Palm Sunday to Pascha: Orthodox Customs

Holy Tradition (written with a capital "T") encompasses the beliefs of the Orthodox Church which are set forth in Holy Scripture, the writings of the Fathers, the liturgy of the Church, and through oral transmission through the ages. An example of Holy Tradition is that Joachim and Anna are the parents of Mary the Theotokos. Their names do not appear in the Bible, but have been handed down to us since the beginnings of Church history.

Orthodox traditions (written with a small "T") are defined as pious customs - they are things that we do, not things that we believe. There are many examples of pious traditions in the week from Palm Sunday through Pascha, the feast of the Resurrection.

An Arabic tradition is to hold candles decorated with flowers for Palm Sunday along with palm branches. Greeks hold crosses woven from either palm branches or bay leaves on Palm Sunday. Slavic peoples receive pussy willow branches on Palm Sunday. These are adaptations due to climate in the country of origin of these people.

Greeks greet each other with "kali anestasi" or "Good Resurrection" on Great and Holy Friday.

In the Russian tradition, the faithful carry home the "Thursday Fire" - the candles that we hold during the reading of the 12 Passion Gospels on Holy Thursday night. The flame is used to light the lampada in the family's Icon Corner where it remains burning for the whole year.

In the Greek tradition, on the other hand, the Paschal light is taken home instead. After the Resurrection service, the faithful do not blow out the candles, but hold them during the entire Paschal Divine Liturgy. Every time the Troparion "Christ is Risen.." is sung or the celebrant exclaims "Christ is risen!" everyone in the congregation lifts his candle high as the choir sings or responds with "Indeed, He is risen!" After the service, the faithful take the fire home to light the lampadas in front of their icons. At mealtimes, the candle is lit as the family sings "Christ is risen.."

The red egg that the celebrants presents to the faithful at the end of the Paschal Divine Liturgy is also a tradition. The egg represents Christ in the tomb. Breaking the egg is symbolic of the Resurrection.

Slavic people and by some Greek families observe the tradition of bringing a basket of food to be blessed after the Paschal Divine Liturgy. The basket usually contains bread (made with eggs and milk), cheese, meat, eggs, butter, salt, and other foods that the family plans on having for their Paschal celebration. There should also be a lit candle, symbolizing the Light of Christ.

All of these traditions and customs are good -- as long as they do not reeplace in our heart the memory of Christ Himself who died for us and has risen for our salvation.

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