Along with billions of Christians worldwide, Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics living in Azerbaijan – a Muslim-majority country alongside the Caspian Sea – celebrated Easter this past Sunday.
As the most important holiday for Christians, Easter Sunday brought together believers in the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity’s central figure. Roughly 1,500 Orthodox Christians flocked to the Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral in Baku between Saturday and Sunday, where the faithful joined in festive processions at midnight, singing hymns and participating in a liturgy that lasted until morning.
The Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral houses a shrine with relics believed to be those of St. Bartholomew, one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. According to one tradition, Bartholomew was crucified near Maiden Tower, a UNESCO world heritage site, in downtown Baku.
The flow of people celebrating Easter did not stop Sunday morning. Many congregants brought bright and beautifully decorated baskets filled with painted Easter eggs, meant to symbolize the empty tomb found by Jesus’ followers on the morning of the first Easter, along with kulich, an traditional Orthodox specialty bread prepared at Easter time. After the Easter service, the baskets of eggs and kuliches were blessed by a priest in the churchyard.
Irina, age 38, and her little baby girl went to Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral to celebrate Easter, and afterward spoke to Caspian News.
“We celebrate Easter each year, as this is a very big holiday for us. Following a tradition that goes back to ancient times, we clean the house on Thursday and cook kuliches on Friday. On Sunday, we gather with family and visit friends, and exchange kuliches. My husband is an Englishman, so we also celebrate his Easter, which coincided with the Orthodox Easter this year,” Irina said.
The Christian Orthodox date for Easter Sunday often occurs at a later date than that observed by all other denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, because Orthodox churches use the Julian, rather than Gregorian, calendar. This year the dates for Easter on the two calendars coincided, and will not happen again until 2025.
The Roman Catholic Church of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, also located in Baku, saw its celebrations Eastern morning with a service first held in English, followed by another with Russian-speaking Catholics.
There dozens of children could be seen running throughout the churchyard looking for the Easter eggs, hidden earlier by adults, under trees and bushes. Church services saw gatherings of adults, who sang hymns and prayed for world peace throughout the hour-long mass.
Clara, a Slovakian who has been living in Baku for six months, was among the church congregants Easter morning.
“I take this holiday in a deep way. For me personally it is the greatest holiday of all. Not Christmas, Christmas is a holiday of joy, but Easter is a holiday of salvation. By his grace and resurrection Jesus opened up the heaven for us. Easter is a new beginning for me, because by his grace Jesus gave us a second chance,” Clara told Caspian News. “So, if I believe, if I want to change my life, if I want to amend my life, this is a chance to start,” she added, reflecting the dominant and central theme to Christian theology that states Jesus’ death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday is what saves mankind.
Clara also stressed that Azerbaijan is very tolerant of religious minorities.
“Being a Muslim country, Azerbaijan accepts everyone. In this country, I’ve never felt afraid of my faith as a Christian. I’m telling everyone that I’m a Christian, and everyone has been respectful. So even as a Muslim country, Azerbaijan has been very welcoming to other religions, and this is something that makes me feel good in my heart. I can live in this country and walk in the streets of Baku at night, and I feel safe,” she explained.
Azerbaijan, a country along the western coast of the Caspian Sea with Russia to its north and Iran to its south, is a Shia Muslim majority country but constitutionally secular. With a population of about 9.8 million, it is home to over a quarter million Christians, as well as Jews and other religion minorities.
Orthodox, Roman Catholic Christians Celebrate Easter In Baku