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Here's how you can celebrate Orthodox Easter in the UK

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If you’ve opened this piece, thinking it’s too late for Easter articles, then you really need to read on.

Despite the oversaturation of Easter stuff around April, there is little talk about orthodox Christian Easter, the little known older brother of Catholicism and the Church of England. As I prepare to celebrate what is a very communal day pretty much on my own, I figured I might as well share whatever tips I developed since starting uni here.

What’s orthodox Christianity and why do we celebrate Easter differently?

Christianity started out as a small movement a long time ago in the Roman empire, which was then sprawling all across southern and north-western Europe, northern Africa, and modern day Turkey.

Since being decriminalized in the fourth century, it had become the dominant religion in the empire. However, changing geopolitics and economics made it so that by the 11th century, the rival churches of Rome and rising economic and cultural powerhouse Constantinople (now Istanbul) were irrevocably separated.

So what does this incredibly short history lesson mean for us? Mostly, that we get to celebrate on different dates, since the two sides use different calendars. As a rule of thumb Western churches (Catholic or Protestant) use the newer, more scientifically Gregorian calendar, while Orthodox churches use the more inaccurate Julian calendar to calculate which day Easter falls on. Terribly inconvenient, but one of the times tradition matters.

That means while the bank holiday weekend that’s just passed by has been an opportunity for some to celebrate Easter or the beginning of Passover, for us Orthodox Christians it has just been Palm Sunday, the one right before Easter. This year’s Orthodox Easter falls on Sunday, April 8.

How is Orthodox Easter any different besides the date? How to celebrate it in England?

The Easter bunny is a new addition to the festivities, having been imported from the west with the idea to sell more chocolates come April. That, of course, brings its own critics, but for now, it’s just a fun activity for children that lets them celebrate by consuming lots of chocolate.  

Otherwise, Orthodox Easter tends to be rather more community-driven rather than observing of the religious formalities. Though traditions vary from country to country, there’s always roasted lamb, boiled eggs, which are painted mostly red, and a variety of sweet breads.  

Preparations begin on Holy Thursday, or on the Saturday, if you’re lazy; what’s important is to avoid doing housework on Friday, as it is a day of mourning.

As the Day of Easter starts, traditions differ, but for devout Bulgarians, for example, it’s important to go to church at midnight and light a special candle, which then we have to bring back to their house without it extinguishing.  

Though definitely not well advertised, there are places which hold orthodox Christian services for the religious or those who are homesick and might feel this might help.

For example, two churches in Birmingham (where I currently live) will be holding services for Easter - the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Erdington, and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of Theotokos and St Andreas in Summer Hill, Birmingham city centre.

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