Easter and its traditions in the Ukrainian people.
He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered, died and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures
(Symbol of Faith)
Eastern rite Ukrainian Christians refer to Easter in several ways, calling it the Resurrection of the Lord, the Day of the Holy Pascha, or the Feast of Feasts. The joy of Easter is aptly expressed in the resurrection tropar (theme), which is sung frequently during the Liturgy: “Christ is risen from the dead, conquering death by his death, and bestowing life upon those in the tomb”.
After Christianity came to Ukraine, the coming of spring took on new meaning, as it also signaled the approach of Easter. The forty days preceding Easter are known as the "Great Fast” (or Lenten Period) and are spent by the faithful readying themselves spiritually for the great day when Christ’s Resurrection will be celebrated.
The word Pascha, derived from the Hebrew, Pesach, means to pass by, to pass through. The Pascha of Jesus Christ is his passing through suffering and death to his glorification in the Resurrection and Ascension. In the deepest sense, Christ himself is the Pascha (Passover) (see 1 Cor 5, 6-8), for the passage from death to life takes place in him: “Pascha, Pascha of the Lord, for from death to life, and from earth to heaven Christ God has led us”.
In the Old Testament, the celebration of Passover commemorated the liberation of God’s People from the slavery of Egypt. When Pharaoh refused to let the people go, an angel of death took the lives of the Egyptian first-born. He passed by the Israelite homes, the door-posts of which by the directions of Moses had been anointed with the blood of a sacrificed lamb, so that no first-born Hebrew child would die (see Ex 12, 12-13). In the celebration of Passover, the Jews also commemorated the passing through the Red Sea, when the Lord God saved the people of Israel from Pharaoh’s army (see Ex 14).
The Old Testament Passover was a prefiguration of Christ’s Pssover (Pascha). It prepared the People of God for final liberation and salvation in the kingdom of God: Christ – the Lamb of God – by his Blood (see 1 Pt 1, 19) leads the human race in an exodus from slavery to sin and the dominion of death, bringing us to resurrection and eternal life.
The faith of the Church is entirely based on the Resurrection of Christ: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15, 17-18).
The festivities of Easter begin with the resurrection service, at early dawn. The vested priest incenses the sepulcher, and the plashenycia (shroud) is carried in procession around the church, while the people sing the resurrection hymn: “O Christ our Saviour, the angels in heaven praise your resurrection”.
This procession symbolizes the women who came to the tomb very early in the morning, carrying myrrh to anoint the body of the Lord. At the end of the procession, the priest places the plaschenycia (shroud) on the altar, where it remains to Ascension.
The community begins the resurrection matins in front of the main door of the church. The priest intones the glorious Easter tropar, Christ is risen from the dead. The congregation bursts into jubilant singing of the same tropar; singing it with a series of Easter verses. In conclusion, the priest sings, Christ is risen! As he completes it, he strikes the door with the cross. It is opened, and he enters, followed by the entire congregation. (The priest in front of the closed door is considered as representing the angel announcing the joyful news of the resurrection. When he strikes the door with the cross and it is opened, this is taken to symbolize the truth that Christ opened the gates of heaven for us by his saving death and resurrection).
After the Easter matins, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is celebrated; the tropar, Christ is risen, is repeated throughout the Liturgy to emphasize the joy brought about by the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
The gospel (Jn. 1, 1-17) is divided into twelve stanzas after each of them, the celebrant pauses and all the bells are rung. The gospel is read in various languages to signify that the redemptive work of Christ applies to all people in the whole world.
A round loaf of bread, called the artos (the Greek word for bread), is blessed at the end of the Easter Liturgy, and is kept on the tetrapod during Easter week. It is wrapped in a cloth, and an icon of the resurrection is placed on top of it for the people to kiss. On the following Sunday, the artos is cut into cubes and distributed to the faithful after the Liturgy, during the myrovania (anointing), or at the parish community meal, the svyachene, when all the members of the parish family join together on the Sunday for the blessed Easter dinner.
After the Liturgy, there is the blessing of Easter food. The custom of blessing special food at Easter dates back to the early 16th century. Various foods are usually blessed at this service:
Pascha: This is Easter bread which symbolize the risen Lord, who bestows life on all who accept him.
Meat products, symbolizing the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament, which foreshadowed the sacrifice of the Son of God for the world.
Dairy products, as a token of the prosperity and peace of messianic times, foretold by the prophets.
Pysanky: Brightly colored eggs, painted with intricate designs, as a symbol of the new life brought about by Christ’s resurrection. Each egg bears a Christian message written in these symbolic designs.
This blessing of Easter food is important and beautiful in the Byzantine Ukrainian rite. The sharing of the paschal food has a deep biblical and liturgical significance: it foreshadows our banquet around the Lord’s table in the heavenly kingdom. It is one of our most beautiful and most meaningful customs with our devoted ancestors have enriched us.
During Easter week and on Sundays until Ascension, the priest blesses the faithful with a cross. The Easter tropar is sung after each service.
The Easter season lasts until Pentecost. During this time, a memorial service is held at the cemetery for all deceased members of the community, and for individuals at the request of their family. In this way, the paschal significance of the death of each Christian is recalled, for our death is a sharing in the Lord’s saving death, and his resurrection is the cause of our resurrection and our sharing in eternal life.
Let us preserve these customs!
Very Reverend Myroslav Dumych,
Pastoral administrator of St. John the Baptist Parish and St. Demetrius Parish