Byzantine Catholics have a rich and joyous tradition for celebrating Easter. We greet each other, in church or on the street, by saying “Christ is risen” and responding “Indeed He is risen.” We sing the Paschal troparion. A lot. We start singing it at the end of the procession around the church during Resurrection Matins. But the first thing we do Easter morning is put together our Easter baskets for a blessing after the liturgy.
The blessing of Easter baskets is a rich Byzantine tradition. If you read my post on Holy Week, you’ll recall that the Byzantine fast leading up to Easter is quite strict. The Easter basket is filled with the foods we use to celebrate the resurrection by breaking the fast. We cover our baskets with an embroidered cloth bearing the words Christ is Risen.
Although there are traditional items to put into the Easter basket, the contents are meant to be everything you are going to be eating that. It is more important to have the foods your family will enjoy, than to have the thematic meal. So your family’s basket can be quite personalized.
The main item of the basket is the Easter bread, called Pascha. This bread symbolizes Christ who is our true bread. We place a candle in this bread and light it during the blessing of the baskets. Another bread, called Babka, is sweetened with raisins and represents the Theotokos.
Other traditional items included are cheese, pre-cooked ham and sausage (so you aren’t burdened with the work of cooking on this joyous day), and butter (shaped as a lamb). The famous Ukrainian Easter Eggs called Pisanki are also in the basket. Salt and horseradish are also included. The horseradish is a reminder of the Passion of Christ even on this joyous day. We are thankful for Christ’s sacrifice and do not forget His suffering.
Easter morning we begin our liturgy with the priest in dark vestments (if the burial shroud and tomb are still set up). He carries the shroud from the tomb and places it n the holy table. Then the priest changes into bright vestments and a procession begins. The priest leads the faithful out of the church, They process around the outside of the building three times, beginning the resurrection matins.
The procession ends at the closed front doors of the church. The priest incenses the gospel, the icon of the resurrection, and then all the faithful. Then the priest begins the singing of the Paschal troparion. In Canada, the priest and people often alternate between singing in Ukrainian and in English.
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and to those in the tombs giving life.”
In between singing the Paschal troparion the priest will chant the psalm verses in the resurrection matins. The priest knocks on the doors of the church, and children ring bells as we sing this joyful troparion. Finally, the doors to the church are opened, and we continue to sing the troparion until all are in their places in the church.
During the divine liturgy the Psachal troparion is frequently repeated. The children in the church continue to ring bells to herald the joy of the resurrection to the world. The excitement this act brings to the children is beautiful.
The kontakion (also called kondak) for the liturgy is the message of the Good News:
Though You went down to the grave, immortal Lord, you destroyed the power of Hades and rose victorious, Christ our God. You who said, “Rejoice” to the myrrh bearing women, give peace to Your apostles and offer resurrection to the fallen.
At the end of the liturgy the doors to the iconostas are kept open, and left this way for the remainder of the week. There is no other occasion when these Holy Doors are left open.
The Celebration Continues
After the liturgy the priest goes to bless the Easter baskets. Although parish communities traditionally shared a meal together on this day, in modern times we often host a feast together the next weekend.
In our family we like to continue singing the Easter troparion throughout the day. We also enjoy listening to Matt Maher’s song “Christ is Risen,” and singing (and sometimes dancing) along.
Easter Sunday is the first day of Bright Week, which last till the Saturday following Easter. Although it is called Bright Week, it is thought of as being one joyous day. So here at TheByzantineLife.com, we wish you a bright and joyful Bright Week and Easter season. If you missed it, go back and read about Holy Week traditions in last week’s post.