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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Sense of Past, Peace On Easter

On the eve of Russian Orthodox Easter celebrations this weekend even the Communist Party, that traditional bastion of atheism, is getting into the holiday spirit.

The party's chairman, Gennady Zyuganov, appealed to his followers and allies at a press conference this week to refrain from holding political demonstrations during Russia's most religious holiday.

Alas, not everyone has heard the word. A more radical pro-communist group, Working Russia, is organizing a "Day of Struggle Against Boris Yeltsin" on Saturday, complete with red flags, jingoistic slogans and portraits of Lenin and Stalin.

The climax of 40 days of fasting, pentinence and preparation, Easter, or Paskha, is the most important religious holiday for Orthodox Russians.

Besides the Communists, other political figures are making ready for the holiday.

The city government of Mayor Yury Luzhkov on Tuesday decreed that Moscow's poor be served charity meals in the capital's cafes and cafeterias through the remainder of the Orthodox Holy Week, which started last Sunday and ends with Easter. Parts of central Moscow will be closed to private traffic on Saturday and Sunday.

According to President Yeltsin's press service, he is planning to attend the Easter service at Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, which will be led by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksii II on Saturday night.

After that, on Sunday, Yeltsin will spend Easter Sunday "at home with his family, like all good Christians", spokesman Anatoly Krasikov said.

Most Orthodox worshippers will attend church services that begin at 9 P. M. on Saturday, and continue until sunrise on Sunday. At midnight, bells will ring in churches throughout the country and worshippers will exchange kisses and the traditional Easter greeting: Khristos voskrese! (Christ is risen! ) and response: Voistinu voskrese! (He is risen indeed! ).

This ritual harkens back to the days when the first Christians, after learning of Christ's resurrection, excitedly passed the news to each other.

Emotional Russians have always enjoyed the kissing part. Czar Nicholas II, in a 1904 diary entry, recorded exchanging Easter greetings and kisses with 280 people following midnight mass, and an additional 730 of his soldiers on Easter morning.

Among other religious holidays, many Easter traditions were eradicated under Soviet communism.

On the Saturday before Easter a grandiose Leninsky subbotnik (Lenin Saturday) was always organized, when people were gathered to sweep streets and pick up litter -- an activity meant to tire them and distract from the Easter preparations. Strangely, this practice did a good service: Moscow was always remarkably clean on the dawn of the holiday.

Soviet authorities in the 1980s developed more cynical ways of distracting attention, especially of young people, from the religious holiday. Western rock festivals, officially disdained most of the year, were shown on television on the Saturday before Easter.

In these days of relative political pluralism, even the Communists have come to terms with Easter. Ivan Rybkin, who leads the Communist faction of parliament, read an Easter greeting to Orthodox worshippers this week. The statement said, in part: "On the eve of this holiday of light we hope, together with all believers, that the light of belief, hope and love will never be extinguished".

-- with Olga Fedina