The Lent and Easter seasons are a precious time in Ukraine, where a vast majority of its inhabitants are Orthodox Christians. This Lent, Ukrainians will be leaning on their faith more than ever as they experience war with Russia, which will undoubtedly affect how much they can participate in all their traditions.
We can and should offer prayers for and financial assistance to those affected by this war, but another way to support our brothers and sisters in that part of the world is by learning more about their Lenten traditions, and perhaps even include some of them in our own family activities.
Ukrainians take abstinence very seriously. While many abstain from meat and poultry during Lent, it is common practice for Orthodox Christians to restrict their diets further by not having eggs, milk, butter, cheese, or fish.
Palm Sunday with a difference
Palms are not common in Ukraine for Palm Sunday (Shutkova Nedilia) as they’re rare and expensive. Instead, pussy willow branches are used, and after Mass they are brought home and placed behind icons or religious pictures. Whatever your church uses on Palm Sunday, be sure to bring your palms home and place them in a precious place, such as a prayer corner, or next to the photo of a deceased loved one. This year, you can say a prayer for peace in Ukraine whenever you see it.
Get your house in order before Holy Thursday
Before Holy Thursday (Strasty Khrysta), which falls on April 14 this year, Ukrainians busily get everything ship-shape. The house will be spotless, the garden tidied up, and all necessary clothing for the days to come are washed and ready to wear. Orthodox Christians take the Paschal Triduum — or the three days before Easter Sunday — very seriously. Their focus is on religious services and doing light household chores related to Easter Sunday festivities.
While running around during the few days before Holy Thursday trying to get everything done might be a tall order, you could start doing some heavier chores earlier in Lent to prepare for the Triduum.
Pray at the tomb of Jesus
Ukrainians often go to church on Good Friday to pray at the plashchenytsia, or the tomb of Jesus, that churches set up. It’s meaningful to pray at the Lord’s symbolic tomb, and makes it all the more real for younger family members.
If you can’t get your own church to create one, there’s nothing stopping you from trying to create a rendition of the Lord’s tomb at home (drawing, painting, constructing something outdoors, etc.) and saying some prayers together as a family.
Blessing of the baskets
This is a lovely tradition where families make up a basket full of lamb, meats, and other delicious foods and treats that the faithful have deprived themselves of during Lent. Inside the baskets are also the beautifully decorated and colorful eggs called Pysanky (here’s a) and a wax candle. These baskets are brought to the church either on Holy Saturday or on Easter Sunday itself to be blessed.
When Easter Sunday finally arrives, Ukrainians will greet each other with Христос воскрес! Воістину Воскресе! — or Khrystos voskres! Voistynu Voskrese! if you’d like to have a try yourself. This powerful phrase means “Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!”
After Mass, the parishioners eat the goodies in the baskets. The candle is placed on the table and lit. The contents of the basket, along with many delicious extras that you can find here, are eaten throughout the day so everyone can enjoy the celebration and not have to think of feeding their families.