Eastern European Traditions

Where Good Friday is greatest

Eastern European churches tend to put more emphasis on the death of Jesus rather than on his rebirth. Therefore, traditions surrounding Good Friday are more important to them - traditions such as covering religious pictures and statues as a sign of mourning, or participating in a procession of witness, carrying a cross through the streets and laying it to rest in the church.

The practice of fasting is more severe in Eastern European churches than in Western European churches - often called for every day of Lent instead of just Ash Wednesday and subsequent Fridays. Fasting and abstinence were meant to remind people of their thirst for God, to help them identify with the poor, purify their souls and exercise mental control over their bodies.

As an extension of the purification of the soul, the people of Eastern Europe were the first to officially recognize the rite of spring cleaning, going so far as to empty the contents of their houses into their yards, so they could scrub everything inside from top to bottom. Only then was the house deemed ready for its occupants to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord.

The people of the Czech Republic have rituals that are somewhat village-centric, so no two celebrations are exactly the same. In Vicnov, young men of military service age dress in costume and (very gently) “whip” women with woven branches of the willow tree. And in Rajhradice, a straw effigy of Judas, who betrayed Jesus in his final hours, is burned.

In Romainia and Ukraine, the art of egg decoration is truly an art form - incredibly intricate patterns are layered onto the egg using wax and detailed dipping methods. Traditionally, Pysanky uses lots of red to signify the blood of Christ.

In Greece, the Easter celebration begins before midnight on Holy Saturday. At midnight, church bells toll throughout the country, and everyone inside the churches holds a candle that shines with the “holy light,” believed to illuminate a mysterious cave somewhere in Jerusalem. Tradition has it that whoever’s candle is the last to flicker out will have the best luck that year. After the services, people go home and crack colored eggs while repeating the phrases “The Christ is resurrected” and “He truly is resurrected.” Students are happy to get the following two weeks off in celebration.