May 1st is considered a special day for our family since it is the day we celebrate God giving us our only son Jonathan 20 plus years ago. This year, that day also significantly represented the date of Orthodox Easter—a time to commemorate God’s sacrificial giving of His only Son 2000 years ago.
Why is Russian Orthodox Easter different from when the U.S. celebrates Easter? The Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar to determine the date for their Easter while many western countries use the Gregorian calendar which tends to place Easter on an earlier date falling around the time of the March Equinox. I thought it would be fun to share some Russian culture tidbits, so I did some research and discovered that Easter is NOT a Russian national holiday!
Although it may not be recorded as a national holiday, according to an article in Russia Beyond the Headlines (http://rbth.com/articles/2012/04/07/getting_ready_for_easter_15271.html) reprinted from the Moscow Times original (http://www.themoscowtimes.com/index.php), “it is the most important religious holiday in the country and the third most widely observed holiday in Russia overall, after New Year’s and birthdays, according to a 2003 poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation. In fact, for the vast majority of Russians, celebrating Easter is not so much a question of faith as it is one of national identity. Preparing for it requires the proper fulfillment of certain customs -many of them religious, but more of them from folk traditions.”
From March 1st, the first official day of Spring, to the Thursday before Easter, called “Чисти Четверг” or “Clean Thursday,” a transition occurs nationwide as weather warms and Russians begin spring cleaning. Garbage previously hidden in mounds of snow and ice is bagged; sand (specifically in our area) gustily blown everywhere is swept into piles; playgrounds, curbs, rocks, and even trees receive a fresh coat of color or whitewash. On “Clean Thursday,” everyone cleans their homes, prepares the dough for kulichi – tall cylindrical cakes, and dyes eggs.
The painters who painted our stairwell and outside of our building with whom we have conversed and expressed our gratitude for their service.
Although Easter is not considered a national holiday, May 1st is actually recognized as the national holiday for—Labor Day.
“May 1 was a symbol of class struggle in Russia for about 100 years (1890-1990). Workers held annual protests on this day from 1890 to 1917, demanding better work conditions and higher wages. In 1918, May 1 became an important public holiday, known as the Day of the International Solidarity of Workers, in the Soviet Union. Most Soviet cities had parades and obligatory workers’ marches on this day until 1990. The Russian Parliament renamed the holiday as Spring and Labor Day in 1992.”
Because Easter is such an important part of the culture, it opens up evangelistic opportunities. Those who attend our English club were receptive to Art showing a video called “Watch the Lamb” and interacted in the discussion afterwards when Art explained what we believe about Easter. Our church’s choir traveled to the village of Zaegraevo to be part of a public concert that shared about Christ. As the choir stood in the hall 15 minutes before the concert began, it was mentioned that only 5 people had come. By the time we lined up on the stage, about 50 adults and children were in the audience.
The choir also sang in the special Thursday evening service held at our church and on Sunday. People who do not regularly attend church, like the unsaved husband of one of the ladies in the choir, attended these services.
Pray for the nation of Russia to not just experience external transformation but also internal, spiritual transformation. II Cor. 5:17-18 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”