I love visiting foreign countries during a time of celebration—be it a wedding or a national holiday. This way, you don’t only see the sights but also get to experience the rituals of the place. You get a glimpse of the way people live there. (By the way, if anyone wants to invite me to a wedding in India, I already have my outfit!)
Last year, I visited my family in Sofia for the Easter Holiday. So what’s Easter like in Eastern Orthodox Bulgaria?
Easter in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition:
For whatever reason, Western Christian churches and Eastern Orthodox churches don’t agree on when Easter should be celebrated. Every now and then, Easter in both calendars falls on the same date, as was the case in 2014. This year, they are a week apart.
Coloring the eggs red:
Some say that the tradition of coloring the eggs originated amongst the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained them red in memory of Christ’s blood. Others claim that the eggs are colored red because the Roman soldiers put a red cloak on Jesus while they were mocking and torturing Him. Still others associate the red egg tradition with Mary Magdalene. There are many versions of the story but the gist of it is that Mary Magdalene handed a white egg to a Roman official (the location and person change depending on the version). As she did that she said, “Christ has risen.” The Roman told her that he’d believe her only if the egg in his hand turned red, which it did. And so he replied, “He’s truly risen.”
Today, Bulgarians stain their eggs in all sorts of colors and designs, using different techniques. On Easter, they greet each other with the words: Christos Voscresse (Christ has risen) and Voistina Voscresse (He’s truly risen) and exchange hard-boiled colored eggs.
Church service at midnight:
It was cold and raining last year on Easter eve when my family and I joined the crowd of several thousands gathered around Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia’s largest. We huddled under our umbrella in expectation of the Service of Resurrection. At the stroke of midnight, the church bells began ringing, loudly, relentlessly.
The Patriarch called out Christos Voscresse (Christ has risen) and passed the eternal flame to those nearest him. The crowd chanted back, Voistina Voscresse (He’s truly risen) as the flame made its way from person to person.
As if on cue, the rain stopped.
All of us, lit candles in hand, began walking counter clockwise around the cathedral, thus reenacting the journey of the Myrrhbearers to the Tomb of Jesus.
You didn’t need to be Eastern Orthodox, Christian, or even religious, for that matter, to feel the power and spirit of humanity at this moment.