Over the past twenty years, faith and religion have experienced resurgence in the post-soviet territory despite the decades of atheism enforced by communists.
With the Church’s role expanding, besides religious practices for the faithful, it’s become another means of influencing the masses.
For politicians, religious holidays are a chance to send messages to their nations within holiday greetings.
“The Church significantly contributes to solving current social issues,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his greetings to Russians celebrating Easter Sunday.
He attended the service at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral on Saturday and didn’t miss a chance to stress his loyalty to the Russian Orthodox Church:
“It is important to point to the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in maintaining civil peace and accord in Russia and developing inter-confessional and inter-ethnic dialogue.”
The government’s cozy ties with the Church have been demonstrated to the entire world by the Pussy Riot case, in which the punk-rock band was tried as criminals for singing an anti-Putin prayer in a cathedral.
Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych decided to spend the Easter weekend in Crimea, the southern part of Ukraine, famous for being a vacation destination.
He didn’t leave his citizens without greetings.
“Christ is Risen, dear compatriots!” he said in a statement issued by his press service.
Yanukovych thanked Ukrainians for honest work and praised mothers for tendering children.
“Gratitude to God for helping us celebrate one more Easter,” the president’s statement addressed the country of 45.7 million, whose economy and financial health is on the brink of crisis with, reportedly, no funds in the state budget.
Many Ukrainians are not aware of the severity because Yanukovych’s government promotes the idea that the president created stability and has made overall improvements during his presidential term.
This time the president, however, has a point: without much hope for positive changes, Ukrainians simply need to thank God for helping them to live through another Easter celebration.
Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, issued an uncreative statement that could be mistaken for a speech by some General Secretary of the Communist Party in the USSR, with the word Easter replaced by “The Great Bolshevik Revolution Day”:
“Easter unites people; it inspires them to creative labor and new achievements for the benefit of the Fatherland,” he said.
At the same time, President Obama, in a statement issued by the White House, greeted the faithful saying that this joyful holiday is also a reminder of the sacrifice Christ made “so that we might have eternal life” and reminded us of his decision to choose love in the face of hate.
Obama stated that this year had a special importance “as members of the Orthodox community have been confronted with persecution and violence, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.”
With the war in the Middle East, Obama has his own audience to address on Orthodox Easter — just like Putin, Yanukovych and Lukashenko.
For decades the Soviet government, in its effort to deracinate religion (“Religion is the opium of the people”, said Karl Marx), has destroyed many churches and prosecuted believers.
Since the 90s, religion and holiday traditions have made their way back into households.
Today, thousands of people line up for Easter processions and make pilgrimages to old monasteries and churches that either survived Soviet times or have been restored.
While it’s interesting to see how each president finds his own way to address their nations on the most important day on the Christian Orthodox calendar, for people in Russia and Ukraine the Easter weekend is a time to make cakes, decorate eggs and celebrate with family and friends.
This year Orthodox Easter coincides with May Day – a holiday that is still widely celebrated in Eastern Europe.
It is also very close to Victory Day, May 9th, the day that marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in the Second World War.
This line-up of holidays at the beginning of May gives people almost ten days off of work (a perk that might inspire envy in many industrious people in the US).
Happy holidays to all Eastern European comrades!