How To More Fully Celebrate Easter: The Russian Way

“Воистину, Он воскрес.” As a Christian young woman, making my way down the streets of Saratov, Russia, I didn’t know that this traditional holiday greeting would stick with me and bring such joy every time I think of Easter. Or bunnies. Or kuliches. Or even Christmas! (Basically, anything that my mind connects back to Easter.) In translation, this saying means, “Indeed, He is risen.” And people would just pass by on the streets saying this to anyone! Usually we didn’t even get a free “hello” on a normal day, but here was a whole city that seemed to decide that in the name of their God and His religious holiday, they would step out of their comfort zone and say this to everyone! Talk about a beautiful show of unity and deep-rooted culture.

Now, to be more accurate about the tradition, it is a two-way greeting. The first person will simply say, “Christ is Risen.” And then the second can respond with the added, “Indeed, He is risen.”

Does that shatter your ideas of Russia? Have you thought Russians were these villainous, agnostic, bear-riding eskimos? Because I think some people are genuinely that confused about Russians based on propaganda and bad jokes they encounter.

The truth is, that’s not the Russia I know. Nor is it the Russia I have studied. Sure, they have had their blips. I mean, there was that whole communist Russia thing, and some nasty leaders, a Cuban missile crisis, and some continuing problems with laws and sanctions, but politics aside they have some rich beliefs and the most big-hearted citizens ever.

Here is a post that actually popped up on my timeline this week that I think says well how I felt about this traditional greeting:

So, what else do their Easter celebrations tell us about their culture? How else do they celebrate Easter? I’m stoked that you asked. Through all the historical twists and turns of religious freedom and variety in Russia, these people have held strongly to some of the most deeply meaningful traditions of older generations, namely in the proveslavni (Russian Orthodox) church.

Here are a few old Russian traditions that you can try at home or participate in with your families this year!

Easter Sunday 2014 in Saratov, Russia. This was the stash of Easter gifts Olivia Clyde and I had poured across our kitchen table in the afternoon. People we hardly knew to dear friends had gifted us with eggs or kuliches on the street, and then we had turned and handed out a couple to others we met on the way. Aaand some of it we ate, of course. This is just what made it home.

Kulich/Кулич

First of all, you have to know about the sweet bread. Because EVERYONE gets some, and it’s really not all that good. It’s not bad, but it’s just not great for something so special and gift-wrapped.

I remember friends telling us that they’d spent every extra minute at home the past three days making kuliches, or that they’d slaved away on this recipe for so long. (I never did understand whether they meant that it took that long to make one batch, or if they were making enough for an army. But I feel like it might have been the latter.) It’s pretty impressive the effort that can be put into these. Most people though, just go down to the nearest church to buy some that have been pre-made and blessed by the priests. If they’ve made it themselves, they can take the homemade loaves to a priest to be blessed as well.

Most of the kuliches I received as gifts had raisins in them, but a few had other surprises (nuts and other dried or candied fruits are popular options). And the tops were always glazed in a bit of frosting, just like a snow-covered church building.

Two church buildings frosted by the winter snow in Ulyanovsk, Russia. As told to me by Maxim Bucanov, “I was there during the summer time and saw how it was being built by constructors in speedos. Eric Lewis and I almost died laughing.” Another random representation of why I love Russia and its people.

Eggs

Then there are the eggs. This seems like a pretty worldwide tradition. However, these aren’t plastic, pastel-colored eggs, stuffed with junk and candy. These are usually “boring”, hardboiled eggs, which are representative of life and nourishment. In the featured image on this post you can see some very ornate eggs, decorated to be lavish gifts, like something that some of the tsars used to exchange and buy, I think. However, Russian Easter eggs are most often dipped in a simple red dye and decorated with the prints of flowers and leaves. The red dye is to represent the blood of Jesus, who the majority worship, and His sacrifice. In some cases, people still use natural dyes like red onion or beets to dye the eggs. Other eggs are decorated with an “XB” for “Христос воскрес” (“Christ is Risen”). And others still are fun and simple. But as you can see from my Russian Easter collection (photographed above), most of these eggs carry lots of simple symbolism.

I wanted something similar in my home this Easter and decided to make my own banner decor. You can check it out in this post, or just sign up below to get the link to print it off for yourself from my free (and growing) library!

The Church Service

Russia is no different from America in terms of the boost of church attendance on Easter Sunday. However, the timing of the service’s daytime hours might be drastically different. The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church has even begun to broadcast a main church service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Attendees and viewers can participate in a very long (I think 2 hours) service of scriptures, lighting candles, prayers, and worship songs/chants led by the patriarch. At midnight, he swings his incense and calls out the traditional greeting out to the crowd, “Christ is Risen” to which the crowd responds, “Indeed, He/Christ is Risen.” You can see a small sample of this late-night event in the Youtube video below!

So for Easter this year, I hope you try making some Easter eggs with flowers and leaves, or bake some kuliches, or even watch the Russian Easter service live on Youtube! And then share with me your thoughts and experiences!

What other things would you like to know about Russian Easter? Would you like to learn how to say the greeting? Follow my Facebook or Instagram to see more to come this month about Russia or comment below. And don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter to get some special Russian facts, freebies and lessons this month!

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