Holy Week and Easter

29 kwietnia 2014

Easter, also known as Pascha, is at the centre of the local religious life, thus, influencing also everyday life and customs.

Easter is preceded by Lent, when the focus transfers onto the internal sphere. The spirit is to be cleansed but, at the same time, houses and yards are also intensely cleaned – everything has to be ready before the feast.

Still more time will be needed to cook and to paint eggs – the so called pisankas. They will be decorated with intricate patterns or simply died in onion peel brew that will make them reddish, red being one of the colours of Pascha. The Holy Week will be additionally filled with church services that draw crowds of faithful.

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On Palm Sunday, which opens the events of the Holy Week, Catholic and Orthodox faithful go to churches with “palms” in their hands. In the Orthodox tradition these are usually willow branches that have only just put out leaves. Held up when blessed, they make an impression of a springtime grove growing inside the church.

During the Holy Week Catholics participate in the Way of the Cross, which takes place in the streets of, for example, Hajnówka. In the evening, in solemn atmosphere, they walk with prayer along the town’s main streets.

Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the most significant religious events in the whole year. Crowds of people come to Orthodox churches to listen to twelve excerpts from the Gospel, telling about the passion of Christ. People keep lit candles that are not extinguished after the service. That is why, late on Holy Thursday evening, candle flames brighten streets, then yards and, finally, float around houses to protect them from evil.

On Good Friday in Catholic churches the Holy Cross is venerated in the atmosphere of silence and mourning. Also a symbolic sepulchre is created in the church to commemorate Christ’s death and burial.

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The Orthodox also gather in churches at a special service when Plashchenitsa – a piece of cloth embroidered or painted and depicting Christ in the sepulcher – is carried out with much veneration from the altar and put in a symbolic grave in the middle of the church. The faithful approach the Plashchenitsa, making prostrations and, next, kissing it.

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On Holy Saturday food is blessed. Little baskets contain eggs, yeast cake, salt and often a piece of sausage. These products will be eaten at the beginning of Easter breakfast. For many Orthodox they will be the first products of animal origin after over forty days of fasting, when no meat, dairy or even fish is traditionally allowed. In villages where there is no church food is blessed by a roadside cross. Villagers gather there, awaiting the arrival of a priest.

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Orthodox Easter service, full of light and joyful chants, begins already on Saturday before midnight. At midnight people walk in a procession, encircling the church three times and singing about Resurrection. Joyful words Christos voskresie – Christ is risen – can be heard. Orthodox people will greet each other with this exclamation for the next forty days. Processions will also accompany church services for the same period of time.

In Catholic churches the Resurrection mass – the most important mass during the whole year – begins at six o’clock in the morning. It also starts with a procession and is filled with singing and solemn atmosphere.

After the night or early morning services everybody sits down to Easter breakfast.

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Like many feasts in the region, also Easter is usually celebrated twice – depending on the confession – as Catholics and Orthodox faithful celebrate on different days. It happens, however, that every few years Pascha is celebrated on the same Sunday, which is also true about this year.


Europejski Fundusz Rolny na rzecz Rozwoju Obszarów Wiejskich. Europa inwestująca w obszary wiejskie. Projekt współfinansowany ze środków Unii Europejskiej w ramach osi 4 Leader. Program Rozwoju Obszarów Wiejskich na lata 2007-2013. Projekt zrealizowany przez Stowarzyszenie Metamorphosis. Instytucja zarządzająca Programem Rozwoju Obszarów Wiejskich na lata 2007-13 Minister Rolnictwa i Rozwoju Wsi