Easter in Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe
Easter (Православная Пасха = Orthodox Paskha)
Пасха (“Paskha”) is how Russians call Easter, the single most important day in the Orthodox calendar and what makes it really special is the over 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.
The name Пасха (Pashka) means “great night” of which the idea is of the night of Christ’s passion in the garden before his death. The Orthodox Easter liturgy begins on Saturday night and flows thru Sunday morning with the pictorial of the death, burial and then resurrection of Christ.
At church don’t be surprised to see friends kissing (gender doesn’t matter) three times on alternating checks.
As we’ve written previously, the Russian word for Easter is taken from Greek and is Пасха (“pahsh-ka”), so today we’re going to link to one of my favourite places to learn, Listen2Russian, and listen to correctly spoken Russian:
In lesson 5 of the free lessons, you learn how recognize and correctly speak some of the more common phrases used in Easter services. The link to this lesson is here at Listen2Russian.
Let’s practice. The most common phrase is Христос воскрес! (Chris-TOS vas-KRES) Literally that means, “Christ is risen!”
Learn how to say Easter greetings in Russian
Russian Pronunciation English
Пасхa pAs-kah Easter
Христос khris-tOs Christ
воскрес vas-kRY-es rises again (has arisen from the dead)
воистину va-Ist-in-oo truly; really
Христос Воскресе! (Xristos Voskrese!), Christ is risen!
Listen here to hear these terms spoken by a native Russian.
Whether Христос воскрес (Christ is risen) is said as a greeting from one person to another or when in a service is shouted by the priest, the congregation responds with Воистину воскрес (va-IST-in-oo vas-KRES) which means “truly risen!.”
Another greeting is c Пасхой (SPAS-khee), literally meaning “with Easter.” It could be also understood as “with Christ” or “with Christ’s resurrection at Easter.” In historic Christianity the early Orthodox church understood that the only way to participate personally in the hope of resurrection was to be “with” or “in” Christ. To be found outside of Christ, outside of the resurrection, was to be without hope in eternal life.
So as we approach the final days of holy week, the Mendeleyev Journal extends the faithful greeting to those who have ears to hear.
Христос воскрес! (Christ is risen)
Воистину воскрес! (Truly risen)
Here is an updated list of Orthodox Easter dates:
2014 – Easter Sunday – April 20th (same as Roman Catholic)
2015 – Easter Sunday – April 12th
In Eastern Europe and Asia, Easter is usually celebrated at a later date than in the West. This happens because Easter dates are determined by different calendars. The Russian Orthodox Church uses the old Julian calendar, whereas the Roman Catholic (and its daughter/breakaway Protestant churches) switched to the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century.
Next we’ll cover the time of fasting prior to Easter.
40 days of fasting before Easter:
For 40 days before Easter many Russians observe the Great Lenten fast in which no meat, meat products, milk, eggs, alcohol or oil is consumed in meals. This tradition which is marked 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.
The fasting begins with Maslenitsa (Масленица): This is also known as Cheesefare Week, Butter Week, or Pancake week is a Russian religious and folk holiday. It is celebrated during the last week before Great Lent—that is, the seventh week before Pascha (Easter).
Maslenitsa signals the coming of the fast and celebrates with feasts of pancakes. Sometimes it is called “Cheesefare” week, the last week when cheese is okay for consumption. The previous week was called “Meatfare” week for the same reasons.
During Maslenitsa week, meat is already forbidden to Orthodox Christians, making it a “myasopustnaya nedelya” (мясопустная неделя) “meat-empty week” or “meat-fast week”. During Lent, meat, fish, dairy products and eggs are forbidden. Furthermore, Lent also excludes parties, secular music, dancing and other distractions from the spiritual life. Thus, Maslenitsa represents the last chance to partake of dairy products and those social activities that are not appropriate during the more prayerful, sober and introspective Lenten season.
Setting aside certain foods, parties and celebrations, ( some couples abstain from sex, or curtail frequency during the fast), etc, have to do with self discipline, a key Eastern principle almost completely unheard of in the West. This explains to baffled Westerners why a normally nonreligious person will join in the Orthodox Nativity fast for 40 days before Christmas and the Pashka (Easter) fast 40 days before Easter. Its part of the Eastern belief that self discipline is good for the body, good for the soul, and good for mental health.
In countries such as Russia, Bulgaria, Belarus, and Ukraine, etc, the government changes it’s diet for the Easter fast. In Moscow the Kremlin kitchens are among the nation’s largest producers of Easter bread/cakes. The Easter time celebration is by far the most important in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Preceding Easter is the month-and-a-half-long Lenten fast. In Russia, Lent starts on Monday instead of on Wednesday, and is traditionally preceded by a whole week of pancake dinners, called Maslenitsa.
Although not everyone observeing Lent do to church on a regular basis, people observe the Orthodox Lenten fast, which is entirely vegan (no meat or animal products), which is of sufficient popularity that most restaurants advertise “fasting” dishes during this time.
The week before Easter, Palm Sunday, is called “Pussywillow Sunday.” Russia doesn’t have too many palm trees, and traditionally pussywillows, which begin to bloom right around Easter, symbolized triumph and victory, just like palm trees did in ancient Palestine. Leading up to Palm Sunday, you can buy pussywillows all over town.
Христос Воскресе! = Christ is risen!
Many Orthodox churches in hold services twice a day, morning and evening. During Holy Week there is a huge increase in church attendance. Preparations for Easter include lots of cooking and cleaning and inviting company over for a large Easter dinner. Eggs are decorated, and traditional dishes include kulich, a special Easter cake, and paskha, a creamy cheese dish that is kind of like to cheesecake without the crust. Eggs and cakes are frequently decorated with the letters XB (in English, KH V, short for “Khristos Voskres,” Christ is Risen!) Orthodox believers take kulich and eggs to the church on Saturday to have them blessed.
Easter Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday)
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.
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.
Easter liturgy in an Orthodox church begins 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 Liturgy, 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 until the conclusion of Easter Mass at 2 or 3AM.
Sunrise services are not common on Easter morning, but Orthodox churches hold a midnight mass, with a procession around the church. Generally the service starts at night somewhere around 10 or 11:00 pm, and there is a sermon right before the midnight procession, where brilliantly robed clergy and everyone else go outside and walk around the church, holding candles, singing and shouting that Christ is risen, while the bells peal out the glad tidings. This represents the disciples running to tell others the Christ was risen.
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.
The traditional Easter foods are a nut and fruit filled yeast cake called kulichand an accompanying sweet cheese spread called paskha. Often the kulich and paskha were carried to church and set out on long tables to be blessed by the priest.
The recipes for these delicacies are involved and time-consuming. Theclassic kulich was begun several days before Easter. It contained candied fruit, almonds, and raisins. It was always baked in a special kind of pan– tall and cylindrical, sort of like a coffee can. When the cake was done, it was decorated with white frosting drizzled down the sides. On the side, spelled out in pieces of candied fruit, were the letters XB, representing the Cyrillic letters for “Христос Воскрес” (Christos voskres) — “Christ is risen.”
We also recommend this recipe for Ukrainian/Russian Easter bread (called “kulich”) from the pages of Russianseason, another food blog operated by a mother/daughter and they know how to cook! This is one of the best recipes we’ve found.
* This will make 3 medium-sized Kulichi (13cm height, 9cm diameter).
4 1/4 cup (500 grams) wheat flour
3/4 cup (170 grams) sugar
4 tbsps (40 grams) fresh yeast
1/2 cup (120ml) milk, lukewarm
1/2 cup (120ml) cream
1/2 cup (120 grams butter), room temperature
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
A tiny pinch of ground cloves
A small bag of vanilla sugar
1/2 cup (50 grams) golden raisins
3/4 cup (150 grams) dried apricots
1/2 cup (75 grams) almonds
2 egg whites, chilled
1 cup (125 grams) powder sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup (75 grams) diced roasted walnuts
Combine yeast, milk, cream, and 1/3 of the flour. Cover the dough and let it rise (it will rise quickly, in about half an hour).
In the meantime, blend egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and butter until pale and smooth.
When the first dough has risen (you will notice some bubbles and cracks on the surface), add in salt, the egg yolk and butter mix, and spice. Mix together and add in the remaining flour. Knead the dough until it is smooth and doesn’t stick to the hands.
Cover the dough and leave it to rise in a warm place. It might take 2 to 4 hours, depending on temperature and ingredients.
When the second dough has risen, add in diced apricots, raisins, and peeled almonds (scald them so that the skins will come off easily).
Grease tall cylinder-shaped baking forms with butter and place the dough into the prepared forms. The dough should take about only ½ of the space in the form as it will rise significantly. Leave the dough in the molds to rise for about 15 minutes.
Bake at a low heat for an hour (325 F).
- Photo and recipe from http://www.russianseason.net, a great cooking blog!
Pashka bread. The term “pashka” means Easter. It is a cognate (borrowed word) from Greek to Russian. Here is one recipe:
Ukrainian Pashka (Easter) bread recipe
(A very light and fluffy bread.)
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast 1 pkg.
3 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
5 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened 3/4 cup
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup golden raisins
In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the milk and 1 tablespoon of the sugar until very warm (120 to 130 F). Pour into a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle over the yeast. Allow to stand until foamy, about 15 minutes.
Sift 1 cup of the flour over the yeast mixture and with a wooden spoon, stir until a batter forms. Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and leave in a warm place (80 F to 85 F) until mixture looks puffy and spongy, about 1/2 hour.
In another bowl or a 4 cup measure whisk the eggs and egg yolks together with the rest of the sugar, vanilla extract, grated lemon zest, and salt.
Sift another 2 cups of flour over the risen yeast flour mixture, and make a well in the center. Pour in the egg mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes a soft, sticky dough; the dough should be as soft as possible, so do not add more flour unless it is very wet.
Using your hand, spread the butter over the dough and work into the dough, folding it over itself and kneading into the dough until the butter is completely incorporated. Cover with the dish towel and leave to rise again in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 3 hours.
Butter a 2 pound coffee can. Line the bottom with nonstick baking parchment, and butter again.
Punch down the dough and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle the raisins, golden raisins over the dough, and knead until evenly distributed throughout the dough.
Form the dough into a ball shape, and ease into the coffee can. Cover and leave to rise again until the dough reaches the top of the can, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Brush the top of the dough with a little milk and if you like sprinkle with about a tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 F. and bake about 1/2 hour longer; if the paska browns too quickly, cover with foil. Remove to a wire rack to cool in the can for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn top side up, to cool completely. Makes 1 loaf.
1). Put a large red onion, or just the onion husks/skin in boiling water and cook it for 30 minutes
2). After about 10 minutes add the eggs to the boiling water and finish.
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.
‘Pysanky’ are Ukrainian Easter Eggs, decorated using beeswax and dyes which are written on the egg in layers. The term Pysanky (писанка) comes from a Ukrainian verb “pysaty” which means ‘to write’, so a pysanka is an egg that is written on. Pysanka is one egg (singular=писанка) and Pansanki is more than one egg (plural=писанки).
The gorgeous folk-art Easter eggs created in the same manner for centuries as a traditional Ukrainian folk art are easily identified by their intricate patterns and colour patterns of red, black and golden-yellow. Equally impressive are the images of the bejeweled and bedazzling enameled eggs created by court jeweler and artist Karl Fabergé. These fabulous works of art were first commissioned in 1884 by Czar Alexander III as a special Easter present for his wife the Tsarina.
Ukrainian Easter Egg decorating has been handed down through generations in the Slavic nations as Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, etc. Ukrainians are especially known the world over for their colorful Easter Eggs called “Pysanky”. The designs are not painted on but written with beeswax.
Pysanka is often taken to mean any type of decorated egg, but it specifically refers to an egg created by the written-wax batik method. Several types of decorated eggs are seen in Ukrainian tradition.
With the advent of Christianity, Easter eggs symbolize the Resurrection and a promise of eternal life. Legend has it that as long as pysanky are decorated, goodness will prevail over evil throughout the world.
We really like the blog Natasha’s Kitchen for tips on colouring Easter eggs in the Russian and Ukrainian style. Her easy instructions make it look so fun and simple.
- Visit http://natashaskitchen.com/2011/04/20/russian-easter-eggs for easy step by step instructions.
It should be noted that Orthodox Christians in Russia and other Slavic countries also decorate Easter eggs in this style but it is the Ukrainian tradition which stretches back the longest.
Orthodox Easter Baskets
A typical Orthodox Easter basket might include hand-painted eggs, a bottle of wine, ham, sausage, cheese, and a special Easter bread like paska, etc. These items are significant because the family has been “fasting” (no milk, alcohol, eggs or meat products) for 40 days. The Easter basket represents a feast!
On Holy Saturday, Slavic people everywhere will be taking baskets loaded with holiday foods to church for the traditional Easter blessing, which is a must prior to eating those exquisite foods.
Neatly arranged in many of the baskets will be ham, slanina (bacon), chrin (beets with horseradish), salt, paska, kolbasi, hrudka (sirets), butter, pysanky (ornately decorated eggs) for decoration, colored eggs for eating and kolachi. Some people may add candy and a bottle of wine to their baskets. Many add special varieties of fruit.
The word for Easter is “Pascha” (Greek) and so these baskets are called “Paschal baskets.” Baskets have been carefully prepared with many of the foods from which we’ve been fasting for the past month and a half during Great Lent. Baskets are often covered with a decorative linen and a lighted candle during the service of blessing.
There are several foods traditionally included in the basket. These are: a yeast bread, a bitter herb, cheese, meat, butter, salt, and a red egg. Each item in the basket has symbolic significance.
Pascha: The Easter Bread, a sweet, yeast bread, rich in eggs and butter. Symbolic of Christ Himself, who is “the Bread of Life.” John 6:35. This bread is usually a round loaf baked with a golden crust and decorated with a cross.
Cheese and Butter remind us of the Promised Land, which has been reopened to us by Christ’s Resurrection and which we find in the Church, is “a land of milk and honey.” Exodus 3:17
Meats – Usually ham or lamb (lamb was always offered in the Temple and eaten on the Passover), meat comes as a rich reward after our season of fasting. Lamb reminds us of Christ, whom John the Baptist calls, “the Lamb of God” John 1:36. The meat is usually cooked so the festivities of the day will not be burdened with preparation.
Sausage: a spicy, garlic sausage of pork products is indicative of God’s favor and generosity. Smoked and fresh kielbasa are customarily included in the basket.
Hard Boiled Eggs: As the chick emerges from the confinement of the shell, so Christ resurrects from the tomb. St. Mary Magdalene appeared to Tiberius Caesar and greeted him with a red egg and the words, “Christ is Risen!”
As we crack our hard-boiled eggs on Easter, it is traditional for two people to crack together. The first says, “Christ is Risen!” and the second replies, “Indeed, He is Risen!”
Those who are able often include psanki (Ukrainian-decorated eggs) in their baskets as well. Horseradish, often colored with red beets is symbolic of the passion of Christ, still in our minds, but sweetened with some sugar to remind us of the Resurrection.
Bacon: A piece of uncooked bacon cured with spices, the fattest of foods, symbolizes the super-overabundance of Him who says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundance.” John 10:10
Salt. Christ calls His disciples “the salt of the earth.” Matthew 05:13. To be followers of Christ, we, too, must spread the ‘seasoning of Christ’, the good news of His Resurrection throughout society.
While this is generally what is contained in the traditional Slavic basket, an Easter basket may contain your own preferred items—especially those favorite foods from which you have abstained throughout the Great Fast.
After the foods are placed in the basket, an embroidered cloth cover is placed over them, and a blessed candle is fastened upright near the basket handle.
For the first-timers who have never put together an Easter basket, let alone prepared foods for it, the whole process can be mystifying. Every cook has his or her favorite way of preparing these foods and of measuring the ingredients for them, and asking for recipes can result in confusion.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
Luke 24: Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?
He is not here, but is risen!
Next we’ll look at some more recent events to help understand the history of Easter.
Tidbit from history:
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).
In 2011 on 19 January President Medvedev observed the Russian Orthodox Day of Epiphany while on a two-day state visit to Jordan and Palestine. Epiphany is celebrated in the Eastern world 13 days after the traditional Western observance on 6 January.
His primary mission was to meet in Amman with King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan and then in Palestine with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to offer assurances that Russia has not forgotten the 1988 Soviet pledge for an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. But while in Jordan, Mr. Medvedev visited a national and religious park which honours the traditional site of John’s baptism of Jesus. Quite something considering Jordan is a Muslim country!
A stark contrast however is just across the Jordan at the site traditionally recognized as the spot where John performed the baptism of Jesus. That site is on the Israeli-controlled western side of the river. Unlike the Jordanian park, the Israeli site is closed to the public and surrounded by land mines and barbed wire.
So there on Epiphany Day, Dmitry Medvedev, a practicing member of the Russian Orthodox Church cupped his hands and dipped them into the Jordan River. Taking the water he briefly bathed his face and made the sign of the cross on his forehead, a traditional Christian gesture of participation in the baptism of Christ.
Orthodox Churches celebrate Epiphany as the beginning of the earthly ministry of Jesus and for President Medvedev the opportunity to visit the site was symbolic of his mission of peace. It was also a message to both Christians and Muslims back in his own country. The Muslim population in Russia today is over 25 million and Russian officials say that given current birth rates in Muslim communities, Muslims will likely account for one-fifth of the Russian population by 2020.
On that same visit while across the border in Palestine, presidents Medvedev and Abbas participated in the formal opening of the Jericho Museum, built by Russia on land returned to Russia in June 2008. Once owned by the Tsar, the museum which sits on 105 dunams (26 acres) had been abandoned during the Communist revolution. Recently the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society arranged for the land to be returned to Russian ownership.
Peace, although often elusive, is worth the effort on any day of the year. Especially at Easter.
Recipes for food preparation during the Easter Fast:
Салат «Офисный Клерк»/Salad “Office Clerk”
Salad “Office Clerk” uses beets, potatoes, onions and egg (optional)
Note: for those on a strict fast, the egg is optional. For Diabetics, the egg helps replace protein from the lack of meat but first speak to your priest about which practice is best for your situation.
300 г картофеля (potatoes)
150 г моркови (carrots)
200 г свеклы (beets)
150 г лука (Onions)
3-5 маринованных огурцов (pickles)
200 г яблок (apples)
3 яйца (eggs)
Натуральный майонез (Mayonnaise)
Отварить картофель, морковь, свеклу и яйца до готовности. Остудить, почистить. (Boil the potatoes, carrots, beets and eggs until done. Cool, then peel.)
Свеклу, яйца, морковь и картофель натереть на мелкой терке. Огурцы мелко нарезать. Лук мелко нашинковать, залить его кипятком на 10 минут, чтобы он не горчил, затем воду слить. Яблоко почистить, натереть на мелкой терке. (Grate the beets, eggs, carrots and potatoes. Finely chop the pickles. Chop onions, after boiling it for 10 minutes, then drain the water. Grate the apple last.)
На дно тарелки выложить картофель, немного посолить и смазать майонезом. На картофель выложить морковь, немного смазать майонезом. На морковь выложить лук. На лук выложить огурцы, немного смазать майонезом. На огурцы выложить яйца, смазать майонезом. На яйца выложить яблоки, смазать майонезом. (Put the potatoes at the bottom and then add some salt and mayonnaise. Next, layer carrots and a little mayonnaise. Layer carrots with onion. The next layer will be the pickles and mayonnaise. Afterward, layer eggs with some mayonnaise. Next to last, top with apples and mayonnaise.)
На яблоки выложить свеклу. Украсить салат по вкусу. Можно сделать сеточку из майонеза. Желательно дать салату пропитаться. (The final layer is of beets. Create a mesh using mayonnaise.)
Follow this link for some delicious Russian and Ukrainian Easter food recipes.
So, to review:
– Fast (no meat, no dairy, no alcohol) for the 40 days prior to Easter.
– Assemble a basket of food to take to church blessing by the priest. Most baskets include items which were forbidden during the fast, bread, cheese and a bottle of wine.
– Attend the “Paskha” (Greek word for Easter) service at an Orthodox Church. This service begins on the Saturday night before Easter and continues several hours past midnight.