Not all Christians took part in egg hunts or salivated over savory ham dinners last Sunday, when our Western calendars proclaimed the day to be Easter. Sure, the dorms and area businesses may have shut down for the weekend, but for the Eastern Orthodox religion, Easter is still a month away.
For both Western and Eastern Christians, Easter is the celebration of life over death. It is dedicated to the life of Christ, who, according to the Bible, sacrificed his life for the sins of the world. President of Orthodox Christian Fellowship Charlie Pizanis said, “This is truly a time of joy and fun.”
Many different countries practice the Eastern Orthodox religion, mostly in Eastern Europe, including Romania, Russia, Siberia, Bulgaria, Finland and Greece. It is also practiced in parts of the Middle East, Egypt, Armenia, Africa and Ethiopia. “Eastern Orthodox is the second largest Christian denomination,” Greek international relations and Russian senior Greg Stamatopoulos said.
In the Eastern Orthodox religion, Easter is the most important religious festival. “It is the biggest holiday of the year because it is the foundation of Christianity – the day Christ resurrected,” Greek psychology sophomore Georgia Stamatopoulos said. She said she enjoys Easter because it brings families together.
Fr. Mark Sietsema of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lansing said, “We prefer to call Easter by its Greek name, Pascha (PAH-skah). This comes from the Greek form of the Hebrew word, Pesach, meaning Passover. Pascha is the Christian Passover.”
Easter begins with a 40-day fast, meant to clear the body and the mind for the upcoming year.
The Eastern Orthodox Lenten celebration began on March 14, which is referred to as “Clean Monday” and lasts until May 1, when Easter is celebrated. “The period leading up to Pascha is a serious time of prayer and reflection for Orthodox Christians,” Pizanis said.
During the fast, one week is usually chosen for complete fasting and during that time only natural foods are eaten. “We can’t have oil, meat or dairy,” Greg said.
“We only eat things that come out of the ground, but we can eat fish,” Macedonian human biology junior Kristifor Andjelkovski said. Some Eastern Orthodox families decide to fast for the first week of lent, the last week of lent or for the full 40 days.
In Macedonia, “on Wednesdays and Fridays during the 40 days, we only drink water,” Andjelkovski said.
The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar to calculate Easter, while the Western Christian churches use the Gregorian calendar. The difference between the dates for Western and Eastern Easters are based on a different way of calculating the vernal equinox and the length of the year. “As far as Pascha goes, all Orthodox Churches throughout the world follow the older method of calculating this date,” Pizanis said.
Western and Eastern Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox (March 21). But, for Eastern Christians on the Orthodox calendar, March 21 doesn’t come until the Western calendar says April 3. “Easter can never fall before the Jewish Passover, as it does this year for the Catholics and Protestants,” Sietsema said.
The Greek Orthodox religion has a Lenten penance and fasting, and it participates in activities such as eating, decorating and hunting for eggs. Orthodox faiths dye Easter eggs red to “represent the world and humanity; the red is the blood that Christ shed,” Greg Stamatopoulos said.
Along with dyeing eggs, many families play a friendly competitive game with the eggs. “People are given hard-boiled eggs, dyed red, which are used in a sort of playful competition: one person hits the sharp end of the egg over the blunt end of someone else’s egg, while saying, ‘Christ is risen!’” Pizanis said.
Most of the Orthodox Christian Churches have similar traditions. Pizanis said differences among the churches involve the types of food offered, which reflect the different ethnicities within Orthodox Christianity. “Most of what we do, and what we believe is the same throughout Orthodox Christianity,” Pizanis said.
Greg explained some Eastern Orthodox Christians say “Christ is risen” in their native language as they pass someone on the street, and the person responds by saying, “Yes, he truly has risen.”
He also said that on Good Friday, some Orthodox religions walk around the church three times with candles saying prayers.
Food is a major part of the holiday season for many. For the Easter meal, Pizanis said his family eats only lamb. “The lamb symbolizes Christ, who we believe [is] the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sins of the world.”

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