What Is Orthodox Easter?

Learn about its customs, greetings, and foods

Orthodox Easter Foods
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Orthodox Easter is the most significant and sacred season of the Eastern Christian church's calendar. The annual holiday consists of a series of celebrations or movable feasts commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Orthodox Easter

Orthodox Easter Observances

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the spiritual preparations for Easter begin with Great Lent, 40 days of self-examination and fasting (including Sundays), which starts on Clean Monday and culminates on Lazarus Saturday.

Clean Monday falls seven weeks before Easter Sunday. The term "Clean Monday" refers to cleansing from sinful attitudes through the Lenten fast. The early church fathers likened the Lenten fast to a spiritual journey of the soul through the wilderness of the world. The spiritual fast is designed to strengthen the inner life of the worshipper by weakening the attractions of the flesh and drawing him or her closer to God. In many Eastern churches, the Lenten fast is still observed with considerable strictness, meaning no meat is consumed, nor any animal products (eggs, milk, butter, cheese), and fish only on certain days.

Lazarus Saturday occurs eight days before Easter Sunday and signifies the end of Great Lent.

Next comes Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, commemorating the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, followed by Holy Week, which ends on Easter Sunday, or Pascha.

Fasting continues throughout Holy Week. Many Eastern Orthodox churches observe a Paschal Vigil which ends just before midnight on Holy Saturday (or Great Saturday), the last day of Holy Week on the evening before Easter. During the Easter Vigil services, a series of 15 Old Testament readings begin with these words, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Often Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Saturday evening with a candlelight procession outside the church.

Holy Ascension Orthodox Church Paschal Vigil
Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, Paschal Vigil, September 2010. Andrew Gould

Immediately following the Paschal Vigil, Easter festivities begin with Paschal Matins at midnight, Paschal Hours, and the Paschal Divine Liturgy. Paschal Matins is an early morning prayer service or, in some traditions, part of an all-night prayer vigil. It usually beings with the tolling of bells. The whole congregation exchanges a "Kiss of Peace" at the end of Paschal Mattins. The kissing custom is based in the following Scriptures: Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; and 1 Peter 5:14.

Paschal Hours is a brief, chanted prayer service, reflecting the joy of Easter. And Paschal Divine Liturgy is a communion or Eucharist service. These are the first celebrations of Christ's resurrection and are considered the most important services of the ecclesiastical year.

After the Eucharist service, the fast is broken, and the feasting begins. Orthodox Easter day is celebrated with great joy.

Traditions and Greetings

It is customary among Orthodox Christians to greet one another during the Easter season with the Paschal greeting. The salutation begins with the phrase, "Christ ​is Risen!" The response is "Truly; He is Risen!" The phrase "Christos Anesti" (Greek for "Christ is Risen") is also the title of a traditional Orthodox Easter hymn sung during Easter services in celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

In the Orthodox tradition, eggs are a symbol of new life. Early Christians used eggs to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the regeneration of believers. At Easter, eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross for the redemption of all men.

Orthodox Easter Foods

Greek Orthodox Christians traditionally break the Lenten fast after the midnight Resurrection Service. Customary foods are a lamb and Tsoureki Paschalino, a sweet Easter dessert bread.

Serbian Orthodox families traditionally begin the feasting after Easter Sunday services. They enjoy appetizers of smoked meats and cheeses, boiled eggs and red wine. The meal consists of chicken noodle or lamb vegetable soup followed by spit-roasted lamb.

Holy Saturday is a day of strict fasting for Russian Orthodox Christians, while families stay busy making preparations for the Easter meal. Usually, the Lenten fast is broken after the midnight mass with traditional Paskha Easter bread cake.