"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Христос Воскрес! Воистину Воскрес!

 Christ is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! 

From what I can tell, Easter is probably the major Ukrainian religious holiday. Christmas was great, but Easter seems to be the Big Show. It all started so long ago with (Пiст) (Peest) or Lent as you and I know it to be. For some in Ukraine, it’s 40 days of food deprivation preceding Eater. Traditionally, one “fasted” of all of lent giving up meat, eggs, and butter, and abstaining from dancing, spending money frivolously, etc. I only ran into a few Ukrainians that were going ‘all out’ this Lent, but most everyone focuses on something and most of the local “discos” have been closed. All in all, it’s meant to be a time for soul cleansing and penitence. The kids seem to really like Lent, because they can tell teachers that they are going to confession instead of class, and get a pass for a few lessons. Personally, I think they actually go, because who says their going to confession to get out of school, and then doesn’t? That just means they’ll have to go right back to confess for lying…

Last week was Palm Sunday, or in Ukraine, Willow Sunday. Palms were hard to get around here a while ago, so willow branches were an appropriate substitute and the tradition stuck. Kids beat each other with them, chanting some rhyme about how they aren’t hitting you, the branch is hitting you, and soon Easter will come and you’ll be blessed with a red egg.

And as I talked about in my last post, the week before lent is all about cleaning. All ‘non-lenten’ foods are prepared (using butter, meat, eggs, etc), but not eaten. Sausages are stuffed, Паска (Paska) is baked (special sweet Easter bread), Хрін (Hreen) beet and horseradish is made, and eggs are boiled and colored. The best way to put it would be a lot of sweeping, (dirt roads, window seats, etc.), painting (bottoms of trees, houses, etc.) and scurrying.

‘Clean Thursday’ service is when all churchgoers go to church with a candle, and toward the end, get their candle lit and blessed by the Priest. Then they carefully walk home with the lit candle, making sure the wind doesn’t blow it out. Many people have special candleholders for protection; some have plastic bottles turned up side down and the bottom cut off as a homemade and eco-friendly candle protector. Once at home, they bless their doorway and make a cross with the flame at the top of the doorframe, leaving a black . I was having dinner with some PCV’s, and Mr. Kidd (Jon’s Dad) in Lutsk at the time, but luckily someone stopped by my house to have it blessed. Score!

Friday is all about the Плащениця (Plashchenytsia) or the Holy Shroud which worshippers pray to. It’s also the last chance for confessions, so most of the people are waiting in line to speak with the Priest. This Lutheran was a little intimidated confessing my sins to someone other than the Big Guy, let alone in Ukrainian, so I made my quick appearance and headed home.  (Side note: Church is definitely a come and go as you please sort of situation. I never really know when to show up, or where to go, but no one has told me I’m doing it wrong, so I’ll just keep with the naive American boy smile, and I think I’ll be fine.)

I had absolutely nothing to do on Saturday, so I took the opportunity to deep clean my own dwelling! When in Ukraine, right? I thought about eating dinner off the floor, because that’s how hard I scrubbed. I put away my winter clothes (fingers crossed), pulled out the shorts (fingers and toes crossed) and swapped my boots for sandals. The nap I was going to take before church at 12 a.m. turned into an awesome, and much needed Skype session with my friend from school (Thanks again for your patience, LA!) then I headed off to church with my Easter basket filled to the brim a little before midnight.

Right at midnight, the entire congregation stands around the church, and marches in procession around it three times, holding candles, carrying church banners, and singing “Христос Воскрес!” (Hrystos Voskres) “Christ is Risen!” The response is “Воистину воскрес!” (Voees-ten-u Voskres) “Indeed, He is Risen!” This was a very special moment for me, because I felt so at peace. I was in a mass of people, chanting something so foreign but so familiar and it came so natural. I wasn’t being looked at as the American, but as a rejoicer and sinner saved by this Easter miracle, standing on common ground; standing at the foot of the cross. We talked a lot about that in college at worship, but never has it felt so real than it did in the wee hours of this Ukrainian morning.

For the next 6 or so hours, I spent in and out of the church, standing, listening, reflecting, translating, worshiping. Many people would go into the church for about an hour or so, then take a break outside where there were about twice as many people around the church, listening to the speakers and the bells from the tower that had been ringing since midnight. (Some of the local boys take shifts ringing the bells for the next 3 days straight, but anyone who feels inclined may climb to the top of the bell town and ring away to show their joyfulness and jubilation).

After service, while it is still dark, all of the Easter baskets are blessed. The Easter basket is the pride and joy of the family, and just like any Ukrainian that leaves the house, the baskets are too, well put together and tidy. The baskets are filled with a sampling of Easter foods, but most contain:

Paska (Sweet Easter bread), Pysanky (Beautifully painted eggs), Krashank (Colored Eggs: variety of colors but there must be a red one), Salo (Pork Fat), Kovbasa (Garlic Sausage), maybe Salt, Pepper, Lard, Butter, Cheese, Horseradish, Ham, and seeds if the planting hasn’t already been done. A candle is placed in the paska, and lit before it’s blessed.

Everybody makes a huge circle around the church with their baskets at their feet and paska candles lit and the Priest walks around flinging water on everybody and their baskets. The procession goes around three times again, and then everybody hurries home to share the blessed food and break Lent. I went home and slept for a few hours, and cooked myself Plov, an easy but suuuper Ukrainian dish. After finishing, I was insistently whisked away to one of  my English teachers houses to eat more breakfast with them. (Oh Bosha!) They graciously hosted me, filling me to my brim with a delicious Ukrainian feast…complete with horilka (Ukrainian for Vodka!) Sadly, I forgot my camera but the celebration isn’t quite over yet!

We have school off tomorrow, because Easter continues Monday and Tuesday. More feasts, more celebrating, and hopefully more paska! I am continually reminded how blessed I am here, and how wonderful and hospitable the people of Ukraine are. I hope you have a won
derful Easter as well, and are rejoicing in this gift of renewal and new life! 
He is RISEN! 

The contents of my basket: Paska
(Sweet Bread: Joy of New Life, Eggs: Rebirth, Garlic Sausage: Generosity)
Easter Basket

My 1st Easter Meal - Plov, Egg, Salo, and Paska

Surprise Easter Dinner in Mr. Benjamin's Kitchen/Bathroom!
Me, Anastasia Serhivna (Center), and Natalia Vasilivna (Right)
Two English teachers and some of the best Ukrainian women I know!
Quite the Feast!
(Lots of Paska, Plov, Sausage, Salo, Cabbage Rolls,
Meat Jello, Cheese and Apple Filled Mini-Pancakes,
Eggs, Tea, and Cognac)


  1. Love.it. Finally read this entry. What lovely traditions!!

  2. Thank you for the detailed post. It brought back memories of those traditions that I experienced growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I was the first generation of parents that were born in the Ukraine. My mother was born in Kivertsi, Volyn. I just shared your post with her. She is 95. It was lovely. I had forgotten some of the details. Since I am writing her memoir, and need some details, do you know if there is someone in the Ukraine who knows the history of Volyn that I can email?

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