Orthodox Easter is a puzzling affair for people outside the Orthodox Church. It’s a string of traditions and customs that start over a month before the actual Easter holiday.
Not only that, but usually it falls on a different day than Easter in the Western Christian Churches
To make things easier for you, we’ve put together a guide to help you navigate the process and bring you to Easter Sunday safe and sound!
Which are the Orthodox countries of the world?
The countries where the majority of the population is Orthodox are: Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Greece, Russia, Georgia, Belorussia, Serbia, Cyprus and Montenegro. You can choose to celebrate Orthodox Easter in any of these countries but we highly recommend Romania.
How is Easter determined?
Easter is not a predictable affair like Christmas. It moves around the spring months just to keep us guessing every year: will it be in chilly March? Will it be in cozy April or flowery May? We never know!
To determine Orthodox Easter, you ‘only’ need to know when the Vernal Equinox occurs, keep track of the phases of the moon and find out when the Jewish Passover is. If you are at it why don’t you brew some unicorn hair, mix it in with stardust and make yourself a philosopher’s stone?
In all seriousness, Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon which follows the Vernal Equinox but always after the Jewish Passover.
How to celebrate Easter?
You cannot enter Orthodox Easter without purifying your body and spirit. Buckle up, my friend! 40 days of lent are heading your way.
40 days before Easter, people of the Orthodox belief need to fast. We are not allowed to eat any animal products and generally we have to conduct ourselves with even more modesty and abstinence than usual.
It’s an interesting time to see a meat loving country like Romania go instantly vegan over night just to go instantly carnivorous on Easter. Ah, how the ambulances sing on Easter Sunday!
Orthodox Holy Week
Holy Week in the Orthodox Church is not much different than the Western one: Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are all present in the calendar.
If you find yourself in Romania on Palm Sunday, you should know that we celebrate everyone bearing a flower name like Rose or Violet. Name days are a big thing in Romania. There’s also a superstition that says however the weather is on Palm Sunday, it’s going to be the same on Easter Sunday.
On Maundy Thursday it’s time to paint eggs: a large number of them need to be red and symbolize the blood of Christ which fell when He was crucified.
With the rest you can get as creative as you want: colored eggs, holographic eggs, hand painted or decorate them with stickers.
Good Friday and Holy Saturday
Good Friday and Holy Saturday are for the three c’s: confession, communion and cooking. Remember you’ve been fasting for 40 days so right about now you must be dreaming of lamb chops, traditional cheese pies, sweetbread, and minced pies. Surprise your liver with all the food!
Congratulate yourself! You made it to Easter! So how do you celebrate the Orthodox Easter Sunday?
First, you go to the midnight service at church for a ritual called ‘sharing of the light’ (personal translation from Romanian). What happens is that at midnight the priest in the church lights a candle and from him it cascades to the crowds, candle to candle to symbolize the rising of Christ.
After that you have your Easter dinner or breakfast. It is a bit confusing if it’s dinner or breakfast since it happens after midnight. The family comes together in a small celebration which involves the knocking of the painted eggs.
In the Orthodox tradition there’s no Easter egg hunt but a knocking of the eggs. What you do is that two people, each pick an egg and then they knock it saying the following words: Christ is risen! Yes, He is!. The egg which doesn’t break is the winner.
Then you go to bed and get ready for three days of feasting, guests and visits to godparents. Happy Easter, everyone!