Kalo Pascha! Happy Easter!
Easter greetings to our friends and family around the world! We are so thankful for the wonderful good news of Christ’s resurrection and living in Greece has given us a new appreciation of what Easter is all about. This is the most important religious holiday in Greece. The observance of Easter begins with Lent (40 days prior to Easter Sunday when a period of fasting begins). During Holy Week prior to Easter, the Greek Orthodox community partakes in many traditional services that lead up to Resurrection Sunday.
- On Holy Tuesday, housewives make sweet rolls, the koulourakia, and the following day they do the housework, while in the evening they follow the blessing of Holy Oil that takes place in church.
- Holy Thursday is the day for dyeing eggs which are dyed a deep scarlet color to signify the redeeming blood of Christ shed on the cross. These eggs are also used to decorate the traditional Easter bread called Tsoureki. In the evening, after the reading of the 12 Gospel, the girls undertake the decoration of the bier of Christ (epitaphios) with garlands of white and purple flowers, so that in the morning of Good Friday it is ready to receive the image of the body of Christ when He is taken down from the cross.
- Good Friday, or Megali Paraskevi, is a day of mourning. The drama of the death of Christ is followed with great devoutness. Sweet things are not eaten-for the love of Christ, who was given vinegar to drink. Soup made with sesame-paste, lettuce or lentils with vinegar is the food eaten on this day. It is considered a great sin to work with a hammer or nails or sew on Good Friday.
- Vesper evening on Good Friday is followed by the procession of the bier (representing Christ’s funeral). A band or choir playing or singing solemn music precedes the procession; they are followed by the cantors, the clergy, women bearing myrrh, the altar boys carrying the liturgical fans, scouts and guides, and the people of the region, who sing the hymns throughout the procession. All along its route, people scatter flowers and perfumes on the epitaphios (bier), holding lighted candles in their hands.* (It’s quite beautiful to see the long lines of moving candles flickering in the night as people follow the processional through their village.) *from Sfakia-Crete website
On Holy Saturday evening, the Resurrection mass takes place. This year I attended the mass with friends at a beautiful monestary in Hania. We entered the chapel in complete darkness and slience. After some readings by the priest and singing by the psalters, the lighting of the candles began. This moment at midnight is the most significant event of the year. The priest came from behind the center altar with his candle lit (with the holy light from Jerusalem.) He lit the nuns’ candles first and as they moved down the center aisle to the outer courtyard we all lit our candles from theirs signifying receiving the light of the resurrection. As the flame was passed from person to person, the light filled the church. Everyone left the church just before midnight, singing a song that translated, “Jesus Christ has risen from the dead,” and moved into the pristine little courtyard under the large orange trees fragrant with their blossoms. The solemn faces changed to smiles as the greeting, “Christos anesti!” (Christ is risen!) could be hear throughout the crowd. It was a very touching moment.