Easter Blessings – Food for the Soul

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This Easter weekend I returned to my Ukrainian roots and took part in the Blessing of Easter baskets.  Easter and the Holy Week leading up to it, has always been a very special time of year for me.  Growing up in the Ukrainian Catholic faith, we had so many faith-filled traditions with deep-rooted meaning and many involving food.   I still have fond memories of all of our extended family celebrating at the table with the basket of blessed food.

As a dietitian, Easter is a good reminder to me that food is so much more than nourishment.  Sharing food is also about human connection.  It is a way that people connect on a social and cultural level.  Sharing meals establishes a sense of stability, security, togetherness and belonging that not only benefits children but adults as well.

The day before Easter on Holy Saturday, Ukrainians prepare a basket of food for their families and then have it blessed by the priest at their church. The Easter basket symbolizes the joy and gratitude marking the end of Lent.  After the Easter Sunday Divine Liturgy the food is eaten in celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.  Not a morsel of food is thrown away because everything is blessed.  (Even the egg shells are ground up and often put in the dirt outside with the plants.)  The basket contains specific foods and items that symbolize different aspects of our Christian faith:

Pascha: 

  • symbolizes Jesus Christ and the joy of the new life He has given to us
  • a sweet white bread rich in eggs decorated with braids, crosses, etc.

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Candle: 

  • symbolizes Christ as “the light of the world”
  • made of beeswax and lit during the blessing

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Eggs:

  • symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection
  • Pysanky are intricately decorated eggs

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  • Krashanky are hard-boiled eggs often dyed and meant to be eaten

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Butter: 

  • symbolizes the goodness of Christ which we need to reflect to others

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Ham: 

  • symbolizes the great joy and abundance of Easter

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Kobasa:

  • symbolizes God’s favour and generousity

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Cottage Cheese:

  • the blandness symbolizes the moderation that we should cultivate in our daily lives

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Salt:

  • symbolizes that we are followers of Christ and the meaning of life is to live according to the Gospel
  • a reminder of Christ’s words: “You are the salt of the earth.”

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Horseradish:

  • symbolizes the passion and death of Christ and the bitterness of sin

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Embroidered Cloth Cover: 

  • symbolizes Christ’s shroud (white linen)
  • (this cloth is usually embroidered with an image of the risen Christ, a cross or other appropriate symbol or words)

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I feel blessed to have a heritage so rich in customs and traditions that has brought me so many fond childhood memories.  Whatever your culture or customs may be, I encourage you to keep them alive with your family and pass on these beautiful and meaningful traditions to your children!

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What Spirituality means to Me

fallpic2I’m often asked about my spirituality but struggle to verbally express what it is and how it continues to transform my life. Therefore, I’m writing this now to organize my thoughts and allow those that are interested to hear my experience.

My parents exposed me to God at a young age by teaching me their understanding and experience of religion and giving me the tools to learn more. However, because faith is a personal journey every person will come to a point in their lives (like I did) where they will question and explore their own personal beliefs.  This leads to a rediscovery of their relationship with God on their own in a whole new and exciting way.  This personal piece adds a new layer to that base my parents gave me and is what makes spirituality so fulfilling.  I’m grateful for my childhood exposure to faith and spirituality because otherwise I don’t know if I would have considered exploring it further as an adult.  As a mother now, I want to pass this “gift” of faith on to my own children.

Over the past few decades it appears that religion is on the decline… self-focused spirituality has become increasingly more popular.  Meditation techniques like the mindfulness movement offers are everywhere from psychological therapy to nutritional counselling to exercise classes. I have seen great benefit to utilizing some of these mindfulness techniques in practice.  However, in my own experience they are not replacements for the fullness of a God-focused spirituality.  They are tools that can help with or without faith and religion.  However, personally I found simply using mindfulness practices without God still left me with a sense of emptiness and restlessness.  A God-focused spirituality provides me with so much more meaning and fullness to life…  God is love.  God is mercy.  God is peace.  

What God has done in my life:

Resiliency.  Even in difficulties and stressful times God is always present with me and prayer offers a genuine connection which helps me to cope.  Emotions and feelings are a part of our humanness so it’s not an expectation for God to take them away.  And God does want us to reach out to the people in our lives for support.  However also reaching out to God in prayer allows me to feel connected and not overwhelmed by these emotions/feelings because I’m never left to deal with them alone.  Inviting God to be with me provides a sense of hope that prevents despair.

Guidance.  When faced with difficult decisions, remembering to pray for guidance has been life-changing.  It might not be immediate but after praying I will feel more compelled to one choice or the other.  As added reassurance then I often experience a great peace about that choice before I officially make the final decision.

Imperfection.  Motherhood has taught me more about my issue with perfectionism than any other life experience (I have 3 boys haha). Being a mother you are undeniably forced to let go of control and nothing has helped me more than being able to offer my worries to God.  But knowing that God is in control and not me allows for a whole new level of freedom.  This is where true peace is felt.

Joy.  I’m a very task-oriented individual and feel the need to accomplish things in order to feel like I’ve achieved anything.  This can be a downfall in terms being too serious and not making time for fun with family and friends. Spirituality has helped me recognize that God actually wants us to be joyful.  Exploring and deepening my faith is exciting and actually increases my joy.  Spreading joy with the people in our lives is how God reaches others as well.

Good use of time.  I loved a comment by Pope Francis a few years ago when he stated to parents to “Waste time with your children.”  This was a good reminder that life is not just about achievements but more about our human connections.  God has taught me the importance being fully present with people and sharing my gift of time in simply being together.

Purpose.  Spirituality brings meaning to life: whether it is suffering, helping others, seeking meaningful work or volunteering.  I’m no saint but it helps me to look past my self and respond to the needs of others.  The old saying “it feels better to give than to receive” always prove to be true.

Empathy.  Spirituality reminds me that we are all on different journeys- we all have experienced different sufferings and joys that in some way have shaped us into who we are.  How can we judge anyone when we haven’t walked in their shoes?  This outlook allows our love for souls to grow.

Love & acceptance.  There was a time in my life where I felt heavily weighed down by the expectations of me by everyone in my life (including God).  Through prayer and discernment I realized that this was my own false perception of expectations I was placing on myself.  God actually has no expectations of me.  God just wants my love.  God loves me unconditionally no matter what I do or accomplish.   This was a life-changing revelation.

What’s next?

I have learned that faith in God is a life-long journey with no straight path.  There will always be struggles.  It will never be perfect.  However, I never regret continuing to explore and seek out where God is leading me.  It’s exciting to see and realize the events and people God places in my life are all for a reason.  And I will never be alone in my journey!

If you are searching, don’t worry about the logistics and details of what you want your faith to be or look like.  Just start with prayer – simply have an open and honest conversation with God about what is on your mind and heart♥.