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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Easter Rituals for Breaking the Fast

--"Khristos voskres." (Christ is risen.)


-- "Voistinu voskres." (He is risen indeed.)


On Sunday, Orthodox Easter, this antiphonal exchange will sound throughout Russia as families celebrate the most important event in the church calendar.


Despite this powerful affirmation of faith, many Russians, particularly those who lived through years of state-sponsored atheism, are still deciding just what role Easter will play in their holiday calendar. For both the pious and skeptical, though, one thing is sure: The celebration of Easter in Russia proceeds at full gustatory tilt.


For devout believers, Lent implies not only seven weeks of intense spiritual introspection but also severe culinary privation. After shunning meat, eggs, milk, and, for the two days immediately preceding Easter, all food, the idea on Easter Sunday is to break the fast in no moderate way.


De rigueur items for this feast include kulich, a round, high cake that many bake themselves at home and paskha, a combination of tvorog, or cottage-like cheese, mixed with raisins and other savories.


But before they celebrate the wonder of the resurrection with feasting and merry-making, many families started their Easter preparations on chisty chetverg, that is, "Clean" or Maundy Thursday. According to tradition, this day is devoted to spring cleaning and egg-dyeing.


Taxi driver Alexander Gusyev, 36, who describes himself as a "devout believer," joined his wife in dying eggs and cleaning up their apartment on Maundy Thursday. His family took the clean element one step further: "After we clean the apartment, we all take a shower," he said.


In further preparations, many Russians shop on Friday and Saturday to stock up on requisite ingredients for the feast. Easter, like the New Year, is a bonanza for food-sellers.


Svetlana Gribchuk, 22, who travels daily to Moscow from Sergiyev Posad to trade at the Leningradsky market, sells whole chickens, chicken hearts, chicken livers and, for Easter, that most important chicken product: eggs. Before Easter, Gribchuk raises her prices to 20,000 rubles ($4) for 10 eggs. Despite the steep price, consumers readily buy them. "I have big eggs," Gribchuk said Friday morning of her two-yolk wares.


Business at the tvorog counter is also brisk. "People have been buying a lot more since last Saturday," said Tatyana Yashina, 37.


On Saturday, with eggs dyed, apartments cleaned, food purchased and prepared, many Russians then attend midnight liturgy, referred to as the krestny khod. In this ritual, the celebrant and worshipers circle the outside of the church three times, thus imitating the faithful who came to the tomb to minister to Jesus' body. On completing this triple procession, the congregants look inside the tomb/church, and, not finding His body therein, exclaim "Christ is risen!"


The service continues until the wee hours of the morning. Many then return home to a table groaning with food and break the fast there, often feasting until sunrise. After resting for a few hours, some engage in a ritual that arose during the Soviet era: They go to cemeteries to visit the graves of departed loved ones.


But there are probably as many variations on celebrating Easter as there are families in Russia.


Oleg, 30, an unemployed construction worker, described his unorthodox plans to celebrate Easter: "Go to the cemetery, go out to the country and fix shish kebab, get drunk, then go to a midnight service. And maybe pick a fight there."


Pick a fight? "There're usually a lot of policemen there," explained Oleg, who perhaps has not visited church recently and realized that, with the relaxation of religious intolerance, believers are not dissuaded from entering the sanctuary.


Oleg's Easter will be modest as well as unorthodox. There will there be no dyed eggs -- "My wife's lazy; she won't dye eggs" -- and the kulich will have to be bought at the store -- "My wife's lazy; she won't bake kulich."