Preparing for Ukrainian Easter celebrations
The ladies at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Sts. Peter and Paul aren’t going to let uncertainty over the future of their congregation cloud their holiest holiday.
On Thursday, members of the church, which is embroiled in a legal battle with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada over ownership of their church building on Eighth Street, will begin four days of Easter celebrations with readings of the Twelve Passion Gospels and culminating on Sunday with a grand breakfast feast in the basement hall.
Preparation for their traditional Orthodox Easter has been going on for at least a month, baking the Easter breads of Paska and Baba that symbolize Christ. They’ll be placed in baskets filled with other symbolic foods that comprise the Sunday morning breakfast that ends the 40-day lent during which no dairy or meat products can be consumed.
Small breads in the shape of doves represent the descent of the Holy Spirit. Cheese and butter moulded in the shape of a cross or a lamb represent God’s gift of prosperity and peace.
A dish of horseradish is symbolic of sin and its sad consequences. Salt symbolizes the fast and self-denial.
And then there’s the eggs, each decorated with intricate designs and motifs that carry their own meaning. One hard-boiled egg is broken up and shared amongst all members of the family to break the fast and express hope for a good year ahead.
Sometimes the shell fragments are immersed in water to let unbaptised children know Christ has risen.
Links of Ukrainian sausage in the basket represent the chains from which Christ broke free when he rose from the dead while ham symbolizes freedom from the Old Law that prohibited the consumption of certain meats.
Caroline Breitschuh still remembers making her first Easter basket when she was five years old in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan. Like many other Ukrainians, her family had immigrated to the Canadian prairies because they most resembled their homeland, which was racked by famine under the oppressive Soviet regime.
Breitschuh had been practicing forming the dough for Paskas and Babas since she could hold a rolling pin. But being allowed to add her creations to the family’s basket was a proud moment.
“It’s a very important part of your heritage,” says Breitschuh. “Everyone wants to keep their heritage.”
But before any of the breads or sausages or eggs can be eaten, the baskets must be blessed as a reminder that God gives all food. A lighted candle is placed in the center, next to the Paska, to symbolize Christ’s radiance. Then the priest says a prayer and sprinkles the food in the basket with holy water, repeating the traditional Easter greeting “Krystos Voskres” to which everyone replies “Voistyno Voskres.”
Everyone then is free to eat, quieting the rumbles in their bellies likely brought on by the warm aromas of yeast and dough and the tangy scents of garlic and horseradish.
“The aroma is so beautiful,” says Alexandre Ciacka. “It’s very joyous when all the families get together.”
• The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Sts. Peter and Paul is located at 304-8th Street. The Easter celebrations begin on Passion Thursday at 6 p.m. with the Readings of the Twelve Passion Gospels. On Good Friday at 7 p.m. there will be the Vespers of the Deposition from the Cross. Easter Sunday begins with the Matins of the Resurrection at 9 a.m. The Divine Easter Liturgy will be given at 10 a.m., followed by the blessing of the Easter Paska and the traditional breakfast. For information call 604-291-2001.