Father Jaroslav speaks Ruthenian, his mother tongue, with the villagers. He uses Slovak in church because people from outside the village also attend liturgy, and he admits that sometimes he has to search for the right expression in that language. Because few people understand the traditional Church Slavonic used in liturgies, Slovak liturgies are more common. And there are Greek Catholics, like Adriana, who speak only Slovak.
Although Presov radio offers a daily Ruthenian program, says Father Jaroslav, the language is becoming Slovakicized. Some Ruthenian parents now speak only Slovak at home to avoid problems for their children later in school. And when the Matolaks have children? Slovak will be their mother tongue, answers Adriana, as her husband gives her a fond smile.
It is three in the morning on Easter Day. Light spills from the church as the last villagers hurry in, carrying their baskets. Blanka and I thread our way though the overflowing crowd as the congregation starts to sing. Once inside, we are both momentarily stunned. The benches on the right side of the church are gone and the floor there is chock-a-block with baskets in all shapes and sizes, all filled with bread, eggs, butter, salt, sausages, ham, cheese and sweets to be blessed. The smells are tantalizing and I am unable to resist stealing peeks at this paschal collage of baskets.
The blessing and liturgy finished, the baskets seem to melt away as the villagers pounce on theirs and carry them into the night. Hours later at breakfast, we learn the reason for the rush: local custom dictates that the faster you make it home with your basket, the faster you will finish your work all year long.
We enjoy Easter breakfast at the one-room museum with some village women, who bring homemade bread, butter, ham, sausages and cheese, plus eggs, salt and cognac. When we stand for grace, two of the women, recently widowed, fight back tears. After a toast with cognac, one of the women nicks each side of the bread loaf, then slices it. This ensures that there will be bread all year. She also makes a cross on the butter. Everyone then takes a pinch of salt and rubs it on her eyebrows to stay healthy. They show me the red-and-white striped, woven cloth to carry the paschal bread and other food for blessing, used in the days when people had big families and still made large loaves of bread.
Despite the early morning chill and fog, the day turns bright and glorious. By late morning, one corner of the churchyard, crowded with baby carriages and parents, has become a nursery al fresco. All, even the babies, are dressed in their finest for the Easter Divine Liturgy.
After the liturgy, the parishioners file through the left arch of the iconostasis, where the priest uses myrrh to make the sign of the Cross on their foreheads. Then an altar boy places tiny cubes of blessed bread into their hands as they exit.
Our pew is last when Adriana invites us to join her in receiving a blessing from her priest husband. Outside parishioners mill about, exchanging Easter greetings Christos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese! and bread, a token that all will meet again in heaven. There are Jozef, Lubomira and shy Slavko, Anna and Maria and the mayors secretary and other villagers whom we have met during the weekend.
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Tags: Village life Easter Carpatho-Rusyn Slovakia Central Europe