Orthodox Christians in Europe, Africa and the Middle East celebrated Orthodox Easter on Sunday. But for those living in Ukraine, the holiest day on the Christian calendar was muted by a withering conflict this year.
As Ukrainians entered the ninth week of a war with Russia, the majority Orthodox Christian population there marked the holiday with prayers for those risking their lives and fearing for their safety in the country.
Residents of rural villages battered by the war approached the holiday with some defiance.
“We’ll celebrate Easter no matter what, no matter much horror,” said Kateryna Lazarenko, 68, in the northern village of Ivanivka outside Chernihiv, where ruined Russian tanks still littered the roads.
Orthodox Easter, often referred to as “Greek Easter,” is celebrated by Eastern Christians to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ and typically includes painted eggs, symbolic food traditions such as lamb and church services. Here is more about the holy day observed by millions around the globe:
When is Orthodox Easter?
The Eastern Orthodox church follows the Julian calendar, first proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, rather than the Gregorian calendar adopted by Catholic Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. This means the holiday typically falls later than Easter Sunday in Western Christian tradition.
Orthodox Easter can sometimes fall at the same time as Western Easter, the last time being in 2017 when both celebrations occurred on April 16. But it won’t happen again until 2025.
Many spring religious holidays have landed on later dates than typical this year: Passover didn’t begin until the evening of April 15, and Easter Sunday fell on April 17 for the first time in 62 years.
Who celebrates Orthodox Easter?
Orthodox Christians in Europe, Africa and the Middle East celebrate Easter on the later date, determined by the older Julian calendar.
While the holiday often falls on a different date than Easter Sunday, both Christian festivals celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and serve as the most important date on their respective religious calendars.
Greek Orthodox Easter marks the end of “Great Lent” a 40-day period of fasting from Clean Monday until “Pascha,” Easter Sunday.
Most of the world’s approximately 260 million Orthodox Christians live in Central and Eastern Europe, and an additional 15% live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2015-16 Pew Research Center study.
Russia, Ethiopia and Ukraine have the largest national Orthodox populations, and the country with the highest percentage of Orthodox Christians is Moldova, at 95%, according to the Pew Research Center.
About 78% of Ukrainian adults were found to be Orthodox Christians through the survey, while Russian adults were about 71% Orthodox Christian.
How is Greek Easter celebrated?
In Greek tradition, Orthodox Easter is marked by a church service followed by a large meal with family, often including roasted lamb as the main dish to represent Christ’s sacrifice. Celebrants also dye hard-boiled eggs red to celebrate the blood of Christ.
Slavic countries often eat Kulich, a sweet bread made to celebrate Easter and the coming of spring. It is traditionally blessed by a priest before it is eaten.
Around the world this year, different countries have celebrated the holiday with varying events.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined a Greek Orthodox Easter service in Sydney with Greece’s Minister for Culture, Lina Mendoni, on Saturday night, according to the Greek Reporter.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin plan to visit Kyiv on Sunday, in the highest-ranking visit to Ukraine by a U.S. delegation since Russia began its invasion.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians not to let anger at the war overwhelm them at a service in Kyiv this weekend.
“All of us believe our sunrise will come soon,” he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press