Monday, May 2, 2011

Paștele Morților (Easter of the Dead)

Yesterday was a very special day in Moldova-- Paștele Morților, which means the Easter of the Dead.

Easter of the Dead is a holiday celebrated by the Orthodox church (which makes up 98% of the population) on the Sunday after Easter and the following Monday. Everyone gathers in the cemetery where their loved ones are buried and they bring wine, juice, traditional braided bread (called colac), special easter bread (called pasca), cookies, candies, dyed eggs, and anything else you could want to eat. There are tables and benches near almost every grave, and families spend the better part of two days just hanging out in the cemetery eating and drinking.

At some graves, there are several generations gathered, and the day seemed more like a celebration of the person's life and legacy, but at other graves, there is only a lonely widow or widower. One woman told me (if I understood her Romanian correctly) through tears about her husband and 30 year-old daughter who died only 20 days apart.

They do all of this for the sake of their dead loved ones, who they believe live in what they call "the other world" (something akin to the purgatory of Catholicism but not as well defined). According to tradition, the loved ones will somehow receive the gifts placed on their graves, which will make their lives in the other world more comfortable. They also put dishes, towels, money, and other things on the grave that they think the person may need; one man's grave even had a brand new polo shirt on it. Not to honor departed family members in this way brings great shame because the dead are left in the other world without comfort.

Eventually, the local Orthodox priest comes, walks around the perimeter of the cemetery three times, and then goes to every grave. At each grave, someone hands him a cup of wine, which he pours out on the grave in the shape of a cross while he says a blessing on both the food and the person buried.

Then he takes a small paintbrush and vial of holy water and brushes crosses on all of the family's heads while blessing them. For many of the children, he puts his hand on their head and says an extra blessing. A woman follows him singing Gregorian-like chants, and behind her are two guys carrying a large basket for people to donate some of their food to the priest. Once everything and everybody gets blessed, they begin sharing portions of what is on the graves with others on behalf of the deceased.

As a tourist, it was a beautiful, fascinating glimpse into their culture, but as a Christian, it was heart-wrenching. The very idea that a “Christian” would need to be comforted after death demonstrates the hopelessness of the Orthodox “gospel.” Those of us with the assurance that comes from believing in the biblical gospel of salvation through Christ alone by faith alone, rather than the Orthodox gospel of works, know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8), and there is no greater joy and comfort than to be in His presence.

Please continue to pray with us for the people of Moldova, that the true gospel would spread here and that the people would experience the hope of Christ.

You can view the rest of my pictures from Easter of the Dead here.


  1. what a great look into their culture. very interesting and very sad indeed.

  2. That would have been a fascinating thing to see! I agree that it is sad, too, though. I can't imagine how hard it would be to believe that people needed these gifts to be comfortable after death. I'm glad I can know where my loved ones are and that they are happy.

  3. What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing such an intimate glimpse into the culture of the people with whom you are sharing life.

    Your photos are wonderful.

    And you are right. There is a heart-wrenching aspect to the custom. It is definitely something for us to pray about.