Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pascha is Around the Corner

My 40 days landed smack in the middle of Lent.  As a matter of fact, it will end on Holy Wednesday.  If ever there was a woman who needed time to recover from childbirth, it is I.  Baby I. and I managed to catch what has been dubbed a "hospital acquired infection".  It has spooked me enough to wonder if I shouldn't just home birth next time.  Of course, I should point out that this is the first time in 7 births and 4 different hospitals (and 5 different practices) that I have even had a single complication.  Considering that nearly a quarter of the births in the state of Texas are via cesarian, I feel blessed.

There are many blessings that have touched our lives in the last few weeks, not the least of which has been in the form of sleep.  Mr. Flavius has tolerated and even encouraged me to get as much sleep as possible.  Our parish has once again showered us with love in the form of many meals and generous gifts.  Thank you!

In other news, Pascha is around the corner and I am slowly getting things ready for the big day.  Things like:  finding the cheesemold for the Pascha cheese, buying butter muslin and cheesecloth, locating a source for fresh cream to make butter for the butter lamb,  locating a source for fresh horseradish, setting out the Pascha baskets and covers, collecting bags of yellow onion skins, making or finding fresh kolbasi, mixing my curing seasons for the slanina, collecting my favorite recipes for the hrudka, kolace, and chrin.  But maybe you have no idea what I'm talking about.  Chrin?! Hrudka?!  Is this food or a foot condition?

My husband and I came to the East through one of her more Western doors, the Byzantic Catholic Church.    It is ethnically Carpatho Rusyn  They are a people without a country,  a slavic diaspora, who make up the Byzantine Catholic Church and the American Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Diocese here in the United States.  If you have ever celebrated St. Alexis Toth of Wilkes-Barre, you know a Carpatho-Rus.  They are most notably known for their unique and very beautiful plain chant (Prostopinije).  It was through these hymns and through these people that I began to learn to love the East.  Since we converted to Orthodoxy, we have kept those traditions close to us.  

The Pascha basket is something of a big deal in many Orthodox families.  Some people put in their baskets those things which they have given up for Great Lent (cheeseburgers, barbeque, and mead featured prominently in some of the baskets we saw blessed last year).  The Carpatho-Rusyn basket reminds me of a Christian Passover meal.  Our basket is decidedly Rusyn with a few extras.  I always add sweets, Archbishop Dmitri's Pascha, and charoset, a typical Passover staple, because it reminds me to pray for my sister and her husband, who are Jewish, and new this year will be a spare set of car keys.   

Oh, that's nice . . .  wait a minute, Svetlana!  Did I read car keys?!

Why, yes you did.  One of the most wonderful of all our Orthodox traditions is the Paschal liturgy. I like to think of Great Lent and its abundance of services as a sort of Olympic training program.  Slowly warming your muscles and strengthening your body for the greatest feast of the year.  The Paschal liturgy full of solemn beauty and eminently wondrous majesty begins upon the earliest moment of the day at midnight and it when it ends, we feast like it's going out of style.  Last year, our eldest daughter accidentally locked the keys in the car at 3 o'clock in the morning.  We tried everything in our power so as not to have to call a locksmith, but it was to no avail.  By the time the locksmith arrived, the revelry and feasting had been going for quite sometime.  Vodka and wine flowed freely (or as freely as it might within the confines of the church walls, anyway) and so he arrived amidst the shouts, "Christ is risen!" and singing, . . . trampling down death by Death! . . ., and children running through the yard loud and happy.  It was still pitch dark out.  I cannot imagine what he made of this scene.  Anyway, given the Flavius household history with key trouble, it seems warranted.

Here is a typical description of the affair:

After the midnight Paschal Liturgy, we all gather together to bless the Pascha baskets. These baskets have been carefully prepared with many of the foods from which we've been fasting for the past month and a half during Great Lent. There are several foods traditionally included in the basket. These are: a yeast bread, a bitter herb, wine, cheese, meat, butter, salt, and a red egg. Each has symbolic significance:
  • Bread: The Easter Bread (pron, paska). A sweet , yeast bread rich in eggs, butter, etc. Symbolic of Christ Himself who is our True Bread as well as a symbol of the New Covenant: the Jews made unleavened bread, and we, the Children of the New Covenant, make leavened bread. Kulich is the traditional Russian bread, and Tsourekia is the traditional Greek braided bread. The braided form of this bread is a display of the Trinity. Sometimes a round loaf baked with a golden crust decorated with a symbol indicative of Christ. Sometimes a cross of dough is placed on top encircled by a plait giving it a crowned effect, or Greek abbreviations for the name of Christ. The letters XB indicate the Slavonic for "Christ is Risen."
  • Ham: (Sunka - pronounced shoon-ka) The flesh meat popular with Slavs as the main dish because of its richness and symbolic of the great joy and abundance of Easter. Some may prefer lamb or veal. This is usually well roasted or cooked as well as other meats prepared in advance so that the festivity of the day will not be burdened with preparation and all may enjoy the Feast. Meat is included in remembrance of the sacrifice of the Old Testament Passover, which has been replaced by Christ, the New Passover and Lamb of God. This is directly from the prayers said, we see that the meats represent our Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb of sacrifice, obeying the will of the Father, as did Abraham who was ready to offer his only son to the command of God.
  • Sausage: (Kolbasi - pronounced kol-bus-i) A spicy, garlicy sausage of pork products, indicative of God's favor and generosity
  • Bacon (Slanina - pronounced - sla-ni-na) A piece of uncooked bacon cured with spices. Symbolic of the overabundance of God's mercy to us.
  • Soft cheese: (Hrudka or Sirets, pronounced - hrood-ka or si-rets) A custard-type cheese shaped into a ball having a rather bland but sweet taste indicative of the moderation that Christians should have in all things. Also, creamed cheese is placed in a small dish and both are decorated with symbols made of cloves or pepper balls.
  • Salt: (Sol - pronounced sol') A condiment necessary for flavor reminding the Christian of his duty to others as well as a reminder that we are "the salt of the earth."
  • Butter: (Maslo - pronounced ma-slo) This favorite dairy product is shaped into the figure of a lamb or small cross and decorated as the cheese. This reminds us of the goodness of Christ that we should have toward all things.
  • Eggs (decorated / colored red): (Pysanky - pronounced - pi-sun-ki) Hard boiled eggs brightly decorated with symbols and markings made with beeswax. Indicative of new life and resurrection. The red egg is likened to the tomb or sepulchre from which Christ arose. As the egg is sealed, but holds life in itself, and that life in the shell breaks it open and comes out as a new life, so was the grave of Christ sealed, but it contained life eternal which burst its seals and gave to us a new eternal life. This is because of the miracle of new life which comes from the egg, just as Christ miraculously came forth from the tomb.
    The red coloring of the egg recalls to us that by the blood of Jesus upon the Cross we were freed from sin and death. Tradition also says that Mary Magdalene gave the first egg to the Roman emperor Tiberius, when she was brought before him and accused of being a Christian. She took the egg and by it demonstrated the belief of Christians in eternal life, and by her presentation, was able to persuade the emperor to stop the persecution of Christians.
  • Horseradish: (Chrin - pronounced - khrin) Horseradish mixed with grated red beets. This bitter herb ultimately serves as a reminder of the first Passover (horseradish is eaten as a traditional part of the original Passover meal) and of the bitter sufferings which Christ endured for our sake. Sometimes the herb is colored red with beets, symbolizing the Blood of Christ. The bitter herb is also to bring to mind the Jews' forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
  • Tomato / Vegetables
  • Candle
  • Wine: figurative of all the good things of life, wine reminds us of the earthly gifts that come from God.
  • Decorative cloth to cover basket
These articles are placed in a wicker basket and a ribbon or bow is tied to the handle. A decorated candle is placed in the basket and is lit at the time of blessing. A linen cover usually embroidered with a picture of the Risen Christ or symbol with the words "Christ is Risen" is placed over the foods when brought to the church. In some places a large Easter Bread (Paska) is made and brought separately in a large linen cloth. Thus each of the foods in the Pascha basket have rich meaning, as does everything in Orthodoxy. Glory to God!
What traditions do you observe around Pascha?   


flowersfortheteacher said...

Flowers, wine and herbs, among the items you mentioned above.

Mimi said...

Lord have Mercy! I'm so sad to hear of the infection, yikes! Prayers continue.

My Godmother is Carpatho-Rusyn :) This is a gorgeous post to read. I like the keys in the basket part, I can only imagine what the locksmith thought.

Kiki said...

Beautifully written! I've recently started digging for my roots and stumbled upon the fact I am Rusyn. So in search of all things possible dealing with Rusyn I stumbled here. I hope you had a blessed holiday!!

Love to see you have found the beauty of Orthodoxy, also. I recently converted a bit over a year ago. I finally fee at home.

I'm glad I have found your blog and continue to read more!

Good luck with the infection. You'll be in my prayers!

Christina "Kiki" - US born, living in Serbia