MOSCOW –Millions of people worldwide are celebrating the main Christian holiday, Easter Sunday.
This year, the Orthodox Christian Church and the Catholic Church are celebrating Easter on the same day. The next time when the two Churches share Easter celebrations will not occur until 2025.
In Russia, the celebration centered in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, where Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill conducted the Easter service.
Traditionally, the Holy Fire was brought to Moscow from Jerusalem.
Under the Orthodox tradition, the Easter Sunday completes the 48-day Great Lent, the period of spiritual preparations during which believers refrain from all animal products and bad habits. It is the time of prayer, confession, spiritual growth and almsgiving.
The traditional Easter menu in Russia includes colored eggs, Kulich (an Easter bread similar to Italian panettone) and Paskha, a pyramid-shaped dessert from cottage cheese, eggs, butter and raisins.
During the Easter and the 40 days that follow, Russian Orthodox believers greet each other with a special greeting. Instead of “hello” or its equivalent, one is to greet another person with “Christ is Risen!”, and the response is “Indeed, He is Risen,” followed by the exchange of a triple kiss on the alternating cheeks.
In line with a popular tradition, Russian families often visit graves of their deceased relatives during the holiday. This tradition is not approved of by the official Orthodox Church, which has special days for commemoration of the deceased in its calendar.
Russia’s main Easter service
In Russia, the Easter celebration centered around Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, where Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill conducted the Easter service. The tradition of holding Patriarchal Easter services in Moscow’s main cathedral originates in 2001, when Patriarch Alexy II conducted the service in the cathedral, rebuilt in late 1990s after being demolished by the Bolsheviks in 1931.
The Patriarchal service, attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with his wife Svetlana, was broadcast live by Russia’s main state TV channels and viewed by millions of Russians. The service was also attended by Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and other prominent Russian political and public figures.
“I wish to all of you to experience this special kind of joy,” the head of the Russian Orthodox Church said prior to the service. “We know that even in smallest churches, where the service is a lot more modest than in cathedrals, people feel this special joy in their hearts.”
“May the blessing and power of Christ, who defeated death, strengthen us in our faith and help us to wend our way through life,” Patriarch Kirill added.
He also congratulated Orthodox believers living in other countries.
The president, the prime minister and the patriarch exchanged Easter gifts. This time, Putin presented an Easter egg decoration of gold, brass and chrysolites to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The patriarch, in his turn, also presented Easter eggs to Putin and Medvedev.
The Russian president regularly visits churches during major religious holidays. Typically, he attends the Easter service in Moscow and the Christmas service in other Russian churches.
On the eve of Orthodox Easter, the Holy Fire ignites on the tomb of Jesus Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also called the Church of Resurrection. On Holy Saturday, Christians flock to Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, waiting for a miracle. The church that can seat as many as 10,000 worshippers becomes crowded. The expectation can last between five minutes to a few hours.
After the Holy Fire had descended on candles and oil lamps of Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem earlier on Saturday, it was brought to Russia aboard a special plane that landed shortly before midnight.
The capsule was delivered by a delegation of the Apostle Andrew the First Called Foundation led by its Chairman of the Board Vladimir Yakunin. During the ceremony, Yakunin lit his oil lamp from the patriarch’s one.
A special capsule containing the Holy Fire has been brought to Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral for the Easter night service.
At Moscow’s Vnukovo airport hundreds of worshippers met the Holy Fire to take it to parishes of Moscow and Russian regions.
The Apostle Andrew the First Called Foundation organized the delegation’s trip to Israel within the framework of the program ‘Ask Peace for Jerusalem,’ in effect since 2003. In 1992, the Holy Fire was airlifted to Moscow for the first time in the history of modern Russia.
The first records of the Holy Fire, which symbolizes the light that illuminated Christ’s tomb after the resurrection, dates back to the fourth century.
The fire has been descending each Holy Saturday, on the eve of the Orthodox Easter, for many centuries. In spite of numerous attempts, no one has been able to work out the origin of the fire, since in the very first minutes after it descends, the fire is warm and does not burn. It is believed that the Holy Fire will not descend on the year of the Doomsday.