Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

Orthodox Easter: Who celebrates in Australia and why it’s on a different date

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun3,2024
Key points
  • The strong community appeal of Orthodox Easter is a common denominator across diverse communities celebrating in Australia.
  • Traditional staples combine religious elements with family activities.
  • The different date between Orthodox and Catholic/Protestant Easter comes down to a solunar impasse yet to be resolved by the Churches.
*This feature was produced with contributions from Radica Bojkovska (SBS Macedonian), Sylva Mezher (SBS Arabic24), Kassahun Negewo (SBS Amharic), Beyene Weldegiorgis (SBS Tigrinya), Svetlana Printcev and Sofija Petrovic.
When the clock hits midnight on Saturday, Greek Orthodox Australians in churches and homes will exclaim in pairs Christos Anesti [Christ has risen] and Alithos Anesti [he has indeed risen].
In Australia, members of the Macedonian community will use the same greeting – Христос Воскресе, Навистина Воскресе – and if you happen to have neighbours of Romanian heritage ascribing to the faith you will hear them saying Hristos a înviatAdevărat a înviat.

These are just a few examples of common traditions across Australia’s ethnic groups celebrating Orthodox Easter, which include members of the Russian, Eritrean, Armenian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian and Ethiopian communities.

The Epitaphio (the symbolic funeral bier of Christ) during a Good Friday at Greek Orthodox Church of St. Athanasios at Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney, April, 2015

The Epitaphio (the symbolic funeral bier of Christ) during a Good Friday at Greek Orthodox Church of St. Athanasios at Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney, April, 2015 Source: AAP

Similarities greater than differences among Orthodox Christian denominations

There are some differences though, in religious observance.
For Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, for instance, fasting lasts 55 days ahead of Easter instead of the 40-day Lent period in other denominations.

However, Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in Australia will celebrate in very similar ways, with both churches belonging to the so-called ‘Oriental’ group of Orthodox churches, differentiated from the ‘Eastern Orthodox’ in theological matters and traditions.

Group of priests celebrating Orthodox Easter, Ethiopia.

Group of priests celebrating Orthodox Easter in Lalibela, Wollo, Ethiopia 2013/05/03. Source: Getty

That said, Eritrean believers fast from meat and dairy for 40 days, like those of the Eastern Orthodox faith.

Upon returning to their homes after Saturday night’s mass, they will break the fast by eating a round stiff porridge dish (Ga’at) usually with a hole in the middle for dipping sauce, made of butter and hot pepper.

service at Ethiopian Orthodox church in Melbourne

Not all Orthodox Churches are ‘Eastern Orthodox’. The ‘Oriental Orthodox Churches’ have theological differences and include the Ethiopian and Coptic Source: Debre Selam Medanialem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Melbourne/Facebook

Tsebhi derho, a spicy chicken stew with whole boiled eggs inside, will be on the menu for the Easter Sunday family gathering, with some families brewing their own Sewa (traditional alcoholic drink) to accompany the meal, followed by a coffee ceremony that will keep participants for hours drinking and chatting.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians still upholding the tradition, attend the full Saturday night mass lasting until 3am.
An early morning breakfast will replenish their energy levels upon returning home to sleep and wake up to continue with Easter Sunday celebrations.

Copts will follow a largely similar festive schedule.

Inside St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney

Inside St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney Source: SBS

Melbourne mother of two, Nadia Latif, migrated from Egypt a 10 years ago.

Like other Coptic Christian families, they attend midnight mass on Easter Saturday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

“After mass, all the family and close friends come together to the elderly’s house in the family to have the Easter feast in the early hours of Easter Sunday,” Ms Latif said.

midle Eastern biscuits

Maamoul, the buttery date filled middle eastern cookies are a must dessert on the Coptic family Easter feast table, Ms Latif says. Source: Getty Images

“So the main Easter feast happens at the very early hours of Easter Sunday (2am to 3am) and not on Easter Sunday lunch.”

This is not the case for Greek Orthodox Christians who tend to place an equal emphasis – if not greater – on the luscious Easter Sunday lunch, famously including lamb on the spit.

Anastasi service

At Saturday’s night mass the holy light is shared with the Orthodox faithful at midnight. Source: SBS Greek/Argyro Vourdoumpa

Have you ever wondered what the dyeing of red eggs is all about?

For the faithful of the Russian, Macedonian and Greek communities of Australia, the boiled red colour egg is one of the most striking visual cues for Easter. It symbolises the blood of Christ.

The first egg is customarily dyed on Holy Thursday before sunrise, then placed near an icon at home and kept all year for good health.

What follows is the egg tapping on Easter Sunday, in religious terms symbolic of new life and representative of the tomb cracking open when Christ was resurrected.

An Orthodox nun arranges fresh painted r

An Orthodox nun arranges fresh painted red eggs in a basket at Pasarea monastery, 20km from Bucharest, Romania. Source: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images

In popular tradition, it has been established as a fun family activity believed to bring good luck to the winner with the ‘strongest egg’.

Members of Australia’s Russian Orthodox community enthusiastically uphold the traditions of Holy Thursday, aka ‘Clean Thursday’.

Irina Derevich, a culinary specialist from Sydney, has been baking Easter cakes for more than 30 years, using traditional recipes.

Culinary specialist Irina Derevich

Culinary specialist Irina Derevich Source: Irina Derevich (irinadee_sydney)

“On Maundy Thursday, the most important preparations for the holiday begin,” she said.

“People clean their homes, paint eggs, cook the special Paskha meal (cottage cheese), bake Kulich.”

The Easter cake and painted eggs will be brought to churches on Saturday for a special blessing by the priest.

Why two Easters? The mathematical challenge for ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Christianity

Following the Catholic Church and Protestantism, .
While Eastern Orthodox and Western (as Roman Catholicism was known) Christianity initially shared the same faith, the two traditions began to separate, with the defining split widely accepted to be .
But the two Easter dates are not attributed to their differences in .
Reverend Father Athanasios Giatsios from St Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, in Mascot, is a graduate of Sydney’s St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College.
He said the difference between the two Easter dates is “a question that we, as Orthodox priests are asked pretty much every year”.
Father Giatsios explains that a common agreement for determining the Easter date was reached between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church at the in 325 AD, the first meeting bringing together representatives from all over Christendom, to address divisive issues.

“The formula for the calculation is quite simple. We celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.”

Julian versus Gregorian calendars

The Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar for the Easter date calculation, which is a few days behind the Gregorian calendar used by Catholic and Protestant churches.

Still, there are years that the northern hemisphere’s spring equinox brings the two ‘in sync’ for Easter.

Hipparchus

Greek astronomer Ipparchus had observed that Equinoxes (when the sun is ‘on’ the equator as it ‘travels’ around the Earth) happen a tad earlier each year. Source: Hermann Göll, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The last common celebration was in 2017, the next one is expected in 2025, and some calculations report that after 2700 Orthodox and Catholic/Protestant Easter will never coincide again.

This is not the place for an . Suffice to say that while the Gregorian was established in the 16th century to better align months with the Earth’s journey around the sun, .
Its deviation is by no means huge. It would take until the year 4909 to manifest in an extra day.

So, in that future scenario, the Easter date would still divert from the current calculation route even if the Gregorian calendar was used by all Christian churches.

Scenes of Coober Pedy

Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint Elijah the Prophet in Coober Pedy, Australia. The underground church was constructed in 1993 and carved into sandstone. Source: Getty Images

For now, the question remains whether an agreement could be reached on a common date.

“In the Orthodox Church, we have had attempts to resolve this on our side as well,” Father Giatsios says, referring to Synods convened over the years with the intention to “find a decision that will benefit all Christian churches around the world”.

The ‘luxury of having two Easters’

“On a practical level, it’s very inconvenient for us, Orthodox Christians to be celebrating Easter at such a great distance between, as people say, the ‘Australian Easter’”, Father Giatsios said.
“But I think on a religious or spiritual level this will not deter our faithful from coming to church and celebrating.”

For families combining both traditions, he says, celebrating “can be a positive as well, where they can participate in both cultures and other events”.

Grandma grandson painting eggs

Source: Getty Images/Sneksy

Jason Christou, who grew up in Geelong as a member of the Greek Orthodox faith can testify to this.

His mother – who converted to Greek Orthodox after meeting her Greek Cypriot husband in Australia – combines her Slovenian and Austrian heritage with Serbian family influences.

Mr Christou describes the “mixer” effect on the Easter family table as “delicious”, giving the example of “a strudel sitting next to baklava”.

Mr Christou doesn’t recall feeling like he missed out as a child due to the lack of public holidays during Orthodox Easter.
“If anything, we had the luxury of kind of having two Easters within a short period of time.”

“As the family grew, with in-laws and partners of the Christou siblings, Catholic and Orthodox Easter have blended in annual celebrations.

I think that’s the benefit of living in a multicultural family, allowing the space for each to celebrate in their own way[…]Ultimately, it’s a shared love of spending time together at such an important time of the year.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “Orthodox Easter: Who celebrates in Australia and why it’s on a different date”
  1. As an Australian of Ukrainian descent, I always look forward to celebrating Orthodox Easter with my family. The traditions and the sense of community during this time are truly special. It’s a time for reflection and gratitude.

  2. As an Australian of Ukrainian descent, I’ve always cherished the rich traditions and deep sense of community that Orthodox Easter brings. It’s a time when families come together to celebrate both religious and cultural heritage, and the beautiful customs are passed down from generation to generation. The different date of Orthodox Easter compared to other Christian denominations doesn’t diminish its significance for us, it adds to the uniqueness and beauty of our celebration.

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