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Easter in Ukraine

Holly Friesen on April 7, 2010

Even though I still struggle to understand much of what is going on around me, the rejoicing over the resurrection of our Savior came through loud and clear this weekend. Instead of the normal greetings people greeted each other with the words “Christ Arose” and were greeted in response with “Truly He arose!” The greeting “Christ Arose” is used by all on Easter day – even those who are not truly believers. This was also repeated numerous times throughout the services that I attended. What a blessing to be able to share in the joy of the resurrection regardless of language barriers!

There is much more emphasis placed on the remembrance of Christ’s last week on earth, death, & resurrection here both in the evangelical and Orthodox churches. On Palm Sunday people buy pussy willow branches for their homes. Those who belong to the Orthodox Church will have them blessed by the priest which as I understand it they believe brings a blessing on their home. I was told that since palm trees do not grow here, they use pussy willows since they are some of the first plants to bloom in the spring.

On Thursday evening many churches have a special service to remember Christ’s death. I attended the service at my church and it was a very special time of partaking of the Lord’s Supper together and reflecting on all that He suffered when He took our sins upon Himself.

When I looked out my window on Easter morning I saw a steady stream of people passing by with baskets. They were on their way to the Orthodox Church to have their baskets blessed by the priest. The baskets generally contain their special Easter bread “Paska”, decorated eggs, and perhaps some butter, cheese, meat, and/or wine. There were long lines at the churches waiting for their blessing so that they could go home and enjoy an Easter dinner with their family.

In contrast to this scene was the joyful greeting of “Christ Arose!” that I was given when I arrived at my church. I received a quick lesson on how to respond in Russian with “Truly He arose!” We had a special service with lots of music and recitations by children and adults and a gospel message was given. This was followed by a fellowship dinner – another first for me.

I had the special treat of having dinner in the evening with a Ukrainian family. Luba translates for me when I assist with the clinics and she invited me to attend their church’s afternoon service and then have dinner with her family. I enjoyed the presentation by their church’s youth choir – the singing was excellent! Luba fixed a delicious dinner which included my first taste of kholodets. This is jellied chicken broth served with horseradish. While I don’t think this will become one of my favorite dishes, it was not as bad as it sounds. The horseradish definitely helps make it more palatable! We had homemade “Paska” for desert which was also very good. It is a slightly sweet bread with raisons and other dried fruit in it. The top is decorated with frosting and colorful sprinkles. It was very special to be able to enjoy some of the Ukrainian Easter traditions with Ukrainian friends on my first Easter here!

In Ukraine the Easter holiday extends to Monday and Tuesday as well. On Monday I was able to go with Miriam and a group from her church to hold special Easter services in two of the villages (Kubanka & Shamanovka)  where they have an outreach and where we hold clinics every month. What a blessing to see this group of young people with a heart for ministry. The gospel was clearly presented through the sermons and special music in both villages. I enjoyed the time I was able to spend with them and I enjoyed the chance to see spring coming to the country-side as well. It did my heart good to see the wide open spaces, fields of newly sprouting wheat, and sunshine. The work in Shamanovka is much like those fields of wheat just beginning to sprout and showing much promise of harvest. Pastor Lonya & Miriam hold a weekly Bible study there and they have a small group of hungry, eager seekers. At least one young man has made a profession of faith and there are others that seem very close to making a decision. They took charge of inviting their friends and neighbors to the special service and there was a good turnout. Pastor Lonya planted the idea of having a regular service there. Pray that in His time, God would bring this to pass.To see more pictures from this past week you can check out my photo album.