Today is Good Friday for Orthodox Christians all over the world. Spiritually, it is the darkest day of the entire year, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and His death. Here in Greece, the heavy, bass tones of church bells ring slowly throughout the day, pausing seconds in between, in a solemn mood of mourning.
At night, during the Service of Lamentation, the Epitaphio (the symbolic bier of Christ), richly decorated with spring flowers and bearing His image, is carried around the village to the cemetery and back, in a mystical, candlelight procession, where members of the congregation walk together, arm-in-arm, chanting the Engomia (Lamentations), filling the night air with somber song.
Yesterday was Holy Thursday. Traditionally, it is the day when eggs, an ancient symbol of life and renewal, are dyed a rich, deep red, representing the blood of Christ and triumph over death. In addition, braided, brioche type breads and soft cookies, symbolizing the light of Christ's resurrection, are baked, but the evening is the start of mourning.
Tomorrow, with the arrival of Holy Saturday, preparations begin for the midnight Service of the Resurrection, when the Holy Light is flown in by special forces, from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, to major cities in Greece, where it is ceremoniously received and distributed, by awaiting priests, to their respective churches throughout the country.
During the day, children are often visited by their godmothers, who bring them new outfits to be worn on Easter day, a variety of sweets and chocolates, colourful eggs, and their own uniquely decorated candles (lambathes), which they will use only once, to bring home the Holy Light.
Later in the evening, everyone is gathered at the main church to observe the service. A few minutes before midnight, the lights are switched off, apart from the Eternal Flame at the alter. At the stroke of midnight, the priest excitedly announces, 'Christos Anesti' (Christ is Risen), to which everyone answers, 'Alithos Anesti' (Truly, He is risen). He then passes the flame to the person next to him, and so on, and almost instantly, the entire church is aglow with the Light of the Resurrection.
The Holy Light quickly reaches the the many faithful outside, where the fireworks are fully under way, further lighting up the black sky with joy and rebirth!
After greeting and wishing everyone a happy Easter, the Holy Light is carefully shielded and transported home. With the smoke from the candle, a cross is formed on the upper part of the front door frame, and thus the house is blessed throughout the year with the light of the Resurrection. Inside, it graces the Easter table, where the forty day fast is broken and the bountiful feasts begin with egg fights! Tsougrimsa, or egg tapping, is a game, in which one tries to crack the other's egg by tapping it, without cracking his own. Incidentally, the eggs are, hard-boiled.
Easter Sunday is usually celebrated outside, weather allowing, when barbecues are fired up and the eating, singing and the carefree state of mind continues to Easter Monday. It is customary to serve lamb as the main course, but many people (present company included), choose to graze on grilled chicken or other lighter fare. Whatever the menu, one thing is for sure: it is a merry day spent with family and friends, rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the rebirth of mankind.
On that note and in the spirit of this coming Easter Sunday, I leave you with a little rhyme I cooked up to mark the occasion of all the braiding, baking, and bountiful beauty of this most beloved of Greek Orthodox celebrations.
Tsoureki: Tradition in Transition
Mahlepi, mastiha, orange or lemon?
Sprinkles, sesame or slivered almonds?
Always, but rectangle or round?
By the way, how many eggs can be found?
Rainbow hues or rich, deep red?
What? Nestled in chocolate, you said?
Stop! I'm in over my head!
Thought it was just
A simple, sweet bread
Enjoyed at Easter
By Greeks, well fed!
Happy Easter to all my friends
around the globe!
around the globe!
Thanks for visiting,
All images: Google
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