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Feature 02 May 13

Praying, Fasting - and a Whole Lot of Eggs

Holy week is a special time for Serbs, rich with ancient customs for believers and non–believers alike.

Nemanja Cabric

Praying, fasting and going to church; hanging around the green markets and exchanging recipes and methods for dyeing eggs, that’s what Easter is all about for Orthodox believers in Serbia.

Others who do not follow Church traditions to the letter still enjoy the second most glorious Christian holiday, after Christmas, as it coincides with spring and the awakening of nature.

Orthodox Easter, the day when Jesus conquered death itself and was resurrected, thus inspiring hope of eternal life among Christians, is this year even more joyful for working people.

That’s because it bridges several non-working days that can be used to spend on family time, from Mayday to May 6, the second day of Easter.

Most believers have fasted since March 18, the season known as Lent. This week, purified from animal products as well as from bad thoughts, they prepare themselves for the Communion that takes place on Easter morning, Sunday May 5, according to the Julian calendar.

A week of liturgies:

One day after the traditional celebration of May 1 comes Maundy Thursday, which most people spend awaiting the big day and dealing with everyday chores. Many will go to church to attend the liturgy of St Vasilije and the reading of the 12 passages from the Gospel that speak about Christ’s suffering.

Good Friday that follows is one of the saddest days in the Christian calendar, when Jesus was caught in the Garden of Gethsemane, tried and sentenced.

Holy liturgies are performed on this day across Serbia to mark all of the important events that lead up to his death on the cross.

The dawn liturgy marks the time when he was caught, the first hour marks his bringing before Pontius Pilate, while the third hour marks the moment Jesus received his sentence.

The sixth hour refers to the moments Jesus spent on the cross, while the final, evening liturgy marks the bringing down of the body of Jesus from the cross. 

The death of Jesus, according to biblical legend, turned nature upside down, thus making every stone a witness to the injustice inflicted on him. Only the resurrection could repair the damage.

Holy Saturday is the day before Easter and the last day of Holy Week in which Christians prepare for Easter. On this day housewives prepare food for Easter, as well as special consecrated water with herbs for cleaning the household. After finishing with these preparations the whole family goes to bed so that they can rise early.

Symbol of life eternal:

Most people enjoy Easter traditions, particularly children who compete in decorating eggs along with their mothers. For some, these Easter eggs are the essence of the holiday. In different parts of the country there are different customs. Some paint eggs on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, some others on Holy Saturday.

Again, some just paint eggs red or yellow, while others put patterns on them or decorate them in various other ways.

Eggs symbolise the eternal life that Jesus has conquered and they were previously dyed exclusively in red, as the symbol of life.

It is believed that this custom comes from Mary Magdalene, who according to legend took eggs painted red in front of the Roman Emperor Tiberius when it became known that Christ was resurrected.

In most households the custom is to paint the first egg red and call it the “cuvarkuca” (keeper of the house). This should be kept until the following year. In some parts it is believed that this egg has magical attributes and so is given to cattle.

In many places the tradition remains that all family members attend the Easter liturgy in the morning.

On their way to church they start greeting each other with words confirming that Christ has risen indeed – Hristos voskrese and Vaistinu voskrese.

On returning home, for the first time in weeks they break their fast first by eating Easter eggs.

All family members knock each other’s dyed eggs; the choice of the right egg is important as the custom in many families takes the form of a competition. The winner gets to take the broken egg and eat it.

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