Easter is the greatest celebration of the year for the Greek Orthodox Church . It is the symbol of human rebirth and the promise of life after death. It is the ultimate message of love and forgiveness, it is the time when God and sinners reconcile and spread the love Jesus Christ taught the world with His death and glorious Resurrection.
A few days before Easter, housewives do the spring cleaning so that everything looks new and shiny for Easter. The Holy Week begins on Monday following Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday , olive branches are taken to church and left there for forty days. The sanctified olive branch is then taken home. The olive leaves are placed in a special pot called “kapnistiri” and are used for incense burning. The smoke from the olive leaves is believed to remove all evil and jealousy in the family.
On Holy Thursday, eggs are dyed red, ready to be cracked soon after Resurrection on Easter Day’s early morning hours. The icons in our churches are covered with black cloth as a sign of mourning for Our Lord who went to the cross and died in order to take away our sins. The power of death and the reality of evil ruled the world on that dreadful Thursday. Yet, Jesus Christ’s death marks the beginning of the victory of life over death. The solemn service consists of The Twelve Gospel Readings – narratives from the four Gospels relating the events of the Holy Passion and Jesus’ last instructions to His disciples. After the fifth gospel, the crucifix is adorned with a flower wreath and carried in procession. Earlier in the morning, the Holy Communion is taken. It consists of a few drops of red wine mixed with some breadcrumbs symbolizing the blood and the body of Jesus Christ.
Good Friday is baking day. The Greek homes are filled with the delightful scents of mastic, mahaleb and cinnamon while flaounes, tsourekia and koulouria (sesame bread) are being baked. However, Good Friday is also a day of mourning, fasting and prayer. In the evening, at church, we observe the liturgy of Epitaphios - a shroud depicting Christ’s sacred body is carried in procession and placed in a flowered bier that represents Christ’s tomb. With both sorrow and joy, during this solemn and profoundly touching ceremony, we sing along with the priests and choir “I Zoe En Tafo” :
"In a tomb they lay Thee O Christ the life. By Thy Death Thou has cast down the might of death and become the font of life for all the world"
On Holy Saturday morning, we observe the “First Resurrection”, that’s when the news is brought that Christ is no longer in His grave. At about 9:00 in the morning, the church bell rings joyfully, the church doors are banged and the black cloth covering the icons falls. But the grand liturgy of Resurrection is held at midnight. Everyone goes to church with a candle. At about midnight, the lights go off and the priest solemnly proclaims “Here is the Holy Light” which is actually brought from Jerusalem to the Orthodox world. Then we all light our candles and greet each other with “Christos Anesti” (= Christ Has Risen) to which the other replies “Alithos Anesti” (He Has Risen Indeed). Then off we go home for a midnight supper consisting of magiritsa (Greek Easter Soup) and flaounes, tsourekia and koulouria.
Easter Sunday is a day of feast, dancing and singing. Lambs are roasted on a spit and a sumptuous Easter lunch is prepared which usually lasts till late afternoon. Families gather together or go on picnics, both children and adults engage in red-egg-crack competitions. The winner is the one whose egg is left uncracked! Easter Day also reminds us that we should forget and forgive allowing the Holy Light to shine on.
Do you celebrate Easter in your country? Have you got any special customs and traditions?