Customs and Traditions
Ethnic customs and traditions are not the main interest of St. Luke parish but nevertheless they are still seen as important expressions of past activities of missionaries. Orthodox missionaries have always Christianized local customs and traditions in order to bring the culture into the light of Jesus Christ. For this reason we celebrate their wisdom by participating in many of these ethnic customs. We believe, following their example, we are in the process of Christianizing American ethnic customs and traditions.
It is a Russian tradition to have a holy supper on Christmas Eve.
Since Christmas is preceded by forty days of fasting, this Holy Supper is the last meal of
the Fast. The twelve fasting foods usually served are: barley, honey, stewed prunes,
pierogi, sauerkraut, potatoes, lima beans, garlic, Lenten bread, mushroom soup and salt.
The meal begins with the singing of the Christmas troparion (a hymn) and the lighting of
a candle placed in the center of the table. The candle symbolizes the star of Bethlehem.
The bread is then broken by the father of the house and given to everyone present. This
symbolizes Christ at the Last Supper. The foods range from bitter to sweet to remind us
of the bitterness of life before Christ was born and the sweetness of life which comes
after His birth. The number 12 symbolizes the twelve apostles. When the meal is finished
all attend the Christmas Eve vigil. To view the text for the Christmas Holy Supper, Please Click
On Epiphany Eve, a holy supper is served again, much the same as on Christmas since this too is a fast day. The only difference is that the dinner begins first with the partaking of the Holy Water.
During Holy Week, Russians bake Easter breads and special cheeses are prepared. The cheese is called Pascha. It is shaped like a pyramid and is decorated with Cyrillic letters XB, standing for the Easter greeting, Christ is Risen.
On Easter, Ukrainian food baskets are blessed after the Midnight Divine Liturgy. These baskets contain all of the foods which are not eaten during Lent. The foods include butter, eggs, salt, cheese, sausage and meats, grated horseradish and pastries. The basket is covered with a richly embroidered scarf and brought to the church before the service. After the service, the baskets are opened and the feast begins.
On Christmas in Syrian homes, the father reads the Christmas story to his children. After attending the Divine Liturgy, the family returns home and eats the food that they have been fasting from such as: roast lamb, stuffed turkey and chicken and delicious pastries.
For Epiphany day, a dish called Zalabee and Awam is served. It is a doughnut-shaped cake that is fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sugar to signify sweet and everlasting life. The process of baking the bread is called "baptizing the bread."
For New Years Day (St. Basil's Day) it is a custom among the Greeks to bake a large round loaf with a coin hidden inside. This custom celebrates the time when St. Basil distributed money to the poor on New Year's Day, by giving them bread baked with money inside. The loaf is cut into thin slices and given to the members of the family. The person who finds the coin is supposed to have good luck. This custom reminds us of St. Basil's charity and that we too should give to the poor during the new year.
At the beginning of Holy Week, the house begins to be prepared for the coming Resurrection (Pascha) celebration, the most important and celebrated holiday of the church. Every preparation should be completed by Good Friday morning, so that the only things that will be concentrated on is solemn reverence for our Lord and attending church services. Holy Thursday is the day to prepare Easter eggs and bake Tsoureki. The eggs, in plentiful amounts are dyed a dark red representing the blood of Christ. The children, after the Resurrection, will play a game by hitting an egg against an egg of his opponent. The holder of the egg that is unbroken is the winner.
On Pascha night, the candle that has been lit during the Resurrection service is left burning while the family travels to their home, where at the entrance, above the door, a form in the shape of a cross is drawn with the flame. This serves as a reminder that "the light of the Lord" dwells within the home. It is at this time that the Easter fast will be broken by eating Magaritsa, a lamb soup, symbolizing the sacrificial Lamb of God.
For Easter, the most important holiday celebrated, there is great preparation. Activities the week before follow a schedule made by the housewife. On Thursday before Easter, eggs may be dyed. All colors are used, but some eggs must be dyed red to symbolize the coming happiness in the Resurrection. In some homes, beautiful designs are carefully scraped on the surface of the dyed egg with a sharp tool. This unusual technique is the Serbian style of decorating eggs.The first egg to be dyed is put aside and called "Protector of the House" (Cuvarkuca). It is placed beside the family icon and saved for Saint George's Day. Some baking is done on Thursday, so that nothing but essential duties are performed on Holy Friday. The family will observe a strict fast and attend church, where they will kiss "The Grave of Christ" (Plastanica). Fish and oil are omitted from the menu of Holy Friday, and only nuts, fruits and vegetables are eaten. On Saturday, the house and much of the food for the coming day are prepared. There are traditional dishes for the Easter meal. A typical menu includes lamb soup, sarma, roast lamb, salad and delicious cakes.
Romainians celebrate the New Year by hiding a coin in Colac, a sweet bread with a nut filling. The person to get the piece with the coin is said to have good luck throughout the year. This is also practiced by some for Easter and birthdays.
Other Traditions of the Orthodox Church
Grapes and fresh fruit are blessed and eaten after the services on this holiday. It is a harvest festival and all of the first fruits are blessed before they are eaten as a thanksgiving for the harvest.
Lent in the Orthodox Church is a 40 day period of strict fasting. During this period all foods are prepared without meat or dairy products. To provide nourishment, many ordinary foods are skillfully combined to produce dishes of good taste and appeal. The basic foods of Lent are fish, potatoes, bread, noodles and sauerkraut.
It is a Russian custom on the lst day before Lent begins to have a pancake dinner. The pancakes are served with butter and a variety of toppings. This custom was absorbed into the Orthodox faith from paganism. The pancake floating in butter symbolized the sun god in the pagan religion. The meaning was transformed into symbolizing Christ the Sun of Righteousness.
The Greek tradition offered for the health and well-being of a family, club or organization uses Arto, a bread served during this celebration. It is divided for baking, into 5 loaves to symbolize Jesus at Cana when He blessed the 5 loaves of bread to feed a multitude.
Koliva is first blessed during the memorial service for the dead who we commemorate and then served to those present. The Sitari wheat, is the symbol of our faith in the resurrection of the dead. As wheat is planted and grows, so also will our dead rise in glory.
"I am the bread of life ... I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world." John 6:51
Altar bread plays a significant roll in the Orthodox Church. At every Divine Liturgy, the priest celebrates the Last Supper of Christ by repeating His words, "Take eat, this is my body, which is broken for you, do this in remembrance of me" / Corinthians 11:23.
Prosphoron, meaning offering is used in preparation for the gift of Holy Communion. The seal stamped on the bread before it is baked symbolize the Lamb that will become the body at the Crucified Christ.
The IC and XC on the seal are abbreviated Greek letters that mean "Jesus Christ" The large triangle to the left of the lamb is in honor of the Lord's Mother, the Virgin Mary. The 9 smaller triangles to the right of the lamb commemorate the Angelic Hosts and the Saints of the Orthodox Church.