We celebrated Easter last weekend (April 19th). It was wonderful and beautiful and uplifting; everything Easter is. We had planned a quiet little celebration at home, alone, because EVERYONE in Ukraine returns to their families’ village to celebrate. However, on Thursday evening Erika called and invited David and me to her home for Easter lunch and she also asked if we wanted to go to the ‘food blessing’ ceremony at her church that afternoon. We said of course and asked what we needed to do. She asked if we had an Easter basket, we said we did, and she said just bring that and we will provide the rest. . We were ecstatic. So at 4:30pm, Andriy and his younger sister came and picked us up at our house and we went to Erika’s. Erika, her mother and grandmother had been at work all day preparing food for our baskets and Easter lunch. Erika took our basket and filled it with salt, eggs, cheese, butter, meat, salo, sausage, garlic, horseradish and Paska (a tradition Ukrainian bread baked at Easter). Then she tied a ribbon around our handle, covered our food with a hand made cross-stitch that stated ‘Christ Has Risen’ and we were off to church.
Erika is Greek Catholic. It is the tradition of the Greek Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Ukraine (but not only Ukraine and not only Greek Catholic and Orthodox participate in these traditions) to hold these food blessing services either the evening before Easter (due to the number of people who come) or on Easter morning, if you are a smaller congregation. The purpose of the service is to have the priest bless the food that has been fasted at different times during lent. The food in the basket is eaten first at Easter lunch.
The basket blessing was held at Erika’s church every 20 minutes the Saturday before Easter Sunday. The circle of people you see above is one of these 20 minute ceremonies. This is a great example of how ingrained religious tradition is in Western Ukraine. Thousands of people came to this one church for this ceremony. We actually walked home from a friend’s home that night at 11pm and people were still walking home with their baskets from the services.
The ceremony was held outside, due to the number of people. First, the participants would uncover their food and then light a candle and put it on top of the Paska (bread). The priest would come out from inside of the church, read from the Bible, recite a prayer and then walk around the circle, blessing both the people and the baskets with holy water.
Our church had a small gathering of five because the majority of our attenders were out of town. We had breakfast together and then took communion. Is was small, simple and to the point. We then went to Erika’s house for lunch. We had learned the night before from some other American missionaries that it is a big honor to be invited into someone’s home for a holiday meal. At that point, we felt extra special and couldn’t wait. Lunch was huge and contained a lot of traditional Ukrainian dishes.
We began with meats, cheeses, olives, salads (all mayonnaise based of course) a fish spread, hard boiled eggs, bread and wine. It was followed by hullupsy (cabbage rolls) and was concluded with two cakes and hot tea. It was great; we were stuffed. Erika’s grandmother also had us on our toes with our Ukrainian. I guess she thought we had been there long enough to understand everything she said and expected a response. Luckily Erika and her mother kept reminding her to take it easy on us.
After lunch, Erika and Andriy took us to meet his mother and sister for a walk around the city to see how the locals spent Easter Sunday afternoon. It was fun, but I think I’ll wait until another time to share that adventure.