We wish you a blessed Easter, although a bit belated. We hope that the Easter weekend was full of rich blessing as we remembered and commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have always loved the old Easter Hymns that we sing around Easter. I have not been home for Easter in many years and I miss singing those old familiar songs during Good Friday and Easter services. I miss those services. Vivid memories have stayed with me through the years of stepping out from church into the cool damp air of an early spring evening after a Good Friday service, filled with sorrow and joy at the sacrifice that Jesus made in dying on the cross for ours sins. Wonderful memories also remain of Easter Sunday services, the warmth of the sun, the sweet and fragranced air of spring, dinner together as a family, and the hope and promise we have in Christ. That, not only did Jesus die, showing undeserved grace for sinners in taking the punishment that was ours, but that He arose again in the resurrection and that Jesus lives. One song, one verse in particular, that has always stayed close to my heart is the final verse of Isaac Watts’ great hymn, When I Survey the Wonderous Cross. “Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.” What a reminder these words are that Jesus death and resurrection are not merely something we focus on for one weekend during the spring, but instead Jesus death and resurrection radically changes our lives, growing in us a love for our God, allowing us to live out our lives in the grace that we have received, and imparting the love of Christ to others.
Easter is significant in Eastern Europe. For both the church and the secular world, Easter is a big a deal. Easter is filled with traditions, food, church services, and socializing with friends and family. The scale of the holiday is equaled only by Christmas. Not only is Easter Sunday celebrated, but unlike North America, Easter Monday is also celebrated. Easter Sunday is normally spent with close family, while Easter Monday is often spent visiting friends and more distant family. Schools and the majority of shops close on Thursday evening prior to Good Friday and only reopen Tuesday following the conclusion of Easter Monday.
Traditions also play a part in the Easter weekend. One interesting tradition is called “locsolódni” in Hungarian. It could maybe be best translated into English as “watering” or “sprinkling”. The tradition has unfortunately more less died in Hungary proper and with each passing year seems to be less significant of a tradition in Transcarpathia. However, it remains a fascinating tradition for us to observe. On Easter Monday as families and friends visit one another, the men spray perfume onto the women who they visit. The tradition is varied for young boys. Young boys up to about the age of 12 travel through the village with baskets. They visit female classmates, family, and friends. They recite a poem from memory and then spray perfume, in return they get chocolate eggs as well as traditionally painted eggs. The scene on Easter Monday morning can resemble trick or treating in North America as groups of boys, young boys accompanied by fathers, travel door to door throughout the village telling poems, “sprinkling” perfume, and collecting chocolate and decorated eggs.
Food also plays a center role in the traditions of Easter in Transcarpathia, Ukraine. Delicious hams, breaded pork cutlets, stuffed cabbage, traditional beet salads (with a hint of horseradish) cabbage salads, potato salads, and various cakes and deserts are all prepared in the days and weeks before Easter. They are generously served to each and every visitor who comes through the door during the Easter weekend. Easter Sunday services in the Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church include the tradition of bring baskets of food that have been prepared to church where the priest blesses the baskets of food during a ceremony following the Easter service. The priest’s blessing on the food baskets represents a blessing on the upcoming agriculture season of summer gardens and crops.
The ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the poor economic conditions in Ukraine have led many young people and working men to leave the country in search of work in construction and factory jobs in Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Germany among other countries. Ethnic Hungarian students have also left Transcarpathia, Ukraine in droves to pursue university educations and jobs in Hungary. Easter marks a significant time when students and workers return to families and their homelands. Thursday before Easter, it was reported that the line at the local border crossing between Hungary and Ukraine was two miles long, a line of cars and vans stretching as far as the eye could see packed with workers and students coming home to their families for the Easter holiday.
Easter (officially) in Ukraine is not until April 26-29. The Eastern Orthodox nations of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia among others, celebrate Easter at a different time than the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Next weekend will again be a holiday weekend here in Transcarpathia, Ukraine as the Ukrainian and Orthodox populations take their turn to celebrate Easter.
It is our hope and prayer for Hungary and Transcarpathia, Ukraine that Easter is not merely about tradition. This is also our hope and prayer for North America and the entire world. That Easter does not mark a time of rare church attendance. That Easter is not just about food, chocolate, Easter eggs, and visiting friends and family. Easter is about so much more; a time of celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope and pray that this does not translate into only a weekend of religious observance, but it marks lives that are changed by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, lives that are radically changed by the saving grace that we have received through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We had a very lovely and meaningful Easter celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with brothers and sisters in Christ here in Transcarpathia, Ukraine. We also enjoyed receiving six dinner invitations over the course of the weekend and enjoying time and fellowship with friends, many of whom we had not seen in some time.