Slovak Easter Memories

By Joseph Planey

 

With the passing of the Easter season 2010 my thoughts drift back to many, many years ago, growing up in the Lansingville area of Youngstown, Ohio.

 

Lent began on Ash Wednesday but being Byzantine Catholic and a member of St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church on Wilson Avenue, we did not have the custom of anointing heads with ashes.

 

We observed The Stations of The Cross at the church at a 7:00pm service each Wednesday and Friday. I remember the trek from our home in the Lansingville area down the hill and to the church and the services which lasted at least two hours. The services included much praying, standing and kneeling. There was fasting all day on Fridays and no meat was eaten, although my mom always produced fantastic dishes such as holuskis and perogis so the lack of meat as a main course was hardly even missed.

 

Palm Sunday was a significant day in our worship life. We would parade around the church to symbolize the people following Christ into Jerusalem. Following Slovak custom, the congregation carried pussy willows in lieu of palm branches since palm branches were not available in Czechoslovakia but pussy willows were indigenous to the regions where my parents had grown up.

 

Sometime during the week, it was the tradition of the St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholc Church, which was predominately a Slovak congregation, to show a movie of the Passion of Christ. This was a custom in most Slovak churches, some showed movies, some put on plays especially if they had schools associated with the church. The movies were in the Slovak language with English subtitles. The plays were done in the Slovak language with alternate times for the English language. I remember being fascinated with the story of this great individual who personified goodness and kindness and in his preachings urged people to do likewise. As the movie progressed it showed the triumphant entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on the back of the mule to the cheers and admiration of the people. The movie also showed the change in attitude toward Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. I remember watching the film with fascination and wondering how this good man could have been forced to endure all those things. I remember looking at my mother for an explanation but I did not ask any questions since there were tears rolling down her face.

 

Good Friday was usually observed by a service at 3:00pm at the church, which approximated the time that Jesus Christ was purported to have died. Time from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday was very somber.

 

On Saturday there was a blessing of Easter baskets at the church, held around 4:00pm. I remember the easter basket to be similar to a woven laundry basket with a large handle. The baskets were filled with many goodies. They included the traditional ham (schunka) and kolbasi, which were often cooked together. There were at least a half-dozen hard-boiled eggs which had intricate designs on the shells. I recall my mother spending hours with heated wax and using a toothpick to create the unique designs. There was also the traditional paska, a woven bread usually with a dough cross on the top, homemade cheese (cier) which my mom made and hung on the kitchen faucet to dry and form into a round ball. There were kolachi, nut, poppy seed, apricot which my mother made. My mother would also include softened butter that was put in a rounded dish, the butter had a cross carved into the top. She also included a small dish of salt in the basket. The basket was covered with a white linen, intricately crocheted and starched. I remember walking to the church taking turns carrying the basket between my mother, Pete and I. The covers were pulled back and a 1-inch candle was placed near the edge of the basket and lit. The priest would recite prayers as he would bless the baskets and the food they contained. After the service the women would extinguish the candles and we would return home with our basket. The baskets and the food were a matter of pride to the women who brought them to the church and their efforts.

 

Easter Sunday was a joyous time since it culminated the somber six weeks of Lent. We would make our way to the church with a festive mood of anticipation. Most of the people had dressed in their finest new clothes, especially the women and girls. There was uplifting singing by the choir and congregation as well as the prayers. The priest in his sermon would tell the joyous story of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

 

After the service, the people would remain to meet and greet each other with the phrase “Christos vos kres” (Christ is risen).

 

These many, many years later I recall those joyous and festive days fondly.

 

 

 

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