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Feast of Triytsya in Ukraine — ancient roots and Christian connotations
The central event celebrated at the Feast of Triytsya (Most Holy Trinity; also called Pyatydesyatnytsya — Pentecost — celebrated on the eighth Sunday, or the fiftieth day, after Ester) is the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
This feast, though now thoroughly Christian in essence, has retained some features which reveal its ancient, pre-Christian, pagan descent. In Ukraine, Triytsya is closely associated with the pagan feast of Zeleni Svyata, or Green Holidays.
Orthodox Christians see in Triytsya a celebration of the fullness of God who opens Himself to man. It is with Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles that the New Testament Church came into being, a church as an institution that should bring all the nations and peoples to salvation. Pyatydesyatnytsya is a link between those unlettered, naove fishermen who were turned by Christ into sagacious apostles, and who then carried the word of God to peoples and nations. Orthodox Christians believe that they are direct descendants of the first Christians who are called upon to continue to spread the Word of God. Triytsya celebrates, in fact, a new era that began after the Descent of the Holy Spirit after the Savior had completed His mission on earth. Orthodox Christians believe that after his Ascension to heaven, Christ, as a part of the Trinity, sent the Holy Spirit down to earth to direct the church and its adepts to the righteous path, the path to eternity. On Pyatydesyatnytsya the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and those who were meek and undecided, found new strength, determination and resolution to start spreading the Word of God with zeal and vigor.
The above describes, in a nutshell, the essence of the religious feast of Triytsya, the way Orthodox Christians see it. As far as the “folk feast” of Zeleni Svyata — Green Holidays is concerned, it can be traced to its heathen roots. After the adoption of Christianity, Zeleni Svyata, which coincided with the Christian feast, was imposed upon, or eclipsed by it (in fact, there are several feasts on the Christian calendar which originally were of pagan origin). On Zeleni Svyata, the houses were decorated with herbs and flowers as part of a ritual of the plants that begin to blossom and flourish after the cold months. People used to bring various herbs to church, make a ring out of them and put a candle in the center. The candle was to burn during the service. The herbs thus blessed were used as charms against various diseases, and the candle, salvaged at the end of the service, was put into the hands of a deceased lying in state.
Zeleni Svyata is a feast of spring giving new life and thus welcoming the summer when nature seems to be celebrating its resurrection.
On the eve of Zeleni Svyata Sunday, the house, yard and barns were decorated with boughs with green leaves (such boughs used for decoration were called klechannya). Boughs and twigs were stuck into the straw roof, were draped around windows and around icons; fragrant grasses were strewn over the floors.
Zeleni Svyata must have been part of the cult of the sun cycles which in its turn was closely connected with land tilling. This cult also subsumed the cult of the dead ancestors, the cults of trees and flowers, which are among the most ancient cults known.
As late as the nineteenth century, such trees as oak, maple, ash, poplar, linden and birch were particularly revered; in some regions of Ukraine, it was forbidden to break branches off these trees.
Zeleni Svyata also reflect rituals connected with trees which were believed to be “sacred.” In some eastern regions, the poplar was such a sacred tree. A girl was chosen to personify the poplar — she was adorned with ribbons and flowers; her face was covered with a kerchief, her hands were tied to a stick and the girl was led thorough the streets of the village to the accompaniment of merry songs. Everyone who encountered this procession was greeted with good wishes for health, new offspring of the cattle, good harvest, and the people after receiving these greetings and wishes were obliged in their turn to give out some presents.
One of the songs sung at the poplar ritual, ran, in part, like this,
“There’s a poplar standing at the edge
of a field wide,
Stand there, poplar, stand firmly,
Do not bend to the strong wind…”
In the land of Polissya a similar ritual was performed but instead of the poplar it was the bush that played the central role — the bush was also personified by an appropriately dressed girl.
The Triytsya feast of old was celebrated during a whole week, with most of the action taking place in the forest or in the field. Often a pole, erected with a wheel fixed to its top end and decorated with branches, flowers and ribbons, was the focal point of the celebrations.
During Zeleni Svyata people paid visits to the graves of the relatives; the graves were decorated with herbs. At “memorial” feasts that took place at the cemeteries, the ancestors and dead relatives were honored and remembered. This ritual can be observed in our days too.
The Christian Church has not rejected some of these traditions but incorporated them in its own rituals. The new leaves, flowers and grasses symbolize the homage being paid to the resurrection of nature, and thus to God, and also the very Church itself that flourishes and blossoms, as “a flower that reminds us of being renovated by the Holy Spirit.”
Photos by Dmytro REDCHUK