Easter: life through death
In popular belief, were not this day, the earth would collapse into the abyss and the world would be wiped out.
Life through death, redemption, and sin – such is the paradox of Christianity, of the martyrdom on the cross, which gives a new chance to the souls and expiates the sins through sacrifice. The faith would have been different without the hope of salvation; different would have been the deeds and the thoughts here, on earth, if the souls were not prepared for the heavenly residences.
The people of Jerusalem meets his Saviour a few days before Easter with the marvelous joy of “Hosanna” and covers his way with flowers, merriment, and faith. Two days only are left, only one Passion Week, in which everything will happen: the insufferable solitude in Gethsemane, the Last Supper, Judas’ treason, St. Peter’s three-times denial of his teacher, the unavoidable crucifixion, the flight of all the Apostles to all ends of the world seeking protection, faith, and redemption.
The Passion Week is recurring each year – with the expectation, the sorrow, the humility, the joy from the salvation. The great paradox of the Christian religion is receiving its sense again. Achieving immortality through death. Being able to create the Sun and the stars (one legend tells that precisely the infant Christ send them to the sky), to heal the incurably ill, to resurrect the deceased, yet being powerless to purge sin without death. Punishing the defamer through your own affliction. Taking on somebody else’s guilt upon you but loading him with an immeasurable and strenuous guilt for the crucified deity. Resurrection, award, and judgment at the same time.
For Bulgarians, the holiday coincides also with ancient pagan notions of nascent nature, of its resurrecting vitality.
The people believes that were not this day, the earth would collapse into the abyss and the world would get wiped out.
The Earth consists of three partitions and it is supported by a pillar. Devils called “tzartzoglavtzi” are living beneath the Earth. They are very frightful and their eyes are on the back of their heads. All year long, they’re gnawing at the pillar that supports the Earth and it thins up completely. But when on Easter all people exclaim, “Christ has Risen!” the pillar thickens up at once and the Earth keeps resting firmly on top of it.
Every day of this week is important. On Wednesday, flowers, mostly wild geranium, should be brought to decorate the houses.
In the early morning on Thursday, the eggs are coloured. The red paint (or part of it) should be thrown either in a “clean” place, under a rose or a wild rose bush, or in a place that “is not stomped upon”, as a protection against evil spirits. The egg left underneath the iconostasis is used the next year for predicting the futures. If the egg is full and doesn’t smell bad, the upcoming year will be good. If it’s empty and putrid, a difficult year is expected.
It’s believed that on Great and Holy Thursday, the heaven opens up, “both hell and paradise are opening up” and the souls of the dead are coming to earth. In order to warm them up, fires are lit on top of the graves. To make it easier for them to step into our world, small gourds with a candle lit inside are let drifting in a river or in the fountain’s basin.
Good Friday is the harshest day of the year. The world is petrified in front of evil. Questions are more than the answers. The pillar supporting the Earth has thinned completely gnawed by sin and may collapse any time. It appears that evil has gained the upper hand and is threatening to sweep away everybody. This is a day for rethinking, for soul purification. Strictest fasting is observed. People go to church where Christ’s burial is symbolically performed.
The eggs are decorated on Friday. The lasses and the young wives are investing their gifts and their souls in this activity, which is a genuine art.
On Great Saturday, the last preparations for the holiday are made. The house is cleaned.
Easter is celebrated on three days. An Easter egg is eaten for breaking the lent. Children are let go across the neighbourhood “to fight” with red eggs. Young married couples are paying visits to their best men and parents, bringing along bread, kozunak (sweet loaf), and painted eggs.
The magic of the egg
The egg is a symbol of the vital origin, of nature’s renewal. In several mythologies – Greek, Roman, Hindu, Finnish – the egg stands as the primary origin of the world. In Hindu beliefs, life originated from a golden egg floating in water (the Sun). The Kalevala Finnish epic tells that the world was created out of six golden and one iron eggs.
Easter eggs are participating in a whole row of magical rituals whose meaning is protection. This is particularly valid for the magical power of the first painted egg, mandatorily a red one.
The red colour denotes not only Christ’s blood but also life, fertility, renewal. The red egg is also linked with the cult of the Sun. It’s said, “It shines like Sun”.
The shells of the Easter eggs are put in the foundations of a new home – to protect from evil and for fertility and good luck. The shells from the eggs that decorated the ritual breads are kept and are used throughout the year as a remedy, against mischievous spells, etc.
In the legend, the red egg is linked for the first time in a ritual sense to Mary Magdalene. She was the first to go to the empty grave, the first to see Jesus resurrected. When she went around the world to report that, she went also to Rome. She handed to Emperor Tiberius (Tiberius Claudius Nero, November 16, 42 BC – March 16, AD 37) a red egg and told him “Christ has risen!” Then, she told everything as it happened – about the miracles, the healing, the resurrection of Lazarus, the marvelous tale of God’s grace and the redemption. Tiberius believed her, punished his Judea governor – Pilatus, for not saving the great God, and proclaimed Mary Magdalene equal to the Apostles and first messenger of Christ’s resurrection.
In the popular legends, the red eggs are the pebbles behind the cross, coloured in red by the martyr’s blood. The eggs that Mary brought on Sunday to distribute them in front of the grave were red, too, as symbols of the blood shed. When she learned that Christ has risen, she distributed the eggs to the children.
When Christ died, the Christians started an argument with the Jews. The unbelievers were saying that the Christian’s God wouldn’t be resurrected before hens lay red eggs. When after the resurrection the unbelievers refused again to believe and wanted to sentence the Christians as charlatans, the Christians fell on their knees and fervently implored their God to give a sign and to demonstrate the truth. And when Pilatus sent the servants to look what eggs the hens are laying, everybody saw with bewilderment that the eggs are red. It was unbelievable but this was exactly what happened. No matter how long they scrutinized the eggs for imposture, there was no doubt – they were genuine.