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The Greek Orthodox Easter PDF Printable Version E-mail

Lake Ohrid
Republic of Macedonia

 9 April 2015

The Greek Orthodox Easter

Having just left Greece with our usual reluctance and regret, and although we are now in another Orthodox country, we already feel nostalgia for Greek Easters past.

The Greek Easter is this weekend (9-13 April 2015) and, in the Orthodox church, it is much more important than Christmas or any other religious festival.

Seven weeks ago, the run-up to Lent began with 'Smokey Thursday' (Tsikno Pempti) which marked the beginning of the last week of meat eating. Pork chops or kebabs (souvlaki) were cooked on griddles out in the street of every town and village, to be given freely to passers-by.

Over the weekend at the beginning of Lent there were carnivals (Apokries) in even the smallest village. Then on the Monday, a public holiday known as 'Clean Monday' (Kathari Deutera), kites were flown and, at the end of the day, released to fly at will. From Clean Monday through Lent, the truly Orthodox eschew (rather than chew) meat, eating only 'bloodless creatures' (traditionally squid and octopus).

Today, the Holy Thursday (Megali Pempti) before Easter, traditional Easter bread (tsourekia or Christ bread) is baked and hard-boiled eggs are dyed a deep red, to be cracked on Resurrection Night. (In Nafplio we saw an Orthodox priest buying several trays of eggs, each holding about 4 dozen from Lidl!)

Tomorrow is 'Big Friday' (Megali Paraskevi), when women and children take flowers to the church to decorate the Epitaphio, the symbolic bier of Christ. In the evening, this is solemnly carried through the village or town, perhaps to a local cemetery, and back. Members of the congregation follow carrying candles and the Epitaphio is returned to the church to await the Resurrection service late on Saturday.

On Easter Saturday (Megalo Sabbato) a light from an eternal flame in Jerusalem is flown to Athens and distributed to all the Orthodox churches throughout Greece. At the Resurrection service, the church lights are extinguished at midnight, then the priest appears with the flame and the congregation cry: 'Christos Anesti' or 'Christ is Risen'. The flame is passed from hand to hand, as each person's candle is lit. Then the burning candles are carried home, where the head of the household draws a cross from the sooty smoke of the candle on the lintel of the front door.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the Lenten fast is broken with a supper of Magiritsa (soup made of eggs and the entrails of the animal to be roasted) and the dyed eggs are cracked, sometimes in a competition round the table, rather like 'conkers'. The red eggs (derived from pagan fertility rites) symbolise the blood of Christ.

Easter Sunday (Pascha) is a time for the extended family to roast a lamb or a kid or two, rotating them over open coals. The lamb represents the sacrifice that Christ made for the salvation of his people (probably derived from the Jewish Passover feast, when pork would not be eaten). In some places, particularly in the Islands, an effigy of Judas Iscariot is later burnt on the fire, like the British Guy Fawkes. 

Easter is a great time for the extended Greek family to get together, with most workers in the city returning to their native village to eat and to dance. The traffic jams in and out of Athens, stretching for miles, are shown on TV at each end of the Easter weekend! 

Strangers are welcome at all these Easter celebrations, from Smokey Thursday through to sharing the Pascal lamb.

So far in Macedonia (absurdly named FYROM by a former Greek government), there is little scope for celebration and little sign of it. This is but one result for this now small land-locked country, of a history that is turbulent even by European standards.

But that, like the continuing roasting of Greece by an international cabal of bankers and their acquiescent Euro-group governments, is another story still in the writing.

Bonnes Routes

Barry and Margaret

At the Carnival in the Peloponnese fishing port of Koroni
Pirates at the Carnival in the Peloponnese fishing port of Koroni
Breakdown at the Festival - but the dancing goes on. Just like Greece itself in a crisis
Margaret watches women and children dressing the Epitaphio with flowers in the mountain
village of Aristomeni
Margaret watches Takis roasting the 'goat that shall be called lamb' at Camping Thines near
Traditional Clean Monday play in the square in the small port of Methoni
Kites fill the sky on Clean Monday