Orthodox Easter in Australia and worldwide

Many Orthodox Christians in Australia celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. The Orthodox Christian date for Easter Sunday is often observed at a later date than the Easter date observed by many western churches. The day is known as Pascha, as well as the Sunday of the Resurrection.

Roasted Lamb RackLamb is a popular Easter dish served among many Orthodox Christians in Australia. ©iStockphoto.com/Brett Mulcahy.

Orthodox Easter DayRoasted lamb is served on Easter Day. ©iStockphoto.com/Tatyana Nyshko

What do people do?

Many Orthodox Christians in Australia celebrate Pascha according to the Easter date in the Julian calendar. Easter is the most important event in the church calendar. The Easter Sunday church liturgies are joyous as they celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection, according to Christian belief, as well as spiritual victory.

Many Orthodox Christians in Australia fast during Lent prior to Easter. Easter Sunday is a time for families and friends to get together for a festive meal, where meat and dairy products can be eaten again. Lamb and tsourekia (or tsoureki), which is a type of Easter bread, are popular Easter dishes in many Greek Orthodox communities in Australia.

Traditional Easter egg games are also popular. Each person takes a dyed red egg and tries to crack other challengers’ eggs. This game symbolizes Jesus Christ breaking from his tomb. The person whose egg lasts the longest is assured good luck for the rest of the year. Some people bring dyed Easter eggs to church to be blessed at the Easter liturgy.

Special egg painting workshops for pysanky (special type of Easter eggs) are held in some cities, such as Sydney, prior to the Orthodox Easter date. These beautifully decorated eggs are customary in some eastern European countries such as Ukraine. Many people are banned from setting off fireworks during the Easter celebrations. Fireworks can only be used by a licensed pyrotechnician in many places, such as the state of Victoria.

Millions of Orthodox Christians worldwide, including about six million in North America, observe Easter, also known as Pascha, each year. It is estimated that there are more than 250 million Orthodox Christians in the world.

In Lebanon, many Orthodox Christians attend a church liturgy at Easter, whether it is on Sunday morning or midnight liturgy between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday, many families hold a special lunch consisting of turkey or chicken stuffed with nuts and served with rice. The afternoon is spent visiting friends and family members. Many homes have maamoul (cookies) on a plate with other delicacies such as chick peas covered with sugar and sweet almonds.

In Bulgaria, many worshippers celebrate outside churches after midnight liturgy, carrying candles to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Painted eggs are cracked or smashed and richly-painted Orthodox churches are filled with clouds of incense and choir songs.

In Greece, Easter Sunday is also a widely celebrated occasion. Lambs are roasted on a spit and the provision of wine is abundant. The roasted lamb is served in honor of Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed and rose again on Easter. Lamb is the most traditional Greek Easter food. Red-dyed eggs are cracked against each other and the person with the last remaining uncracked egg will have good luck. Easter Sunday is a time of festivity and people eat, chat or dance throughout the night.

On the island of Crete, many villages prepare for a bonfire effigy of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ, as described in the New Testament of the Bible. In the lead up to the bonfire event, people gather sticks and branches to prepare to burn the effigy.

Around the world, many Orthodox churches, including the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, hold Easter liturgies during the Easter period according to the Julian calendar. Families unite and join in Orthodox Easter activities, festivities and traditions.

Public life

The Orthodox Christian date for Easter Sunday is not a federal public holiday in Australia. However, it is held on a Sunday, which is a non-school day and non-working day for many Australians. Sunday trading hours still apply in areas where there is Sunday trading, particularly in major cities.

Countries that officially observe the Orthodox Easter period include: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Republic of Macedonia, Romania and Ukraine. There are no federal Orthodox Easter public holidays in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, it is a time for families and friends of the Orthodox Christian faith to gather together and to celebrate the Orthodox Easter period.

Easter is not a federal holiday in Jordan, although many Orthodox Christians are pushing to make it an official holiday. There have been petitions calling for the government in Jordan to make Easter an official public holiday. Jordan has a population of about six million people, and about six percent consists of Christians while about 92 percent consists of people of the Sunni Muslim faith.

In Lebanon – a country with a population of nearly 60 percent being Muslim and about 39 percent being Christian – Easter Sunday and Good Friday are public holidays.

Background

Many Orthodox churches base their Easter date on the Julian calendar, which differs from the Gregorian calendar that is used by many western countries. Therefore the Orthodox Easter period often occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox.

There are different types of Orthodox churches in Australia, including the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. There are many Greek Orthodox Christians in Australia. The federal government’s 2006 census recorded that there were 109,980 Greece-born people in Australia, with the largest numbers in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland. The census also showed that 100,460 Greece-born Australians are of the Eastern Orthodox faith.

In 325CE the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the March equinox. From that point forward, the Easter date depended on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21 for the March equinox. Easter is delayed one week if the full moon is on Sunday, which decreases the chances of it falling on the same day as the Jewish Passover.

Although the Council of Nicaea established the Easter date for churches around the world, not all Christian churches observe Easter according the Gregorian calendar. Many Orthodox churches still observe Easter in accordance with the Julian calendar.

In the Orthodox circles, tensions exist between New Calendarists – those who use the revised Julian calendar for calculating the feasts of the ecclesiastical year – and Old Calendarists – those who continue to use the traditional Julian calendar. The calendar question reflects the dispute between those who wish to synchronize with the modern Gregorian calendar and those who wish to maintain the traditional ecclesiastical calendar based on the Julian calendar.

There have been a number of proposed Easter date reforms. In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform to solve the Easter date difference between churches that observe the Gregorian calendar and those that observe the Julian calendar. So far, this reform has not been implemented.

Symbols

The Easter egg is hard-boiled and dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ. It was an important symbol connected with spring fertility rituals in many early civilizations. Many Greek Orthodox Christians rap their eggs against their friends’ eggs and the owner of the last uncracked egg is considered lucky.

The Orthodox custom of decorating the round Easter bread with red eggs at the four edges of the cross on the bread dates back to around the 12th century. Another important symbol associated with Easter is the lamb. It is often depicted with a banner that bears a cross, and it is known as the Agnus Dei, meaning “Lamb of God” in Latin.

Easter celebrations in Orthodox Christian communities usually include a spit-roast lamb dinner and a display of hard-boiled eggs, dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ. The egg was an important symbol in the mythologies of many early civilizations and was also connected with the springtime fertility rituals. Many Greeks rap their eggs against their friends’ eggs and the owner of the last uncracked egg is considered lucky. The red eggs are usually prepared on Holy Thursday in countries such as Greece. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary dyed eggs red to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and to celebrate life. A traditional Easter dinner may consist of red-dyed eggs baked into a braided loaf of bread, spit-roasted, herb-perfumed baby lamb, and assorted vegetables.

One of the most common Christian symbols associated with Easter is the lamb. It is often depicted with a banner that bears a cross, and it is known as the Agnus Dei, meaning “Lamb of God” in Latin. The symbol’s origin relates to the Jewish Passover. In ancient times the Jews sacrificed a lamb in the course of the festival. The early Christians associated the sacrifice of the lamb with Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. They connected the joyous Passover festival, which celebrates the liberation of Jewish people from years of bondage in Egypt, with the liberation from death represented by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Orthodox Good Friday

Millions of Orthodox Christians around the world commemorate Good Friday, also known as “Great Friday”. The atmosphere of the day is solemn and it is observed as a day of mourning to remember the events leading up to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.

Many Orthodox churches retained the Julian calendar after the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Europe in 1582. Therefore they often follow a different Easter date compared with many western churches. Easter holidays, such as Good Friday, are “moveable feasts” as these dates change according to calendar calculations.

The crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ is remembered on Good Friday. ©iStockphoto.com/Richard Goerg

What do people do?

On Good Friday, many Orthodox Christian churches hold special liturgies with readings from the Gospels of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In countries such as the United States, some Orthodox churches hold evening liturgies throughout Holy Week, with some special afternoon liturgies for children on Good Friday. Church activities may include: a family retreat with children’s activities; discussion groups; the wrapping of the red eggs to be distributed on Easter Sunday; and a Lenten lunch. Many adult Orthodox Christians observe Good Friday with fasting, prayer, cleanliness, self-examination, confession and good works.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America celebrates the Passion of Christ, or the last moments of his life according to the New Testament in the Bible, on Good Friday. This liturgy is long, but its content is dramatic. The liturgy also includes participation in prayers and the historical sequence of the events, as related in the Gospels and hymns.

In Greece, Good Friday is a day of mourning so many people may avoid household chores. A ritual lament called the “Procession of the Epitáphios of Christ” mourns the death of Christ on the cross with a symbolic decorated coffin carried through the streets by the faithful. Families attend their church to decorate the Epitaph (Bier of Christ) with flowers. In the morning of Good Friday, Christ’s burial is reenacted in many churches and in the evening the Epitaph procession takes place.

Public life

Good Friday is officially observed in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon and the Republic of Macedonia. Some embassies are closed in these countries on Good Friday but travelers and expats will need to check first with their own embassies. Many public offices, schools and banks will also be closed.

There are no federal Orthodox Easter public holidays in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, it is a time for families and friends of the Orthodox Christian faith to gather together and to celebrate the Orthodox Easter period.

Background

In the early Church Good Friday was called “Pascha of the Cross” because it marked the beginning of that Passover. It is part of the Easter period which is observed by both Orthodox and western churches alike, although the Easter dates may differ.

The Council of Nicaea established the Easter date for churches around the world in 325CE but not all Christian churches observed Easter according the Gregorian calendar after it was first introduced in 1582. Many Orthodox churches still observe Easter in accordance with the Julian calendar. Therefore the Orthodox Easter period occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox.

In the Orthodox circles, tensions exist between New Calendarists – those who use the revised Julian calendar for calculating the feasts of the ecclesiastical year – and Old Calendarists – those who continue to use the traditional Julian calendar. There have been a number of proposed Easter date reforms. In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform to solve the Easter date difference between churches that observe the Gregorian calendar and those that observe the Julian calendar. So far, this reform has not been implemented.

Symbols

Good Friday commemorates the moments leading up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament of the Bible. The most common symbols in observing Good Friday are the cross and crucifix and traditions include the venerations of the cross and the preaching or singing of the Passion of Christ.

In Greece, many flags at homes and government buildings are set at half mast to mark the mournful day. The icon of Christ is taken off the cross in churches and is then wrapped in linen and placed in a great casket covered in flowers symbolizing the tomb of Christ. The bier is then taken through the town or village, with people lamenting the death of Christ.

Orthodox Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is the day between Jesus Christ’s crucifixion (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter Sunday), according to Christian belief. Many Orthodox Christians commemorate the burial of Christ on this day.
Orthodox Holy SaturdayMany Orthodox churches contemplate the mystery of Jesus Christ’s descent into Hades. He was placed in a tomb after he died. ©iStockphoto.com/Tim Kimberley

What do people do?

Holy Communion can be received on Holy Saturday morning in some Orthodox churches in countries such as the United States. Some churches hold a midnight liturgy between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

In Greece, Holy Saturday is filled with the anticipation of celebrating Easter Sunday. In some areas, people begin to gather in the churches and squares in cities, towns and villages by 11pm for the Easter liturgies. Many people carry large white candles and the church bells toll as the priests announce “Christ is Risen!” at midnight between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Fireworks are set off and the each person in the crowd responds with set joyous responses. After this, everybody goes home for a meal – the fasting period is over. If their candles are still burning, a cross is made in the doorway with the soot to protect the house for the coming year.

An Easter liturgy is also held on Saturday night in many Russian Orthodox churches. Worshippers congregate in a darkened church. As midnight approaches, worshippers light candles and church bells announce the resurrection of Christ at midnight. An intensely joyful Orthodox liturgical chant can be heard throughout the streets in some parts of Russia until the conclusion of Easter liturgy at dawn.

In Lebanon, which also observes the Orthodox Easter, it is traditional that on the afternoon of Easter Saturday people visit seven churches to be blessed at each of them. Some people place a piece of dough in a tree on Saturday night, believing it will be blessed by Christ. On Sunday evening they place small pieces of that dough in other food containers so that these will also become blessed.

Many people flock to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is believed to be the site of Jesus Christ’s burial, on Holy Saturday. They come to this place to experience an annual event, which is deemed as a miracle, known as the Holy Fire. According to many Orthodox Christian sources, this fire occurs annually at the same place and time, and in the same manner. The Holy Fire liturgy is broadcast live in countries such as Greece and Russia.

Public life

The Easter period is officially observed in countries including: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lebanon, Republic of Macedonia, Romania and Ukraine. There are no federal Orthodox Holy Saturday public holidays in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, it is a time for families and friends of the Orthodox Christian faith to gather together and to celebrate the Orthodox Easter period.

Background

Holy Saturday is the day between Jesus’ death and his resurrection. Many Orthodox churches contemplate the mystery of Jesus Christ’s descent into Hades, the world of the dead. According to the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, death is defeated from within. It is the day of watchful expectation when mourning is transformed into joy. Holy Saturday is part of the Easter period observed by both Orthodox and western churches alike, although Easter dates often tend to differ between the churches.

The Council of Nicaea established the Easter date for churches around the world in 325CE but not all Christian churches observed Easter according the Gregorian calendar after it was first introduced in 1582. Many Orthodox churches still observe Easter in accordance with the Julian calendar. Therefore the Orthodox Easter period occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox.

In the Orthodox circles, tensions exist between New Calendarists – those who use the revised Julian calendar for calculating the feasts of the ecclesiastical year – and Old Calendarists – those who continue to use the traditional Julian calendar. There have been a number of proposed Easter date reforms. In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform to solve the Easter date difference between churches that observe the Gregorian calendar and those that observe the Julian calendar. So far, this reform has not been implemented.

Symbols

The tomb of Christ is an important symbol on Holy Saturday – it is no ordinary grave because it does not represent a place of corruption, decay and defeat. It is life-giving, a source of power, victory and liberation.

During Holy Saturday it is customary for the clergy and people to hold candles during the singing of the Lamentations and at the procession of the Epitaphios, an icon most often found as a large cloth, embroidered and often richly adorned,. This practice is rooted in ancient Christian burial practices. Candles are lit to symbolize the victory of Christ over death, and to express as well the church’s belief in Christ’s resurrection.

In many Russian Orthodox churches, the darkened church on Holy Saturday symbolizes the despair of a world without faith in Jesus Christ. Historically, the eve of Holy Saturday was considered a haunted time when satanic creatures tormented townsmen. People were afraid to go out after dark, but persevered to attend a liturgy because the church was considered a safe haven. As midnight approaches, candles are lit and, at midnight, church bells ring as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.

Orthodox Easter Monday

Many Orthodox churches around the world observe Easter Monday, which is the day after the Orthodox Easter Sunday.
Orthodox Easter MondayPainted eggs are an important tradition during the Easter period. ©iStockphoto.com/Bob Drapella

What do people do?

In countries such as Greece, the Orthodox Easter Monday is a much more relaxed day when people can wind down or prepare to resume their work or study schedules. For some, it is a reflection of the events that occurred during Holy Week. Easter Monday is a day to finish leftover Easter meals that were not eaten the day before. The menu may include: lamb, spanokopita (spinach pie), dolmadakia (stuffed vine leaves), and loukoumathes (honey balls).

Easter Monday is also referred to as “Bright Monday” or “New Monday” in many Orthodox churches. “Bright Monday” falls on “Bright Week”, which is a seven-day period that begins on Easter Sunday. For many Orthodox Christians, the fast and the time of mourning is over and it is a time to be joyous and happy.

Public life

Easter Monday is observed as an official holiday in countries including: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, and Ukraine. Schools, banks and public offices may be closed on this day. Some embassies are closed in these countries on Easter Monday so travelers will need to confirm with their own embassies.

There are no federal Orthodox Easter public holidays in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. However, Easter Monday is a time for families and friends of the Orthodox Christian faith to relax and reflect on the past week.

Background

In 325 CE the Council of Nicaea established the Easter date for churches around the world. However, in 1582 the Gregorian calendar was introduced and many western churches decided to observe the Easter period according to that calendar over the centuries. Many Orthodox churches still observe Easter in accordance with the Julian calendar, therefore they often follow a different Easter date compared with many western churches.

In the Orthodox circles, tensions exist between New Calendarists – those who use the revised Julian calendar for calculating the feasts of the ecclesiastical year – and Old Calendarists – those who continue to use the traditional Julian calendar. There have been a number of proposed Easter date reforms. In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform to solve the Easter date difference between churches that observe the Gregorian calendar and those that observe the Julian calendar. So far, this reform has not been implemented.

Symbols

One of the most common Orthodox Easter symbols is the dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ. The egg was an important symbol in the mythologies of many early civilizations and was also connected with the springtime fertility rituals. Many Greek people rap their eggs against their friends’ eggs and the owner of the last uncracked egg is considered lucky. The red eggs are usually prepared on Holy Thursday in countries such as Greece. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary dyed eggs red to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and to celebrate life.

One of the most common Christian symbols associated with Easter is the lamb. It is often depicted with a banner that bears a cross, and it is known as the Agnus Dei, meaning “Lamb of God” in Latin. The symbol’s origin relates to the Jewish Passover. In ancient times Jewish people sacrificed a lamb in the course of the festival. The early Christians associated the sacrifice of the lamb with Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. They connected the joyous Passover festival, which celebrates the liberation of Jewish people from years of bondage in Egypt, with the liberation from death represented by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.