Russian & Ukrainian Easter

Easter_Paskha_EggsEaster, or Paskha (Пасха), is the most important feast and a joyous celebration of the resurrection of Christ and many religious and secular traditions surround this sacred holiday. The majority of Russians and Ukrainians are either Eastern Orthodox or Catholic. Eastern Orthodox make up the majority of believers in Russia and in the eastern regions of Ukraine, while most Catholics are in the western regions of Ukraine. The date of celebration for Catholics and Orthodox often does not coincide; the differences emerged in the XVI century after the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, Easter is celebrated twice – once according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar, and once according to the Catholic one.
There are some differences in Easter services of these churches:

The Eastern Orthodox Church
The Paschal Vigil begins with the Midnight Office (Полунощница), and is timed so that it ends a little before midnight on Holy Saturday night; the priest carries the Shroud (canvas depicting the putting in the tomb of Jesus Christ) to the altar, where it must remain for 40 days on the throne until the Ascension Day. The subsequent service, the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, begins at midnight. The priests leave the church and, together with the people walk around it, which means the procession of the church towards the resurrected Savior. Going around the church, the procession stops in front of its closed doors, as if at the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher. The priest and the people chant the Paschal Troparion, and all of the bells are sounded. Then all re-enter the temple and paschal matins begins immediately, followed by the paschal hours and then the paschal divine liturgy.

After the dismissal of the liturgy, the priest blesses people’s paschal eggs and paskhas. The people kiss and greet each other with the words Christos voskres! “Christ is Risen!” to which the worshipers reply voistinu voskres, “Truly He is risen!”

The Catholic Church
The services of Catholic church start with the Easter Triduum – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The Easter Vigil begins on the night of Holy Saturday with the Liturgy of Light, which begins in total darkness. Then a fire is made in the courtyard of the temple, the priest lights a large Easter candle from the fire – Paschal, which is a symbol of God’s light. With the Paschal in his hand, the priest enters a dark temple and proclaims the ancient hymn “Exsultet” – the news of the resurrection of Christ. The believers light their candles from the Paschal.

After the Liturgy of Light, the Liturgy of the Word starts: a number of readings from the Old Testament are read; and then Liturgy of Baptism follows. After baptism, the Eucharistic Liturgy is held, and the service ends with the proclamation “Christ is risen.” Believers in the church respond, “Truly He is risen “. At the end of the service, a procession with prayers and songs follows, the believers proceed with a procession around the temple and then carry candles, lit from the sacred fire, to their homes.

Note: certain services order variations in the Easter Vigil exist.
On Easter Sunday morning, after the service, children and young people walk around the house with songs and greetings.

There are some more differences including the holiday table, but aside from these, the celebration among Eastern Orthodox and Catholics is quite similar.

Pysanki (Писанки)

Painted eggs are a big part of the holiday; the eggs symbolize the resurrection, while the red color symbolizes the blood of Christ.
According to the legend, Mary Magdalene presented the egg to the emperor Tiberius in sign of the Resurrection of Christ. The emperor did not believe it and said that just as a white would not turn red, so the dead do not rise. At this moment the egg turned red. This miracle made him admit the obvious with the words: “Truly he has risen!”

Decorated Easter eggs can showcase geometric or organic traditional designs with regional significance, landscapes, churches, scenes from stories, or other images.

Faberge Eggs

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. For example, In 1897 Tsar Nicholas II gave his wife Alexandra the Imperial Coronation Egg. The shell is made of gold embellished with translucent yellow enamel and overlaid with black enamel double-headed eagles. Inside the white velvet-lined egg is an exquisitely detailed miniature 18th-century golden carriage. The object, which took more than a year to create, is a replica of a coach once owned by Catherine the Great and used in Nicholas and Alexandra’s own 1896 coronation procession.

Traditional Easter Paska

One of the staples of the Easter table is paska. Paska is made of cottage cheese, butter, sour cream, eggs, raisins and sugar, decorated with dried apricots and candied fruit. It’s formed into the shape of a four-sided tower, meant to symbolize Golgotha and the Holy Sepulcher, where Christ was crucified. On one side, there are the letters XB, which stand for Hristos Voskres (Христос Воскрес), Christ is risen. On the other side is an image of the cross.

A kulich is another type of Easter bread, made of dough, baked into a tall, round, domed tower. The dome is glazed and sprinkled and sometimes the letters XB are spelled out using candied fruit.

Just for extra confusion, the Easter bread known in Russia as kulich, in Ukraine is called paskha, while the cottage cheese pyramid is called syrna paska – cottage cheese paska (syr means cheese or cottage cheese).

Kulich recipe (Yield 2 kuliches (8 inches tall and 4 inches in diameter)


¾ cup milk, warmed to room temperature
1 ounce fresh yeast or 0.4 to 1/2 ounce active dry yeast
3½ cups flour, separated
½ cup sugar, separated
4 to 5 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cognac
Dash of vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces melted butter
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg
1⁄4 teaspoon cardamom
4 ounces raisins
Pinch of salt

For glaze:
1/5 cup sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons water or milk
½ teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
About 2 tablespoons sprinkles, for decoration


  1. Prepare yeast starter: to the warm milk, add yeast, ​1⁄3 of the flour, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar and mix thoroughly until well integrated. Set aside for 20 minutes in a warm place.
  2. Whisk yolks with remaining sugar for several minutes, until they become white. Add cognac, vanilla extract and melted butter and mix until well integrated.
  3. Mix the yolk mixture into the yeast starter and stir well. Add zest, nutmeg, cardamom and the remaining flour. The add the remaining flour gradually, stirring all the while to ensure the dough remains soft and light.
  4. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes, then put in a large bowl, cover with a towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour, until the volume doubles.
  5. Lightly grease the inside of the form or container you’re using with vegetable oil, put the dough into the forms, filling them up halfway, and set aside for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  6. Bake the kuliches for 35 minutes, then lower the heat of the oven to 300°F and bake for another 25 minutes. Check the readiness by piercing the kulich with a toothpick – the toothpick should emerge dry.
  7. Meanwhile prepare the glaze: In a saucepan over medium heat, cook sugar with water or milk for several minutes, stirring constantly to make a smooth, pourable glaze. Add lemon juice, stir once more and remove from heat.
  8. Remove kuliches from the oven, pour the glaze over the top and sprinkle. Set kuliches aside to cool.

Cottage Cheese Paska recipe Ukrainian pashka


½ cup raisins
1 pound high fat cottage cheese
2 eggs
7 ounces sour cream
1⁄4 cup sugar, or to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces butter (room temperature), cut into small pieces
3 ounces candied fruit, any kind
2 ounces chopped nuts, any kind, optional

Special Equipment:
A wooden or plastic paska cheese mold called pasochnitsa
Double layered cheesecloth
2 pound weight or something equally heavy (a jar of something, a pitcher of water, etc)


  1. Rinse raisins, pour boiling water over them and leave for 20 minutes. Drain the water and dry the raisins on a paper towel.
  2. If using store bought cottage cheese, rub cottage cheese through a sieve twice or blend it in a blender to make it creamy and uniform.

Note: if you made the cottage cheese yourself and it is soft and smooth, you can skip this step.

  1. Add eggs, sour cream, sugar and vanilla extract to the cottage cheese and mix well.
  2. Add butter and use a mixer to whip the mass until fluffy and homogeneous.
  3. Pour the mass into a thick-walled saucepan. Cook it on low heat for several minutes, stirring constantly, until it begins to bubble. Turn the heat off immediately. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
  4. Lower the saucepan into a bowl with cold water (preferably with ice cubes) and stir until completely cooled. Set aside some candied fruit and nuts for decoration, then add raisins, remaining fruit and nuts to the chilled mass and mix well.
  5. Cool the mass for 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator to thicken.
  6. Line the mold or whatever container you’re using with dampened cheesecloth and put the mass inside. Fold the cheesecloth over the top of the mass, covering it. Cover with a lid or small plate and place weight on top. Put on another plate to catch any runoff and put in refrigerator for 24 to 30 hours.
  7. Remove paska from container, unwrap the cheesecloth, and put paska onto a serving plate.

Decorate with candied fruit and nuts, if desired.