Due to the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church follows a different calendar to its Western counterparts Easter Sunday often falls on a different date. In 2019 Western churches will celebrate Easter on April 21, while in Russia it falls one week later on April 28. When the Catholic and Orthodox churches separated in the 11th century, both churches calculated the date of Easter in the same way. However, the Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, and the Orthodox Church continued to use the older Julian calendar. Even when the Julian calendar stopped being the civil calendar of Orthodox countries such as Russia, the church continued to use it.
Despite the difference in dates, there are many similarities between Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Easter customs. For instance, many Eastern European countries, both Catholic and Orthodox, decorate eggs for Easter. However, there are also a number of differences. Easter is called “Paskha” in Russian. On Easter Sunday you greet someone with “Khristos voskres” and get a reply of “Voistinu voskres,” which literally means that Christ has risen. After that it is a custom to hug and kiss three times, symbolising belief, hope and love. Instead of Palm Sunday, Russians have Willow Sunday and people collect willow branches, get them blessed in the church and keep them at home.
Easter is one of the most important holidays in the Russian religious calendar and many churches, which would not normally have regular services, such as St. Basil’s, also mark the occasion. Most religious Russians mark Easter by going to midnight mass and enjoying an Easter feast. Kulich (a puff y raisin cake) and decorated boiled eggs are usually an important part of the festive meal. Note that there are no public holidays at Easter and the city will be working as normal on Easter Monday.
And, of course, this spring there’s Pesach, celebrated by Russia’s Jews. Pesach (Passover) is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals of ancient Israel. Originally a combination of a couple of diff erent spring festivals, it is a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt – especially the night when God “passed over” the houses of the Israelites during the 10th plague – and of the following day, when the Israelites had to leave Egypt hurriedly. Centered on the family or communal celebration of the seder (ritual meal), Passover is one of the most beloved of all Jewish holidays. There are special synagogue services, including special biblical readings, among which one fi nds Shir ha-Shirim, “The Song of Songs” and Hallel, Psalms of praise
and thanksgiving for God’s saving act in history. The last day of Passover is one of the four times a year that the Yizkor service of remembrance is recited.