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16 Apr

Khrystos voskres! – It’s been a while since I’ve written, but today being Easter, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the holiday. I have a number of very disparate things to say, so I don’t know how well this entry is going to hold together, but I’ll give it a shot.

“Every year on Easter I try to take time to think about the holiday and the reason for it, but I don’t think I’ve ever made those thoughts public.”

Easter has never been as emotional a holiday for me as Christmas. But this year was a little different. I’m not sure why I suddenly decided to do something traditional now, ten and a half years after coming to Korea. Why not before? Why not from the very beginning? What is it about this year that has caused me to seek the roots that I had forgotten about for so long? Am I trying to prepare myself for an eventual return to the States? Am I trying to “find myself” again?

I don’t really know why, but it seems to have begun with this past Christmas and the little Christmas tree my wife and I decided to decorate. I was shocked at how this little tree managed to stir up so much memory and emotion that had been lying dormant at the bottom of my soul. Apparently this sediment still hasn’t settled, because this year I decided to do something traditional for Easter. No, we didn’t color or hide eggs. Yeah, my family did that when my brothers and I were younger, but it’s something that children do. We don’t have any children yet, so I haven’t felt any real desire to color and hide eggs.

What I did do was bake paska, a Ukrainian Easter bread. I had a meeting to attend in Seoul yesterday morning, and when I got home at around five in the afternoon I went immediately to the internet and started looking for paska recipes. I got a general idea of how the bread was made and then whipped up a version for my bread machine (I’ve gotten very good at adapting recipes to the machine). Just in case you were interested, even though it is a bit late for Easter this year, here’s what I came up with.

Paska (Easter Bread)

Of course, you have to use the dough cycle for this, as we’re going to be shaping, decorating, and baking the bread separately. Two comments on the ingredients here. Firstly, the amount of milk will depend on how large the eggs are—I use eggs straight from our chickens, and they happen to be on the small side, so I used more milk. The dough should be moist, but not so moist that it sticks, so adjust the amount of milk as necessary (I would recommend starting with 160 ml and then adding milk as necessary after the mixing starts). Secondly, I listed the ingredients in the order that I added them to the machine. Usually (at least in my machine), liquid ingredients go in before dry ingredients, but I deliberately added the lemon juice after the flour to keep it separate from the milk—I didn’t want it to start curdling while I was adding the flour and yeast. It probably wouldn’t have made too much of a difference, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.

When the dough cycle finishes, turn the dough out into a greased or oiled bowl, flip it over to make sure it’s completely covered in oil, and then cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough double (approximately 45 minutes at room temperature). After the dough has doubled, punch it down and shape it into two round loaves (leaving some dough for the decorations) on a baking pan. Now, traditional Ukrainian paska can be very elaborately decorated, but the most basic of decorations is the cross. Since this was my first time making paska, I decided to keep it simple. Make two braids of dough per loaf and lay them crosswise on top (you may have to wet the ends so the braids stick to the loaf). Then cover the loaves and let them rise again at room temperature. (I let them rise for an hour).

Preheat an oven to 180° C. Then beat an egg and brush the loaves with it. If you use only the egg yolk (with a little water) you’ll get a darker glaze, but I used the whole egg. Then bake the loaves for 30 minutes. You should end up with something like this:

Traditional Ukrainian Easter bread

As you can see, I probably could have been a bit more thorough with the egg glaze, and the lower braids on both loaves split because the bread rose so much (and possibly because the braids were relatively thin), but all in all it was a success. According to Ukrainian tradition, paska is usually the centerpiece of a basket of Easter food that is brought to church on Easter morning. All the baskets are blessed by the priest as everyone sings “Khrystos Voskres!”—a Ukrainian Easter hymn that translates to “Christ is risen!” (This has some samples of “Khrystos Voskres!” sung by the Kyiv (Kiev) Chamber Choir—they are really beautiful if you enjoy hymns.)

“Khrystos voskres!” is also the traditional Ukrainian Easter greeting, and it is answered with “Voistynou voskres” (“Indeed, he is risen). I remember my grandmother teaching me this when I was young, but I had long since forgotten it and had to look it up on the internet. Yet as soon as I saw the words, I could hear her voice saying them. She also introduced me to paska, and when I took my first bite of my paska this morning it tasted just as I had remembered it. I immediately thought of my grandmother, and tears came to my eyes. To be honest, I’m holding back tears as I write this. My grandmother died a long time ago, when I was in high school, but sometimes when I think of her the tears well up like it was just yesterday. I made paska this year to celebrate Easter, but I also made it to remember my grandmother, and maybe to celebrate one small part of my heritage.

I’m sure the paska helped in celebrating Easter, but I’ve also been much more religious this year than I have in years past. Every year on Easter I try to take time to think about the holiday and the reason for it, but I don’t think I’ve ever made those thoughts public. I read an interesting Easter meditation posted by the Big Hominid yesterday and, as usual, it got me thinking. Kevin quotes a short essay by Alan Watts entitled “Wash Out Your Mouth.” It is short and worth a quick read, especially if you want to follow my comments on it. While I’m pretty sure I understand where Watts is coming from, I’m not sure if I completely understand what he is trying to say, or if I agree with it.

Watts claims that “we are spiritually paralyzed by the fetish of Jesus.” I do understand what he means here, and I agree with him to an extent, but probably not in the way that he intended. But I’ll get back to that. He goes on to say, “Poor Jesus! If he had known how great an authority was to be projected upon him, he would never have said a word.” This strikes me as the point of view of someone who believes that Jesus was only a man and not also God, so obviously I disagree here—I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew the weight his words would carry and how they would be interpreted (or misinterpreted). Watts finishes up with this statement, which summarizes his point fairly well: “The Crucifixion gives eternal life because it is the giving up of God as an object to be possessed, known, and held to for one’s own safety.”

As I said above, I’m not sure if I fully understand what Watts is saying, but I believe that he draws a distinction between the historical Jesus as a man and God as a deity. For Christians, there is no disparity between the two, because Jesus was both a man and God who was crucified and then resurrected. And this resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith, because it is the precursor of the resurrection of the saints. As Paul said: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (I Corinthians 15:19). That is, if Jesus Christ truly was just a man and was not resurrected, then Watts is right (as are many others who say this is precisely the case). But I believe that Jesus was resurrected, and that the Jesus who lived on earth is the same Jesus who lives today (Hebrews 13:8).

I agree that the “idea” of Jesus should not be fetishized, but I disagree that we should not cling to Jesus. For someone who does not believe that Jesus is the living God, it makes sense to not cling to him, but for someone who does believe that Jesus is the living God, it makes no sense not to cling to him. Also, Watts was trying to apply Zen philosophy to Christianity, which may be fine for him, but doesn’t really work for me. I think there is plenty to learn from Zen, but Jesus is more than just a Zen master to me. Watts would probably call my view “fetishism,” but I suppose that’s inevitable considering the irreconcilable differences of our points of view.

Kevin ended the post with a brief thought: “Just live your life, and your life will be sermon enough. Leave piety-- especially public piety-- for the self-righteous.” I agree that our lives should be sermons enough. But are they? How many Christians, myself included, really live our sermons? To be perfectly honest, for all my recent reconnecting with my religion, I am still far from living what I believe. I talk about it a lot, but I’m still nowhere near where I need to be. This is the challenge of Christianity: if we truly live what we believe, our lives will speak for us. We only carry on when our lives are silent. Hmm.

I was intrigued by the second sentence of Kevin’s thought. If he hadn’t mentioned public piety, I probably wouldn’t have even blinked. But by mentioning public piety with the modifier “especially,” he includes private piety in that which should be avoided. Being the linguistically meticulous person I am, I decided to look up “piety” in the OED to see what it said. This is from the first definition:

...characterized by or showing reverence and obedience to God (or the gods); faithful to religious duties and observances; devout, godly, religious.

I was rather surprised by this definition, because the first part—“characterized by or showing reverence and obedience to God (or the gods)—is talking about something completely different from the second part—“faithful to religious duties and observances.” I have a feeling that the piety Kevin is referring to (and the impression that most of us get when hearing the word “piety”) is the second type of piety. The first sense of the word would seem to be how we should live our lives, both in public and in private. By honoring God and being obedient to him in our lives, we are living what we believe—living our sermons. But if piety is no more than empty duties and observances—the piety of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, for example—then we are most definitely not living our sermons (and I would go even further to say that the empty sort of piety is only public, for if our only goal is to win favor with men, then there is no need to practice it in private).

I had a lot on my mind today, and this is just a quick discussion of two subjects. I think it’s good that I’m searching for my roots even as I am growing upward and branching outward. I appreciate Kevin’s post, as it made me think about what today really means to me. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a happy Easter, whether you celebrate the holiday or not.

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