Orthodox Easter in Russia

by Elena on March 4, 2014

orthodox easter in russia Traditional Russian Easter eggs make great souvenirs!

Easter is one of the most important Russian holidays but the date of Easter Sunday is usually different in Russia than in western countries. This is because the Orthodox Church in Russia follows the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar and does not link Easter to the vernal equinox, meaning that Orthodox Easter usually falls later in April or May, instead of later in March or early April.

When is Easter in Russia in 2014?
It’s important to know when Russian’s are celebrating Easter because if you visit St. Petersburg at this time you’re likely to find stores, restaurants and attractions closed while families get together to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Fortunately, in 2014, Easter Sunday falls on April 20th in both the Orthodox Christian calendar and the Gregorian calendar, although in recent years and coming years the dates are different.

In 2012 Easter Sunday fell on April 8th in the Gregorian calendar and April 15th for Orthodox Easter. March 31st and May 5th were the respective days of celebration in 2013. Anyone travelling to Russia in 2015 should note that April 5th and April 12th are the western and Orthodox dates for Easter Sunday respectively.

The Vernal Equinox or Pascha
In the Gregorian calendar Easter Sunday never falls before March 22nd or after April 25th, while those using the Julian calendar may have observances occurring between April 4th and May 8th. In many western Christian churches, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the paschal full Moon on or just after the vernal equinox (usually taken as March 21st).

Religious Services for Orthodox Easter in Russia
The Orthodox Christian Easter Sunday is also referred to as Pascha and in the week leading up to this (known as Holy Week) many people attend church liturgies. Easter Sunday itself is when the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated. Midnight services on this day are joyous and usually involve the ringing of bells and the priest shouting ‘Christ is risen!’ followed by the congregation’s reply of ‘He is fully risen!’

The next morning, on the Sunday, there is a feast featuring all the things that people gave up during Lent (the 40 days and 40 nights before Easter Sunday). Orthodox Christian churches may bless baskets of food containing bread, cheese, meat, eggs, butter, salt and other rich animal foods then eaten for Pascha.

Traditional Easter Foods and Decorations in Russia
Easter eggs also make an appearance in Russia and these are dyed red to represent the blood of Christ, although the symbolism of eggs predated this tradition with the eggs instead representing fertility and protection. Another common Easter decoration in Russia is the image of a lamb bearing a cross and inscribed with the words ‘Agnus Dei’ (meaning Lamb of God).

Traditionally, Russians eat an Easter breakfast including kulich (a type of bread), pashka (a pyramid-shaped cheese dish), eggs, and other foods given up for Lent. Eggs may be cracked with nails to symbolise the crucifixion, and some families cut a single egg into many pieces to share with each family member at the Easter table.

Orthodox Christians in Russia are heavily invested in the symbolism and importance of Easter and so anyone visiting St. Petersburg or Moscow at this time may enjoy finding a host family to celebrate alongside, or attending a church service to experience the exuberance and joy of the occasion. If you’ll be in St. Petersburg at Easter then make sure to talk to Ulko Tours about getting involved with celebrations and enjoying this popular official holiday!

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