This year Orthodox Easter, or Paskha, falls on the 19th of April. It is always after Passover, in respect of Passover.Lent for the Orthodox is not just giving up bubble gum. Lent is doing without dairy, meat, and for the stringent, even fish and certain oils such as olive oil. It's not easy, but with more Vegans around, it's easier to find more satisfying foods to replace those dairies and meats.
The original Veganaise ,(non-dairy mayonaise substitute),is very good, and I use it at other times as well. However, it is more costly. It is in the refrigerator section of your health conscious grocery store. I also love the Nut-Thin products, which are also gluten -free for those dealing with that diet.
When you do without the dairies and meats, you are also to do without parties and celebrations,etc.. You are meant to think without the 'lusting' of things in life for which we 'lust', and are to become closer to Christ . Now, I don't know about those of you who celebrate Easter, but having the family follow all of the above, and more, can be very trying at times , to say the least. Tensions flaring because of lack of their favorite foods, in our family, can bring more stress than should be tolerated under any circumstances. It is a balancing act.
And under our circumstances today, I must watch our pocketbook very closely, so I do the best that I can. And often, when it has been hard for us to follow fully, we especially go the last week or two to the ingredient. Then when the Agape breakfast, (Paskhal breakfast after midnit service), comes, it is oh, so wonderful. It is a new beginning.
It is difficult to explain to a child why Christ died on the Cross, and why one must strive to be more Christ like, for a Christian, and in our case, an Orthodox individual. Easter for the Orthodox, is the most special holiday of the year. And in my house growing up, it was just that. Midnite services start around 11:30, and right before midnite, chanting starts and all the lights and candles go out except for one in the altar. When Paskha comes, one candle , (the never-ending light),lights another, and another, until all the candles in the church are lit like the stars in the sky. Then the priest, and others participating in the altar area proceed down the middle aisle with icons,etc... They are followed by the choir, and then the parishioners. If the weather is good, we go outside and circle the church.
While growing up, we circled 3x. Everything is always in 3's in the Eastern Orthodox church,(for Father, Son, Holy Spirit, for those who may not know). Many of the OCA(Orthodox Church of America) churches-there are differences in believers-now only circle the church once, much to my personal dissatisfaction. The circling in the dark of night, hovering with our hands about our candles to not go out in the wind of the night, the singing of the choir, is quite beautiful. In fact, the Orthodox Paskha midnite service is frequented by many guests, as it is full of beautiful ritual, and very moving. Orthodoxy, remember, has been around since the beginning of the Christian faith.
After circling, everyone stops in front of the church doors and all sing Christ is Risen ...! You will find many a priest banging on the doors in exubilation, shouting Christ is Risen/Khristos Voskryesye!/Khristos Aneste! The people respond, Indeed/(Truly) He is Risen/Vo Istyinu Voskryesye!/Alithos Aneste! (Eng., Russian, and Greek). Many OCA churches are pan-Orthodox, and as such will sing it/call it out in multiple languages for all those in attendance. This will go on for a time, as everyone starts to kiss one another 3x, back and forth on the cheeks- one saying that Christ is Risen!, and the other responding, while kissing,that Indeed He is Risen!
Growing up in our parish on Long Island, we sought out our family as soon as possible to make this greeting, with great joy; and with many others along the way. It was a great way of kissing the cute boys! :)HaHa- or vice versa, I imagine:). My father sung in the choir, my Mom always sat somewhere in the front, , my brothers would either be in the choir also, or standing at the back of the church, and while little, my sister and I would sit/stand on the stairs to the choir loft.( Later we would stand at the back of the church mostly, as I do with my family now). Occasionally fizzling a strand of hair of the other with our candles. Oops! Did I say that??:) We were such good little girls!
After the circling procession, you try to keep the candle lit till you come home. Then you make the sign of the cross on the upper doorways throughout the house, to further bless the house.My Mom always tried to do this, and would. It is very hard to keep the flame going, while in services, and then at the huge breakfast that follows. You just relight the candle if it goes out.
After the lengthy Easter service, we go to the church hall, wait for the priest and any special guests to bless the food that the sisterhood and others have prepared for the feast. Everyone would bring something special. On Long Island, there were so many people, that the lines to get food are so long. Sometimes we'd miss out on the special something that we brought to share. And we fill our baskets with all kinds of special foods, the main ones being the Cheese Paskha, and the Kulich or Krend'el'.
The baskets are blessed also, with the Agape breakfast food. Kulich is a sweet Russian yeast bread that takes 3 x's to rise before baking ,(unless one uses the quick rise yeast, which I do not like for the Kulich). Krend'el' is a huge cinnamon roll made out of the very same Kulich 'tyesta', or dough. My Mom made the best Kulich, but never used a recipe. That's how I've learned to make it. Although, some years are better than others:). It has a long shelf life, and is so satisfying. It is also very rich, for you will use the finest foods for Paskha and its celebration.
My grandmother made the best Cheese Paskha in all the land. It is a delicately sweet dessert made with pure, rich dairies to make a special Cheese dessert that is molded, then refrigerated. I love mine plain, and eaten with strawberries, and/or spread on Kulich/Krend'el'.(Some people mix nuts or fruits inside,which to me just doesn't cut it). My sister would call it cheese ice cream. But there is NOTHING else like it.
It is a cherished family heirloom recipe that I own. I say own, because when my grandmother died while I was in 3rd grade, I took over the making of the Cheese Paskha, which takes a bit of expertise. We were all concerned to carry on this most delicious of traditions. My good friend, Barbara, while growing up, used to tell me that it was her most favorite food. In fact, she asked me for the recipe recently, but I had to deny it, as it stays in the family, until I publish and copyright it. It is that special. Any family member who asks for the recipe must promise not to release it, not even to a church cookbook.
So, back to why it is mine, so to speak- even though it is most obviously my grandmother's. (Also the best grandmother that I could ever have had. Alas, she passed away at 59, way too young for such a special soul- a truly remarkable individual, as my father was). So, that first year of making the Paskha, my Dad (and family) helped, but I was most definately the ringmaster of the ritual. After that first year, I did it by myself, with limited help from others. I would always get some help, but it was surely not consistent.
So , you see, I was the one , at such an early age, who continued the tradition. I was, and continue to be a stickler for accuracy and cleanliness in the entire process, much to others' chagrin at times. Definately the taskmaster.So, I've been making it for about 42 years now, and as such, have even been making it longer than my beautiful grandmother did. I guard the recipe carefully.:)
And in all my life, I have found no other Cheese Paskha, or Kulich for that matter, to rival our family's. Some have come close, but none compare. They are that special.
I meant to just tell you about our yummy Easter foods, but digressed a bit. There is really so much more. One goes to confession during the year. But if one goes only once, and one should, in the Orthodox faith, at least go once during the year, one must go before Paskha, so that they can partake of Communion on Easter morning. My father tried so hard to be such a good individual, especially during Lent, and especially after confession. He was such a good example of an unconditionally loving father that I could ever have had. He passed away at 52, which I am turning next Tuesday.
I feel that those who have come before us, even in generations way in the past, help to make who we truly are today. I feel that striving to be a decent human being will help our great-grandchildren and others in our families to be better individuals. And I feel that lives lived well, will help to make lives lived later in families to be easier in some respects. Maybe the 'some respects' are blessings. They may not be evident as blessings, but they surely are. I feel that maybe , with all our hardships, we are truly the lucky ones.