  Last week the red-star bakers produced 14,000 kuliches – that in addition to more than 50,000 eggs were coloured, yet another Orthodox tradition that is overseen by the Kremlin head chef.

As millions of Russians attended church for Sunday mid-night prayer on Saturday and continuing the liturgy into the early hours Sunday, Easter in Russia was again a symbol of the importance Russia holds as the largest Orthodox body in the world and how Eastern countries look to Russia for spiritual guidance.

In Moscow the mood after Easter reflects the resurrection of hope.

Tidbit from history:
During the time of the Tsars it was the tradition of the Romanov Royal Family to enjoy an Easter meal consisting of Paskha, Easter bread, eggs, sturgeon, beluga, salmon, pike-perch, pheasant, partridge, black cock, duck, lamb, bacon, tongue, beef, veal and various pierogi (tiny filled pies).