Easter, or Paskha (Пасха), is the most important feast of the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian Easter is a joyous celebration of the resurrection of Christ and many religious and secular traditions surround this sacred holiday.
The Russian Easter mass begins on Saturday night in a darkened church. Liturgical chanting, the lighting of candles, the ringing of church bells, and the announcement, “Christ is risen!” (Христос Воскресе!) are elements of the Russian orthodox Easter mass. Services are hours long and last until dawn.
While Orthodox Church services are generally solemn affairs, the Easter mass is a joyful religious celebration. Despite the fact that it lasts for hours and Orthodox churches are devoid of pews, many people, even those who don’t regularly attend church, participate in mass on Easter.
On Easter day, after Orthodox Easter church service, Russians traditionally celebrate with an Easter breakfast that includes foods that were forbidden during Lent. This feast includes meats, cheeses, and other favorite Russian dishes. The Russian Paskha is the Russian Easter bread (another name for it is Kulich), usually baked in a cylindrical pan and topped with icing and colored sprinkles. Ukrainian Paskha is a cheese dessert, often made in the shape of a pyramid. Colored eggs are also present at the Easter breakfast table.
- More about the Eastern tradition, including the history, from the Ukrainian Encyclopedia
- Easter service at St. Elias Monastery
- Thy Resurrection, O Christ Our Saviour : A Russian Orthodox Christian Pascha (Easter) Chant
- Easter Procession
The Russian Easter egg tradition dates back to pre-Christian times when people saw eggs as fertility symbols and as devices of protection against evil. When Orthodoxy was adopted, eggs took on Christian symbolism.
Painted eggs (Pysanki) are an important part of the Russian Orthodox Easter tradition, just like they are for other Easter European countries. The practice to decorate Easter eggs in the traditional way still prevails in those families that want to preserve this age-old custom.
Decorated Easter eggs can showcase geometric or organic traditional designs with regional significance, landscapes, churches, scenes from stories, or other images.
In 1885 Tsar Alexander III commissioned Peter Carl Faberge to create a special Easter egg for his wife, Maria Fedorovna. As a special gift produced for the most important holiday on the Russian Orthodox calendar and because the tsar and his wife had their 20th anniversary, this egg contained nested surprises. On Easter morning, Fabergé delivered to the palace what appears to be a simple enameled egg. But to the delight of the Empress, inside was a golden yolk; within the yolk was a golden hen; and concealed within the hen was a diamond miniature of the royal crown and a tiny ruby egg.
Since then, the Romanovs famously commissioned Peter Carl Faberge’s workshops to create these luxurious masterpieces. Easter eggs made of precious metals and jewels were given as gifts by and to members of the royal family.
Traditional Russian Easter Paskha Recipe
Yield: six small or four to five larger loaves
1 cup water (lukewarm)
1 tsp sugar
1 pkg dry active yeast
3 cups milk (scalded)
5 cups flour
6 eggs (beaten)
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 tbsp salt
8 1/2 cups flour (approx.)
Dissolve sugar in lukewarm water and sprinkle yeast over it. Let stand 10 minutes. Combine the lukewarm milk with the dissolved yeast and 5 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Cover and let rise in a warm place until light and bubbly, approx. 45 minutes.
Add beaten eggs, sugar, melted butter and salt. Mix thoroughly. Stir in enough flour to make a medium soft dough. Knead until smooth and satiny. Cover and let rise 1 1/2 hours. Punch down and let rise another 45 minutes. Shape into round loaves. Decorate the loaves with same dough. The central ornament on paska is usually the cross. Some homemakers decorate paska with breaded rolls. Be sure to grease pans well.
Set the loaves in a warm place until almost double. Brush with melted butter. Bake in a 400 degree F. oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. and continue baking for 30 minutes.
Traditional Ukrainian Cheese Paska
This rich unbaked cheese dessert mold is traditionally served in the Eastern Ukraine for Easter. It is molded in the shape of a pyramid representing a church dome. Serves 8 to 12.
2 pounds ricotta cheese
4 egg yolks
1 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped candied fruits (optional)
Raisins or maraschino cherries for garnish (optional)
Line a colander with a clean cheesecloth. Beat cheese with egg yolks until just smooth. Cream butter, add sugar, lemon rind, vanilla, and cream thoroughly. Combine with cheese mixture and add heavy cream. Add the optional chopped candied fruit. Pour mixture into the cheesecloth and set over a bowl to drip for at least 24 hours in refrigerator.
Discard the accumulated liquid periodically. Paska becomes firmer with time. Unmold and decorate with candied fruit, raisins or maraschino cherries as desired.