As we have mentioned in some of the previous articles, most of Serbs are Serbian Orthodox Christians. Serbian Orthodox Church still follows old tradition – same as the Russian Orthodox Church. This means that Serbs don’t necessarily celebrate Easter on the same day as Catholics or Protestants. However, although some of the Orthodox Churches – such as Bulgarian, or Greek – follow the Gregorian calendar, like Western Christians; they all celebrate Easter with other Orthodox Churches. So, what does it mean?
Western Christians, as well as some Eastern Christians, follow Gregorian calendar; while Serbian and Russian Orthodox Churches follow Julian calendar. The difference between these two calendars is 13 days. Therefore, although all Christians, for example celebrate Christmas on December 25 – Serbian December 25 in Julian calendar is equal to January 07 in Gregorian calendar. Easter does not have fixed date neither in Western nor Eastern Churches. It is related to Jewish holiday of Pesach, and cannot be broken apart. However, Western and Eastern Churches calculate Easter in different manners. How do we calculate Orthodox Easter?
Pay good attention, it might be a little bit confusing, but I’ll do my best to explain it to you… Let’s take 3 factors which will help calculate the date: full moon, Sunday and Spring Equinox. So, here it goes: Orthodox Easter is always on the first Sunday which comes after the full moon which comes after the Spring Equinox. And it must be AFTER the Pesach. Easy, isn’t it? If we put all of these pieces together – Orthodox Easter could happen between April 04 and May 08. And sometimes both Western and Eastern Christians celebrate Easter on the same day. Mind almost blown, eh? Now, after we have defined the dates of Easter, let us proceed to the beautiful Easter tradition among the Serbs…
We consider Easter the most joyful holiday along with Christmas, and we cannot decide which of these is more joyful – birth of our Savior or His victory over death. Preparations for this holy day start seven weeks before, with Great Lent; which has several holidays with quite interesting customs:
St. Theodor’s Saturday is the first Saturday in Great Lent. In 4th Century AD Roman emperor Julian didn’t like Christians very much. In order to mess up their communion, he ordered that all the food in Constantinople was to be sprinkled with blood of sacrificing animals. However, St. Theodor managed to inform the archbishop of Constantinople about this evil plan, and Christians didn’t buy any food that week. Instead, they were preparing meals with wheat and honey; and their communion went unspoiled. In the memory of this event, we prepare the same meal on St. Theodor’s Saturday.
St. Theodor is also considered a patron saint of cavaliers, and guardian of good horses. This belief is actually connected with Ancient Slavic religion and the myth of Great Todor and his children – Todorci. They were divine vigilantes, riders who accreted with their big and powerful horses. They were merciless to villains, but they also didn’t pay any attention to other people. It was believed that Todorci could raze the whole village in order to lay their vengeance upon the evildoers.
Lazarus’ Saturday – Vrbica is celebrated as the day when Jesus Christ resurected Lazarus from the dead. It is one of the most respected holidays among Serbs, and one of the most cheerful holidays. Serbs dedicated this holiday to their children, and here’s why: During the Christ’s arrival to Jerusalem, people prepared to cheer him with palm leafs and branches. Serbia is far from the palm-appropriate climate, but is abundant with willows, or as we call it – VRBA (hence – Vrbica). On Vrbica, we gather young willow vines, along with beautiful meadow flowers and take them to church. After the blessing of our priests, we make garlands for our children and we give them small bells. Children ring their bells to announce Christ’s first victory over death, and wave with flowers and wines during the holy ceremony to symbolize the greet to Christ. These garlands and willows are taken home, and placed besides the icons of family patron saints.
There is one more, romantic custom related to Lazarus’ Saturday: boys make special bouquets for their sweethearts. Since the holiday is during the Great Lent, it is forbidden to sing and dance. However, each flower in the bouquet has a special meaning, and the girl can read from it all the boy’s feelings.
Also, Lazarus’ Saturday is tightly related to Serbian history – on that very day, in 1815.Serbian duke Miloš Obrenović, the leader of Second Serbian Rising, proclaimed war against Turkey.
Good Friday – Veliki Petak is the day when all Christians mourn the unjustified crucifiction of Christ. It is traditional that nothing is done on this day, but decorating Easter eggs. There is a beautiful custom in Serbia – to decorate eggs with flowers, leafs and/or wax; which gives them quite special note. Traditionally eggs are being boiled with onion skin, which gives them deep bordeaux color. Back in the old times, this was the only color used to decorate the eggs. Do you know why?
According to the legends, Mary Magdalene went to spread the Christianity in Rome; and she even got to the emperor himself – Tiberius. As a gift, she brought him a basket full of eggs. After she preached her gospel, emperor wasn’t convinced in Christ’s Ressurection. Hence, he said that it was impossible, as the eggs in the basket would have turned out red. As he declared this – all the eggs in the basket turned out red.
The other legend says that citizens of Jerusalem mocked to Christians, saying that Ressurection is possible as if all the hens would have laid red eggs. Next year it came true, and all the hens laid red eggs.
Nevertheless, egg has been a symbol of new life since the ancient times; and red color depicts blood of Christ and His Ressurection. This is why our grandmas used to paint the eggs in red. Even today, the first painted egg has to be yellow; and is called ČUVARKUĆA – Guardian of the Home. It is kept besides the icon until next Easter.
Easter is considered the greatest day in Christianity, because on that very day Christ has defeated death by Ressurection. We call it Uskrs or Vaskrs, which literally means „Ressurection“. Church bells are ringing throughout Serbia, and festivity may begin. Children are especially waiting for Easter – not because of the Easter Bunny, we don’t have any – but because of the tradition, or better said – competition in cracking eggs. The first thing we get and eat on Easter is the egg. Even if we have guests – first they get an egg, and then they will be served. On this day, and the next 40 days we greet each other with words „Hristos vaskrse! (or voskrese – this is archaic word)“ which means „Christ has ressurected!“. The proper reply to this greet is „Vaistinu vaskrse!“, which means – „Truly has ressurected!“ With this greet we tap the Easter eggs, and the one with strongest egg is the winner.
How seriously we take this custom is best depicted in the fact that we even have World Egg Tapping Competition in village of Mokrin. Each Easter thousands of competitors are rushing to this peaceful village in Vojvodina to put their Easter eggs to the test. Jury has to ascertain that the competitors’ eggs are regular before the duels. This is a knock-off competition, and each tapping is supervised by a licenced referee. Atmosphere is getting more cheerful and hotter as the finals approaches. Before the champion is declared, the egg is halved by a special sabre. Then the champion and Jury Chairman eat these halfs, to prove that the egg is regular and natural. Only after this final test the champion may be declared, and festivity hits its peak.
Writen by Petar Živić / Serbia Incoming DMC Project Manager