Conflicting traditions

Easter here this year was almost normal, but for the people of Ukraine it is another matter. With churches in ruins thanks to the invading Russian army, Easter is a sombre affair. The crisis, simmering since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, boiled over into this latest escalation.

The peninsula has a long history of trouble and, following the 1880s Crimean War, battles there have been memorialised in SA places such as Balaklava, Inkerman and the Alma Hotel.

Oddly, that shambolic waste of blood and treasure was sparked by Catholic and Orthodox Christian monks in Jerusalem attacking one another with crosses and candlesticks over the right to hold the keys to the Holy Sepulchre.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Malmesbury described the “melancholy spectacle” of rival churches fighting “in the very place where Christ died for mankind”.

The political tensions that spread from this tussle in the Holy Lands foreshadowed two world wars. And perhaps, God forbid, a third?

A millennium ago Vladimir the Great, needing a religion to unite the people, sent envoys to see what his options were.

They reported that the Jews had lost Jerusalem, so Vlad wrote them off as losers. The Muslims were dour and didn’t drink, which he dismissed as ridiculous. He settled on Christianity, specifically the Eastern Orthodox brand.

Today there are many religions in Ukraine but the predominant one remains Eastern Orthodox.

Using a different calendar to calculate the date of Easter the church this year celebrates it on Sunday.

There may be fewer spit-roast lamb feasts this year but the traditional painted eggs, pysanky, may be more important than ever.

The recent troubles have given new life to that ancient tradition, with decorating and dying eggs a simple gesture of peace.

For much of the 20th century, “pysanky writing” was outlawed in Ukraine by the atheist Soviets but, since independence in 1991, the tradition has experienced a resurgence.

The eggs pre-date the Easter holiday, representing a way to conquer evil, with pysanky-making purported to bind an evil beast in chains to prevent it destroying the world.

For the people of Ukraine this Easter, that beast must look a lot like a Russian bear.