Monica E. Smith

Monica E. Smith

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Easter in the Byzantine Catholic Church


We normally go through our day-to-day lives without much thought about what we are doing. But lent provides direction and meaning; it is not just "having to give up" something. There are actually three elements which work together. Prayer, the first, is simply communication with God. We cannot get to know people without first talking with them, trying to understand "where they are coming from". We can't even begin to understand the Church without first knowing its Founder. Prayer brings tradition and meaning to the things we do. It gives us the strength to fast. And through our fasting, we are led to share our abundance with others (almsgiving).

Fasting is a very ancient tradition of the Church. There isn't much point in fasting just for the sake of fasting, to see how much food we can go without. A true fast should bring about the desire to change, and actually acting on it. When we feel hunger from fasting from food, it should remind us of our hunger for God and all that is Truth.

When we pray and fast, we should normally come to the desire to give, almsgiving. It was Christ's way of life and if we are Christians, it should be ours. Through prayer, we "contact" and listen to God. Through our fasting, or an emptying of ourselves to fill it with God, we come to a deeper conversion. And through both prayer and fasting, we come to the realization that the needs of others are the responsibility of all. In that same context, I have long loved this quote by author, George Eliot: What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?

The Tradition of Easter Basket Blessing

The blessing of food at Easter has been passed down from the Carpatho-Rusyn people, my ancestors of the Byzantine Catholic Church (and other Slavic groups). Originally, people kept a strict fast, not eating any meat or dairy products for the entire season of Lent (today the fast and abstinence rules are much more relaxed). At Easter, as we do today, the people took the food items that they had not eaten during Lent to church to be blessed. These Easter, or "paschal foods", hold great significance in that they are the foods God had prescribed for the ancient Passover meal—lamb, bread, wine and bitter herbs, and represent the spiritual feast awaiting us after our deaths, at Christ’s table.

Easter Basket Contents:

“Pascha” (Easter bread) is an egg-rich bread, baked in the round; represents Christ, the "living bread".

Meat Products (such as ham, veal, pork, lamb): represent the Old Testament sacrificial animals (which were a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ).

Dairy Products (such as butter, cheese, egg cheese [hrutka], cooked and decorative eggs) are symbolic of prosperity and peace. The butter is usually formed into the shape of a lamb and represents Christ, the Lamb of God who was offered on the altar of the Cross for our salvation. Eggs have always been considered a symbol of the resurrection, the emergence of new life, Christ coming forth from the tomb as a chick from the broken egg.

Horseradish (and other bitter foods such as vinegar, sour cream, etc.) represent the bitterness of Christ's passion; and when mixed with sweet, red beets, represent the blood He shed.

Salt Symbolizes the Truth of the message of Christ; as salt preserves food, so the teachings of Christ preserve our eternal life.

Chocolate Eggs/Candy allow children to be a real part of this celebration and share in the resurrection. The Church takes ordinary food and blesses it, making it and us holy as we eat of it. God's blessing changes us from children of natural descent into children of the Kingdom of God.

It has become customary to place a great variety of foods in the basket from which one has fasted during Lent. I have seen bottles of wine or beer, pop, cookies and even bags of McDonald's hamburgers or other fast food in Easter baskets. I think this is a fascinating and wonderful new custom which really brings the ancient tradition of blessing of foods into the modern world! How awesome, to be able to adapt such traditions to our contemporary, everyday lives.

*Side Note (I see this as evidence that the people, while taking part in centuries-old rites, truly can bring the Church into the modern world and make it relevant. We hear so much complaint about the Catholic Church not being "up-to-date". But it is the people who can change this by their attitude, their involvement, their voices, their creativity. We are so privileged to be able to carry on the works and practices and rituals of a Church born directly from the apostles' steadfast adherence to and teaching of the doctrines directly given to them by Christ. We should take pride in this rather than feeling embarrassed or put out or diminishing the value of such ancient customs. Delving into one's ancestry is all the rage these days. Why not go all the way, and see where we truly came from?)
The words “Christos Voskrese” (“Christ is Risen”) are sometimes printed on the cloth which covers the basket. The basket is taken to church where a candle placed in the basket is lighted during the blessing ceremony. After the Resurrection Services, the people greet each other with “Christos Voskrese!” and reply “Voistinnu Voskrese!” (“Christ Is Risen!” / “Indeed He Is Risen!”). The people either share their foods, then, at a breakfast with the other parishioners, or take the blessed food home to be shared with family. The meal begins with the head of the family dividing one blessed egg into enough portions for all family members, and an extra portion to remember all family members who have passed away. He gives a portion of the egg to each family member saying, “Christ is Risen!”, and they answer “Indeed He is Risen!”. What a wonderfully fulfilling and beautiful way to remember Christ in His death and resurrection, and our loved ones, who are all part of Him Who gave all, that we might live forever!

Happy Easter to all! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

 Easter Basket Prepared to Bless
Basket Blessing
St. John's Byzantine Catholic Church
Columbus, Ohio

(some information gleaned from and


  1. THANK YOU so much for posting this picture! I happened upon it while looking for information for making my first pascha basket! My family is new to the Byzantine Church (though technically still Roman)and I was not sure what the basket or cover was to look like. I was so surprised to see this picture with Father Terry and John! St. John Chrysostom is my parish! :-)

    Seeing how the blessing is done has given me a better understanding of what I need to do this week!

    Thanks again!
    Lucy Cook

    1. It was a wonderful surprise to receive your comment! Thank you for taking the time to write; I'm happy you were able to glean some helpful information from my post. You might like this short video I took of the basket blessing at St. John's a couple years ago:

      Hoping you have a blessed and joyous Easter. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!