She handed them to Charalambopoulos, who rubbed each egg with oil-soaked paper towels.

"It gives them that lovely shine," she said, placing them in cartons to dry.

Both see the job as a privilege. Charalambopoulos took it up in 2004, just after her father died, as a tribute to him.

Theoharis joined her, vowing to do the coloring every year.

"I do it for the health of my children, and I'll do it till the day I die," she said.

The process was both serious and fun. The friends discussed how they'd improved their technique over the years — they use brown eggs, not white, because they learned white eggs come out fuchsia — and the significance of the color red and its relation to Christ bleeding on the cross.

Fellow member John Korologos said much of the fun of the tradition has to do with the egg-cracking game.

After the Easter service, every man, woman and child has a red egg, he said, and the custom is to hold it in one's fist as though in an egg cup.

The member then approaches someone else and taps the top of their egg against the bottom of their foe's.

If your egg cracks, you're out; if not, you go on to your next victim. The last one holding an intact egg is the winner.

"It means your faith is the strongest. It means you have bragging rights. You're the man," Korologos said — adding that women and children actually win as often as men.

Those who had been fasting for Lent might not have eaten eggs, meat or dairy products for weeks. So when they eat their eggs, it represents the completion of a sacrifice and the reward of a fuller life.

If bunnies and baskets obscure the real meaning of the day, the red egg embodies it.

By eating that egg, Pastrikos said, believers become one with Easter.

"It's the holiest of holy times," he said. "To us, that isn't just symbolic. It's something you experience."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com