Christians worldwide are celebrating Easter this Sunday, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year, the joyous day falls on the same date for both Eastern and Western churches.
Christians celebrate Easter to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. It is the culmination of the Holy Week, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting.
Easter does not have a fixed date in relation to the civil calendar. The holiday is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox.
Western Christianity uses the Gregorian calendar to set the date for Easter, while Eastern Christianity sets the date in accord with the Julian Calendar. Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter fall on the same date this year, though this is not always the case. The next time this happens will be in 2017.
The Russian Orthodox Church held its largest service by Patriarch Kirill at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The service in the city’s landmark cathedral, where over 7,000 worshippers gathered, started at around 11:00 p.m. local time (19:00 GMT) and lasted for several hours. It was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and acting Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin.
Shortly before the service, Patriarch Kirill received the Holy Fire that was delivered directly from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where the flame miraculously emanates each year within Jesus Christ’s tomb on Holy Saturday. The Patriarch and worshippers lit candles from the Holy Fire.
“By the long-standing tradition, the Holy Fire has been put on the candles and lamps in the Cathedral [of Christ the Saviour] which are later taken to all parts of Russia, to the territory of entire historical Russia. The holy fire is then lit in thousands and thousands of churches and homes as a symbol of divine presence in our life and as a symbol of the invincible faith,” Kirill told the thousands of people who gathered for the service.
With their candles lit, worshippers led by Kirill walked across the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The procession climaxed when the Patriarch announced “Christ is Risen!” – the traditional Easter greeting signaling that the holy day has started. The worshippers welcomed it by all together replying: “He is Risen Indeed!”
For the 40 days following Easter Sunday, Orthodox Christians will greet each other with these words.
Prior to the celebration, Patriarch Kirill addressed believers, reminding them that Easter is a holy day that “celebrates victory over man’s two biggest enemies – sin and death.”
This year, the Patriarch especially mentioned Ukraine, saying that the hearts of the followers of the Orthodox Church are aching for those suffering in the crisis-hit country.
Easter services are also being held at over 36,000 Russian Orthodox churches across the globe.
Every Orthodox Church in Russia holds Paschal liturgies on the night of Holy Saturday that last well into Easter morning.
Festive celebrations are preceded by a long period of Lent, which this year started on March 3. From that date until April 19, believers abstained from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products while spending time in prayer.
Preparations for Easter celebrations begin on the last day of Holy Week – known in Russia as Passion Week, the strictest week of Lent. During this week, believers paint eggs (usually red as a symbol of Christ’s blood). They also bake rich Easter cakes with raisins and nuts. The day before Easter, on Holy Saturday, they go to church to have their paschal cakes and eggs blessed by priests.
Easter Sunday is a day for believers to spend with their families after visiting a church service in the morning. Russia’s Easter traditions include exchanging colored eggs and carrying out the ritual of cracking them open.
At the Vatican, the heart of the Catholic Church, hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered for Easter Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and the adjacent square. Pope Francis made an Easter Sunday plea at an altar set up under a canopy on the steps of the basilica.
The Pope urged for peace and a speedy resolution of ongoing conflicts, including those in Ukraine and Syria.
He prayed that God would “enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence.”
Francis also prayed that all sides in the ongoing Syrian conflict would move to “boldly negotiating the peace long awaited and long overdue.”
The Pope spoke of Africa, where people are suffering from an epidemic of deadly Ebola, and urged a halt to “brutal terrorist attacks” on Christians in parts of Nigeria.
Francis also stressed that people must not forget about the needy close to home. He said that Easter’s joy means “leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.”