Orthodox Easter 101

From the decorated eggs, fireworks and different dates, Orthodox Easter or ‘Pascha’, is distinctly different from the Easter many Australians know.

Why is Orthodox Easter celebrated on a different day?

Easter is the most important date in the Orthodox Church’s calendar, this year it falls on Sunday April 19. The date is different from Western Churches, as the Orthodox church follows the older Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar.

What happens during Holy Week?

Followers of the Orthodox Church prepare themselves for Christ’s death and to celebrate his resurrection. Starting on Lazarus Saturday and ending on the eve of Pascha (Easter Sunday), the tradition is to avoid eating meat and animal products during this week.

Good Friday, or ‘Megali Paraskevi’ for Greek Orthodox, is a sad day for the religious as they mourn the death of Christ. In the evening, churches hold a symbolic funeral procession outside the church, with people observing in silence and carrying candles.

On Holy Saturday during the Paschal Vigil evening service, churches are dark and hymns are sung as the resurrection of Christ is anticipated. The priest then brings forward the Holy Light to the congregation and sings ‘come and receive the light’ and, in some parts of the world, fireworks will light up the sky in celebration.

Immediately after the Paschal Vigil, the Easter festivities begin with special Church services: Paschal Matins at midnight, Paschal Hours, and the Paschal Divine Liturgy. These are the first celebrations of Christ’s resurrection and are considered the most important services of the year.

After the Eucharist service, the fast is broken and the feasting begins.

What’s on the menu?

Greek Orthodox Christians usually break their fast after the Resurrection Service at midnight, traditionally with lamb and Tsoureki Paschalino, a sweet Easter dessert bread.

Serbian Orthodox families traditionally begin the feasting after the Easter Sunday services. They start with smoked meats and cheeses, boiled eggs and red wine before a meal of chicken or lamb soup, followed by spit-roasted lamb.

Holy Saturday is a day of strict fasting for Russian Orthodox Christians, while families focus on preparing the Easter meal. Usually, the fast is broken after the midnight mass with traditional Paskha Easter bread cake.

What’s with the different coloured eggs?

In the Orthodox tradition, eggs are a symbol of new life and different nationalities have their own Easter egg traditions.

In Serbia and Russia they paint eggs in bright colours and decorate them with onion skins and flowers. The best-looking eggs are taken to Church for a blessing, and the eggs that haven’t been blessed are used in games such as egg cracking.

In Greece, religious families dye their eggs red to symbolise the blood of Christ and at the Sunday feast, everyone takes a red egg and taps it against someone else’s red egg. The eggs symbolise Christ’s tomb and their cracking symbolises His Resurrection.

While doing this, religious Greeks tell each other, ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ has risen), and reply, ‘Alithos Anesti’ (He has indeed risen).

If you are the last person holding an uncracked egg, it is said to bring you good luck for the rest of the year.

Orthodox Easter Greetings 

English Greek Serbian Russian
Christ is risen! Christos Anesti! Hristos vaskrse! Khristos voskrese!
He has indeed risen! Alithos Anesti! Vaistinu vaskrse! Voistinu voskrese!

Christos Anesti” is also the title of a traditional Greek Orthodox Easter hymn, which is sung during Easter services in celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Want to follow Orthodox Easter services online?

There are a few online places you can visit to watch the services online in Australia. See below to learn more and navigate what best works for you.

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