Maslenitsa (Forgiveness Sunday) in the Eastern Orthodox Church Date in the current year: March 17, 2024

Maslenitsa (Forgiveness Sunday) in the Eastern Orthodox Church Maslenitsa in an Eastern Orthodox movable feast celebrated during the last week before Great Lent. It basically corresponds to the Western Christian Carnival, although there are some differences.

Both Carnival and Maslenitsa precede the liturgical season of Lent (referred to as Great Lent in the Eastern Orthodox Church). Lent is a period of fasting which prepares Christians for the celebration of Easter. The difference between Lent in Western Christianity and Great Lent in Eastern Christianity lies in the timing and practices.

For Christians, Maslenitsa and Carnival represent the last chance to eat rich foods and partake in social activities which are considered inappropriate during the Lenten season. The dates of both celebrations depend on the date of Easter. As Western and Eastern churches calculate the date of Easter using different calendars and formulae, Carnival and Maslenitsa do not coincide. In addition, Carnival usually culminates on a Tuesday (known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras), while Maslenitsa culminates on a Sunday.

Maslenitsa is celebrated during the entire last week before Great Lent. This week is usually referred to as Cheesefare Week, Butter Week or Crêpe Week. Maslenitsa is both a religious and folk holiday as it combines Christian and pagan customs and rituals. In fact, some researchers claim that Maslenitsa may be the oldest surviving Slavic pagan holiday.

In Slavic mythology, Maslenitsa was a celebration of the end of winter and the coming of spring. It was personified by Veles (Volos), the god of earth, water, harvest, cattle, and the underworld. As far as Christianity is concerned, Maslenitsa is the last week during which eggs and dairy products are permitted, whereas meat is already forbidden.

The most characteristic food of the holiday is blini (also spelled bliny), a type of thin pancake similar to French crêpes. They are usually served with sour cream, jam, or caviar. It is also customary to fold them or roll them into a tube with various fillings such as cottage cheese, chopped mushrooms, chopped boiled eggs, mashed potatoes and others. Meat-filled blini are rarely eaten because Orthodox Christians start abstaining from meet during the Cheesefare Week.

The Maslenitsa week is a time of fun and enjoyment. Traditional activities include fairs, sleigh rides, snowball fights, and various games and competitions such as climbing a greased pole for a prize. The culmination of the pre-Lenten week is Forgiveness Sunday. On this day, people ask their relatives and friends for forgiveness. The best-known tradition of Forgiveness Sunday is the burning of the effigy of Lady Maslenitsa, similar to the Burial of the Sardine in Spain. It symbolizes the death of winter and the rebirth of spring.

During Soviet times, Maslenitsa wasn’t celebrated officially because religious holidays were forbidden. However, many families observed it by preparing blini with all sorts of fillings. Outdoor celebrations of Maslenitsa resumed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since most people who participate in these celebrations are not religious, shashlik (grilled meat) has become widely associated with Maslenitsa.

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