A Russian Easter: Or, the year I celebrated 2 Easters

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I have always celebrated Triduum and Easter at my home parish of Clifton Cathedral, even though I have lived in London for thirteen years. The reason for this is mostly because I like to be at home with my family, for what is a very special time of year.

However, in 2006 I was studying in Moscow and unable to come home for Easter. During my time in Russia I attended a parish in central Moscow, and even joined the choir for a while.

2The Russian Orthodox and Catholic calendars aren’t synchronised, so in 2006 I spent most of the first week of Lent eating blini (pancakes) including Ash Wednesday itself. That year, the two Easters were a week apart. In other years the calendars coincide. In 2016, Lent has only just started for Russian Orthodox!

They had Lenten menus in the restaurants in Moscow, so I had ‘Lenten’ soup on Easter day, which was very confusing. However, as a vegetarian the Lenten menus were very helpful as they provide more vegetarian choices.

Palm Sunday in Russia is called Verbnoe voskresen’e; ‘verb’ here means Pussy Willow. Due to the lack of palms in Russia they traditionally use pussy willow branches.3

The French Mass at the church I regularly attended (St Louis in central Moscow, in the shadow of the Lubianka) had imported palms, but at the Russian Mass I regularly attended, and they were raising money for new microphones by selling budding twigs with ribbons tied on.

My Russian landlady brought a large bouquet of pussy willow and put it in a vase in the kitchen on Orthodox Palm Sunday. By Orthodox Easter it had burst into flower.
I discovered why pussy willow is so called – it has small furry buds which the mischievous cat in the flat I was staying in loved to play with.

On Palm Sunday, I managed to get sprinkled four times during the Rite of Asperges (possibly the revenge of the priest against the choir..?) Both readings of the Passion were sung, which I have not heard before.

On Maundy Thursday the Mass was in Russian apart from bits of the Eucharistic Prayer which were in Latin, only in a Russian accent. We had an evening service on Good Friday because of course, in Russia it is not a bank holiday, so everyone had to work or go to school in the daytime.

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We sang some lovely music (without accompaniment) both Tchaikovsky, Palestrina and some Taize chant too. One element of the liturgy was particularly different on Good Friday, there was a ‘procession to the Grave‘ with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

All the services were packed with people, with many even standing. Everyone had to bring their own candles for the Paschal Vigil so there were many different sorts around, including votive lights which in Russia are made of beeswax, about 1/2 centimetre in width and burn very fast, so there were some interesting improvised hand guards including my own from a Twinings tea packet, thanks to a friend who had sent me some English tea a few weeks previously.

There were 19 baptisms, which was amazing. They didn’t have a font, so the priest used a jug of Holy Water. 5The Litany of the Saints was unusual as there were lots of Eastern saints (St. Vladimir, SS. Cyril l and Methodius, St George and St Basil the Blessed ).

Perhaps the best moment was at the end when the priest and people proclaimed three times

“Khrystos voskres! – Voistinu voskres!” (Christ is risen! Truly Risen!)

Thanks to my parents who had sent me some in the post I also partook in the traditional Clifton Cadbury’s Creme Egg afterwards, which reminded me of home.

The following Sunday was Orthodox Easter, and although I didn’t celebrate by going to an Orthodox service, I remember walking around Moscow – finally spring was coming – and hearing the bells ringing. Russian churches have amazing bells, quite different from our own, and traditionally the bells ring through all of Moscow to celebrate the Resurrection.

This piece by Rimsky-Korsakov captures some of that Easter joy:

 


Dr Elizabeth Harrison is Editorial Assistant at CTS. See all her blog posts for CTS Compass here.

 

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