The baskets of brightly coloured eggs, of freshly baked paskkhas, a sweet bread baked especially for Easter, decorated generously with whipped egg whites and sprinkles, of imported vodka bottles, of eggs hastily coloured and joyfully decorated with stickers, of homemade rye bread loaves, of sausages very much unlike the neat ones in the supermarket, filled the hastily arranged picnic tables in the large room. The children bought candles from a stern faced elderly lady at the entrance for a gold coin and placed them into the centre of the paskkhas, lighting them first under the watchful gaze of their parents. Finally, the priest entered.
Dressed in the traditional attire of black robes and adorning his chest with a large golden cross, he exuded the sort of presence that caused both children and adults to quieten down immediately. He began by welcoming all those present and reminding them of the beauty of this occasion, encouraging them to feel grateful that Jesus Christ had died on the cross to relieve them of their sins, emphasising the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. He alternated eloquently between English and Russian. After all, the Church had to keep up with the times in order to ensure its existence, and this meant relaxing the many traditional rules (including the one requiring a woman to wear a headscarf and forbidding her from wearing trousers) and conducting the service in the language of the people. Nonetheless, once the priest concluded his brief sermon, the prayers were said in Old Slavic, a language that bears few resemblances to the modern Slavic languages. The priest walked around the ring created by the picnic tables, chanting incoherent, but melodious prayers while sprinkling holy water over the baskets, thus blessing the foods. Every now and then, a mother would raise her arms, so that some of the holy water may land on her precious little one.
Tomorrow morning, her mother would cut up one of the eggs into small pieces, small enough for everyone in the family to get a piece, she would sprinkle some salt and pepper on it, and then carry the small plate around to every family member, who had gathered around the dining table, each taking a piece and saying “Christos voskres!” (Christ is risen!) in return. In the evening, when family friends would come for dinner, the adults open a bottle of vodka, drinking the first shot to health, and the third to love, as is the custom.
They had done exactly the same about two weeks ago, during Catholic Easter (which is celebrated according to the Julian calendar, whereas Orthodox Easter is celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar) at her mother’s friend’s house, except that they had said “Wesolych świat”, the Polish equivalent, and the traditional sweet bread had a different name and shape.
She thought about how similar it all was, how she wished she didn’t have to choose between being Catholic or being Orthodox, how at the end of the day all those religious divisions did not matter, how they all originated in the human mind rather than a divine source, because the same feeling of division that existed between Catholicism and Orthodoxy in one part of the world, could be felt between Christianity and Islam in another.
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