04/07/2018, 16.37
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Russian Easter, holy fire and giant sweet breads

by Vladimir Rozanskij

With Easter celebrated tomorrow according to Orthodox tradition, many old customs have made a comeback, including sweet breads, eggs, and holy fire flown in from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Patriarch Kirill urged believers to participate, but so far only 2 to 4 per cent of them have taken part in Holy Week activities.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – A delegation of Saint Andrew Protoclete travelled from Moscow to the Holy Land to collect the Holy Fire from the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in today’s Matins to bring back to Russia for the night celebration by Patriarch Kirill in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

A chartered plane carrying the Holy Fire is scheduled to land at Vnukovo airport (one of Moscow’s eight airports) with hundreds of believers expected, especially those devoted to this Orthodox tradition.

The Holy Fire miraculously ignites every year on Easter Eve, and is considered a miracle reserved only for the Orthodox, even if it is also accessible to Catholics, especially to members of the scout movement.

According to tradition, the repetition of the miracle guarantees humanity at least another year of existence before the Apocalypse.

The paschal fire will be carried to all the churches of Moscow and province, and then exhibited in almost a hundred cities in Russia and other Orthodox communities around the world, including New York.

Another typical Russian Easter tradition is kulich, a sweet bread that is blessed in the church. It is usually baked on Holy Saturday, but this year it was prepared ahead of time because this year, the former falls on 7 April, the feast of the Annunciation. In the Eastern liturgy, this cannot be omitted even during Holy Week celebrations.

The other Russian Easter sweet bread is Paska, filled with cottage cheese, raisins and pyramid-shaped almonds. This year residents in Rostov-on-Don broke every record by sending to Moscow a Paska called Paska Tsar that weighted more than a tonne. It will on exhibit on Easter Sunday at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

In Moscow, Easter Eve celebrations begin near the cathedral and the Kremlin with the feast of the "Easter Gift", a tradition that has taken hold in the past few years. It involves showing the best in local food and crafts productions, almost a celebration of autarchy in an age of isolation and sanctions. The high point of this will be the award ceremony in which the patriarch picks the best decorated Easter egg from more than 500 entries.

Over the past few days, Patriarch Kirill led the Holy Week ceremonies in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. During the liturgy on Holy Thursday, he washed the feet of twelve bishops, standing in for the twelve apostles towards whom Christ bent the during the purification of the Last Supper.

On this occasion, the patriarch said that the Eucharistic communion inaugurated by Christ in the holy supper "is that spiritual force which by divine grace is infused into men to make them accomplish great deeds, to face persecutions and overcome the degradation of sin so as to truly live as Christians, despite all the difficulties of the historical circumstances in which they are called to live."

For many Orthodox Christians, the Easter Triduum offers an opportunity to come back to the sacramental communion, which is not commonplace in the Eastern practice, partly because of the obligation of fasting and confession during the celebration itself. At Easter these obligations are suspended, allowing mass participation in the gifts of grace.

According to Kirill, "communion should not become a habit, or a merely traditional practice. This is why each of us must prepare ourselves to approach this great mystery of the body and blood of Christ . . . If we do not come to the liturgy only to stand before images and pray and approach the sacraments [instead] with the right preparation and participation, then our life changes, and the power of the Holy Spirit will act upon us in a steady way."

According to the usual polls conducted by Russia’s main market research organisation, the Levada Centre, participation in church services by Russian was very superficial.

Just over 20 per cent of Russians fasted this year, down compared to more than 30 per cent in the recent past. Attendance of Holy Week liturgical services ranged between 2 and 4 per cent. However, many more people are expected to take part in the initial church procession for Easter Eve when believers sing hymn to the Risen Christ holding lit candles.

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