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Romanian Easter

by Rev. George C. Muresan

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“Hristos a inviat!” (Christ is risen!)

“Adevarat a inviat!” (Truly He has risen!)

How joyously the Easter greeting and its response are exchanged in the Romanian community. Catholic or Orthodox, all share the greeting and the deep gladness it announces.

Following the Byzantine rite in the practice of their faith, Romanian Christians had been Orthodox for centuries. In 1700 the entire Church in Transylvania – the northwestern region of modern day Romania – returned to union with Rome. The reunion reaffirmed their identity as a Latin people who trace their origins to A.D. 101, when the Roman emperor Trajan sent imperial legions to conquer ancient Dacia in southeastern Europe.

Most of the Romanians who emigrated to the United States came from Transylvania; the name means “the land beyond the forests.” Of the cherished customs they brought with them, none are prized more than their religious traditions. Settling in areas where they could find work as unskilled laborers, they rapidly established parishes in which to worship God in their way. Sixteen parishes in the eastern United States, located in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, now serve the spiritual needs of 2,000 Romanian Catholics. Their spiritual leader in the United States is Bishop Louis Puscas, an apostolic exarch, whose see is in Canton, Ohio.

With the approach of Easter, every household prepares for the glorious feast. Early on Easter Sunday morning, as dawn begins to lighten the sky, the Romanian Catholic family has already awakened. Those of Transylvanian ancestry, especially, repeat not only the joyful greeting and its response, but also the traditions learned from their parents and grandparents.

Children are reminded to wash their faces and hands in pure, cold water when they arise. Warm water with soap will come later. First, however, they must symbolize the purity of this great day by using the freshly drawn water. In it are a silver coin, reminiscent of the untarnished condition of the soul, and a reddyed Easter egg symbolizing the Blood of the Lamb. They are tokens that emphasize the dawn of a new life of the soul.

The family dresses without wasted motion. They are anxious to join other families in the still-darkened church, where the Resurrection Matins – the early morning service – is about to begin.

Vested in magnificent robes, the priest comes out of the sanctuary followed by his attendants. The congregation falls in behind, some helping to carry the Epitaphos, the cloth upon which the entombment of Christ is depicted. All carry lighted candles.

Outside the church a procession forms with priest and attendants in the lead. Solemnly, their hands shielding the sputtering candles from the early morning breeze, the faithful follow the priest as they circle the church three times, singing the stirring troparion of the Resurrection: “Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death with death, and granting life to those in the graves.”

Halting before the church entrance, all gather around the priest as he intones the opening verse of Psalm 68:

“Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered. As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish away; as wax melts before the fire, so the wicked perish when God approaches…”

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Tags: Cultural Identity Emigration Easter Romanian Greek Catholic Romanian Orthodox Church