Easter – According to Orthodox Tradition

By Victor Krastev, EEB4 S6 FRB

Easter is one of the holiest Christian holidays. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3 days after his crucifixion. 

For the Easter holidays, according to ancient tradition, each house is cleaned and decorated – a symbol of resurrection of Christ. The table in every home should be rich – ritual bread (kozunak ; козунак), pie, chicken, painted eggs and Easter cakes. Easter is celebrated for three days, and the preparation for its celebration begins in the week called Holy Week before Easter.

According to Christian tradition, when Mary Magdalene went to Rome to meet the Roman emperor, she gave him an egg, which was painted red, a symbol of the blood of Christ. Since then, it has been customary for Christians to give each other red-painted Easter eggs. Gradually, they began to paint the eggs in other colours.

Easter eggs are painted on Holy Thursday, or the Saturday before Easter. With the first one, painted in red, a cross is painted on the children’s foreheads for good health throughout the year. This egg is kept in the house until the next Easter. After that, if it doesn’t break, the home is believed to be full of joy and prosperity. Consequentially, the egg is buried somewhere near the house. Despite the fun in this tradition, it has shown to have lost popularity in the modern world. This is mainly due to the huge patience it takes for one household to keep an egg intact for a whole year whilst tolerating the unpleasant scent that starts to emit out of the egg with time.

Fighting with eggs is the most anticipated moment in the Bulgarian Easter tradition. It is a fun experience for everyone. Children and adults fight for their victorious egg with expectations of success and health throughout the year if their egg survives the battles. It works in the following order: each person takes one egg and knocks it against the other person’s egg. The only surviving egg from all the knocking is called the “боряк” or in English the “fighter” and is the egg that is kept for in the house until next Easter.

Orthodox Easter in Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and other countries following the Julian calendar is celebrated on the 2ndof May this year. Contrarily, Catholic Christians celebrate it according to the Gregorian calendar on the 4th of April 2021.

Before Easter cakes became so popular on this holiday, ritual breads were prepared for Easter. They consisted of cakes, decorated and woven with traditionally 5 places in them for the red eggs.

The history of Easter cakes began more than three centuries ago. At the beginning of the 17th century, a French baker kneaded the first version of today’s Easter cake. Since then, the tradition has developed to bake Easter cakes, and in many places, ritual breads.

Every year, the bishops carry a sacred fire from Jesus’ tomb, which ignites itself in the temple in Jerusalem. The fire is carried to all churches where people worship it. Here is an image from the holy sacred fire, worshipped last year despite the pandemic.

On Holy Saturday the solemn service is celebrated, willow twigs, eggs and Easter cakes brought by the believers are consecrated. Exactly at midnight, the priest announces the Resurrection with the words “Christ is risen” to which the laity answer, “He is risen indeed.” Then the priest takes out a candle lit by the sacred fire from Jesus’ tomb, and all those present light their candles from it and go around the church with them three times. They then take home the lit candles and eggs and make sure the candle doesn’t go out along the way. With a candle in hand, they go around all the rooms and premises in the house, praying that the Lord will protect this house.