Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rita Wilson's thoughts on Greek Easter - as told to The Washington Post in 2007

 Tom Hanks and Jim Gianopulos carry the Epitaphio at
 St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Los Angeles a few years ago

We thoroughly enjoyed reading this article by well-known Greek American Actress and Film Director Rita Wilson for The Washington Post in 2007 and thought we would pass it on for you to enjoy as well.

Thank you for sharing your Easter experiences with us, Rita. Many of us will identify with you on this almost 100% - it's wonderful to know that wherever in the world we are, whether it be Sydney, New York, London, Paris or Johannesburg, these traditions remain the same.

We wish you, Tom and your whole family Kali Anastasi and Kalo Pascha! 

Why Easter is Greek to Me: Xristos Anesti! - by Rita Wilson

Once every few years, Greek Easter falls the same week as “American Easter,” as it was called when I was growing up.

In order for “Greek Easter” to be celebrated the same week as “American Easter,” Passover has to have been celebrated already. We Greeks don’t do Easter until after Passover, because how can you have Easter BEFORE Passover. Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, after all. Unless it is one of the years when the two holidays align. Like this year.

Here are some of the things that non-Greeks may not know about Greek Easter: We don’t do bunnies. We don’t do chocolate. We don’t do pastels.

We do lamb, sweet cookies, and deep red. The lamb is roasted and not chocolate, the sweet cookies are called Koulorakia and are twisted like a braid, and our Easter eggs are dyed one color only: blood red. There is no Easter Egg hunt. There is a game in which you crack your red egg against someone else’s red egg hoping to have the strongest egg, which would indicate you getting a lot of good luck.

Holy Week, for a Greek Orthodox, means you clear your calendar, you don’t make plans for that week at all because you will be in church every day, and you fast. Last year, in addition to not eating red meat and dairy before communion, my family also gave up sodas for the 40-day Lenten period.

During one particularly stressful moment, there were many phone calls amongst our kids as to whether or not a canned drink called TING, made with grapefruit juice and carbonated water was, in fact, a soda and not a juice, which our then 10-year-old decided it was, so we had a Ting-less Lent.

No matter where I find my self in the world I never miss Easter, or as we call it, Pascha. I have celebrated in Paris, London, New York City, Los Angeles, and in Salinas, California at a small humble church that was pure and simple.

When we were kids, our parents would take us, and now as parents ourselves we take our children to many of the Holy Week services including the Good Friday service where you mourn the death of Jesus by walking up to the Epitaphio, which reperesents the dead body of Christ, make your cross, kiss the Epitaphio, and marvel at how it was decorated with a thousand glorious flowers, rose petals and smells like incense.

Some very pious people will crawl under the Epitaphio. I have always been so moved to see this. There is no self- consciousness in this utter act of faith. There is no embarrassment to show symbolic sorrow at the death of our Saviour. 

At a certain point in the Good Friday service, the Epitaphio is carried outside by the deacons of the church, as if they are pall bearers, followed by worshippers carrying lit candles protected from dripping on your clothes and on others by having a red plastic cup that sits below the flame to catch the wax drippings. Every Greek person knows all too well the smell of burning hair.

One time, in London, I smelled something and turned to look at where the smell might be coming from, only to be horrified that it was coming form me and my head was on fire. But I digress.

It is somber and quiet as we follow the Epitaphio, in candlelight, from the altar to the outdoors, in order for it to circle the church before it returns back to the altar. We sing beautiful lamentations that make your heart break with their pure expression of sadness and hope.

One of my favorite services during Easter is Holy Unction. This happens on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Holy Unction is a sacrament. It is for healing of our ills, physical and spiritual. It is preparing us for confession and communion. This sacrament has always been so humbling to me.

When you approach the priest for Holy Unction, you bow your head and as he says a prayer and asks you your Christian name, he takes a swab of blessed oil and makes the sign of the cross on your forehead, cheeks, chin, backs of your hands and palms. It is a powerful reminder of how, with faith, we can be healed in many ways.

The holy oil is then carefully dabbed with cotton balls provided by the church so you don’t leave there looking as if you’re ready to fry chicken with your face, and before you exit the church, you leave your cotton balls in a basket being held by altar boys, so as not to dispose of the holy oil in a less than holy place. The church burns the used cotton balls.
There have been times when I have left church with my cotton ball and have panicked when I am driving away. At home I take care of it. Imagine a grown woman burning cotton balls in her sink. But that is what I do.

Midnight Mass on Saturday night, going into Sunday morning is the Anastasi service. We will arrive at church at around 11 p.m., when it starts, and listen to the chanter as he chants in preparation for the service. My kids, dressed in their suits and having been awakened from a deep sleep to come to church, groggily sit and wait holding their candles with red cup wax catchers.

As the service progresses, the moment we have all been waiting for approaches. All the lights in the church are turned off. It is pitch black It is dead quiet. The priest takes one candle and lights his one candle from the one remaining lit altar candle, which represents the light of Christ’s love ( I believe).

From this one candle, the priest approaches the congregation and using his one candle he shares his light with a few people in the front pews. They in turn share their light with the people next to them and behind them. In quiet solemnity, we wait until the entire church is lit with only the light of candles, the light that has been created by one small flame has now created a room of shared light.

And at a moment that can only be described as glorious, the priest cries out, “Xristos Anesti!” “Christ is Risen!” We respond with “Alithos Anesti!” “Truly, He is Risen!” We sing our glorious Xristos Anesti song with the choir. That moment, which happens about an hour, to an hour and half into the service and seems as if the service is over, actually marks the beginning of the service. The service then continues for another hour and a half.
When I was a kid, after the service was over, we would go to the Anastasi Dinner that the church would throw in the church hall, where we would break our fast, drink Cokes at 2:30 in the morning, dance to a raucous Greek band and not go home until our stomachs were full of lamb, eggs, Koulouraki, and we saw the sun rise. Or was it the Son rise?

But usually now, after Midnight Mass, we drive home with our still-lit candles. I always love seeing the looks on peoples faces as they pull up to our car seeing a family with lit candles calmly moving at 65 m.p.h. down the highway. When we get home, we crack eggs, eat cookies, drink hot chocolate (so not Greek) and I burn a cross into our doorways with the carbon from the candle smoke to bless our house for the year.

There have been many times when painters touching up the house have wondered why there was this strange black cross burned into our doorways. The next day is usually followed by a late sleep in, then getting up and doing the same thing you just did but in the daytime at the Easter Picnic, usually held at a local park.

I have to say, the Greeks know how to do Easter. Make no mistake. This is the most important holiday in our church. It is a beautiful week. I haven’t even begun to touch on what the week is really like. This is a sampling of a sampling of what it is like. It is so much more deep, so much richer than I have written here.

But one thing is clear. It is a powerful, beautiful, mysterious, humbling, healing and moving week. It is filled with tradition and ritual. It is about renewal and faith. And even though it is still too early to say,  

Xristos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!

To read the original article in the Washington Post, Click here

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Greek Orthodox Holy Week effectively started last Saturday with the Resurrection of Lazarus, followed by the Palm Sunday services.

As the celebration of Easter in Greece and the lead-up to it is the most significant and symbolic of all the religious feasts you may like to read a little more on what Holy Week is all about and the meanings of the services.

We found that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America has put together a very useful and informative Brochure on Holy Week and we highly recommend it. If you want to read it here, scroll down - we have reproduced a lot of it below - we hope they don't mind but it is for a good cause!


An interlude between Great Lent and Holy Week, the Church names this day the “Saturday of Lazarus” in remembrance of the resurrection of Lazarus told in the Gospel of John (11:1-45) and its promise of universal resurrection for all men. The Church connects this celebration, by anticipation, with the Entrance of Christ into Jerusalem.


Palm Sunday celebrates the glorious and brilliant feast of the Entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (John 12:1-18). Zechariah had prophesied the entrance of the Messiah into Jerusalem, saying: “Rejoice greatly ... O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King comes unto Thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass”, Zech. 9:9. The contemporary Jews associated this prophecy with the expected Messiah. This action of Christ testifies to His nature as Messiah, but with the definite declaration that His Kingdom was not of this world. The main road leading to Jerusalem was covered with palm trees.

The multitudes, with palm branches in their hands, spread their cloaks on the road as a show of respect, crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” A custom of distributing branches of palms to the people in the Church prevails to this day.

During the remainder of Holy Week, the Church advances its liturgical life by about twelve hours, celebrating morning services the night before, and evening services in the morning.

On Palm Sunday evening, the Church celebrates the Orthros (Matins) of Holy Monday, in the first of four “Bridegroom Services.” Christ is called the “Bridegroom” because in His Passion, He gives His life for His Bride, the people of God, the Church, just as a husband will sacrifice everything for his wife and family. From Holy Monday to Holy Wednesday, some parishes will celebrate the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts in the morning. 

Ιδού, ο νυμφίος έρχεται
εν τω μέσω της νυκτός
και μακάριος ο δούλος
ο ευρήσει γρηγορούνται,
ανάξιος δε πάλιν,
ον ευρήσει ραθυμούντα
βλέπε ούν, ψυχή μου,
μη τω ύπνω κατενεχθής
ίνα μη τω θανάτω παραδοθής,
και της βασιλείας έξω κλεισθής
αλλά ανάνηψον κράζουσα
άγιος, άγιος, άγιος ει ο θεός ημών,
διά της θεοτόκου ελέησον ημάς.

This very ancient Divine Liturgy is a Vespers Service, with the Holy Communion given from the sanctified gifts from the Liturgy on the previous Sunday. This Liturgy is very solemn, and reflects the grandeur and simplicity of the early Church.

In the Orthros of Holy Monday, the Church remembers the blessed and noble Joseph and the fig tree which was cursed and withered by the Lord.

In the Orthros of Holy Tuesday, celebrated Holy Monday evening, the Church remembers the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), who were waiting for the arrival of the Bridegroom at a wedding feast.

In the Orthros of Holy Wednesday, the Church remembers the anointing of Christ with myrrh by the woman in the house of Simon, the leper, in Bethany. This woman demonstrated her repentance and her warm faith toward our Lord. On this evening we hear the beautiful “Hymn of Kassiane, which is a hymnological reflection on the repentance of this woman.


The Sacrament of Holy Unction takes place on Holy Wednesday. The Sacrament is for the healing of body and soul. In Orthodox thought, healing is connected to repentance, confession, and the remission of sins by the Lord. Holy Unction is the for cleansing sins and renewing the body and the spirit of the faithful. Holy Unction is one of the seven Sacraments of the Church, and it has its origin in the practice of the early Church as recorded in the Epistle of James (5:14-15). At the end of the service, the priest anoints the people with Holy Oil.
In the Orthros of Holy Thursday, the Church remembers the washing of the disciples’ feet, the institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Prayer of Christ at the Last Supper as recorded in the Gospel of John, and the betrayal.” Some parishes will not celebrate this service, and replace it with the Sacrament of Holy Unction.


In the morning, the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is celebrated. At this Divine Liturgy, the Church commemorates the institution of the Holy Eucharist by the Lord at His Last Supper with His disciples.

Here, Christ presented bread and wine as His body and blood, which form the core of the new covenant between God and His people, the Church.

In the evening, in the Orthros of Holy Friday, the Church recalls the Passion of the Lord, from His betrayal by Judas Iscariot, His agony and arrest at Gethmane, His trial by Jewish religious leaders and Roman authorities, His beatings and mocking, and crucifixion and death on the Cross. This service is long, with twelve readings from the Gospels recounting the events, but its content is dramatic and moving.

After the reading of the fifth Gospel comes the procession with the icon of the Crucified Christ around the church.


In the morning, the four “Royal Hours” are read. These services consist of hymns, psalms, and readings from the Old and New Testaments, all related prophetically and ethically to the Person of Christ.


Usually in mid-afternoon, Great Vespers is chanted. During this service, we hear the story of the Crucifixion, but with attention paid to the death of Christ, the work of Joseph of Arimathea to secure the body of Christ from Pilate, His removal from the cross, and His burial.

At one point in the reading, the Body of Christ is removed the cross, wrapped in a white cloth and is brought into the sanctuary. Following the reading, the priest carries the icon of the Epitaphios through the church and places it in the Sephulchre (the kouvouklion), which has been decorated with flowers.


On Holy Friday evening, we sing the Orthros of Holy Saturday, consisting of psalms, hymns and readings, dealing with the death of Christ. During the Orthros, the congregation will join in chanting the Lamentations, hymns of praise to the Lord and relating His ultimate triumph over death. During this service the Epitaphios icon is carried in procession around the church.
In some parishes the entire flower-bedecked Sepulcher, symbolising the Tomb, is carried in the procession.


On Holy Saturday morning, the Vesperal Divine Liturgy is celebrated. In this Liturgy, the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated and the triumph over death is proclaimed in the hymns and the readings from the Old and New Testament. There is a strong theme of baptism in this liturgy, because in the ancient Church, the catechumens would be baptized in this evening vigil of Pascha.


At midnight Saturday, the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is celebrated. Before midnight, the Odes of Lamentation of the previous day are repeated. The Orthros of the Resurrection begins in complete darkness. The priest takes light from the vigil light and gives it to the faithful, who are holding candles. The priest sings, “Come, receive light from the unwaning light, and glorify Christ, who arose from the dead.” Just a short while later, the priest reads the resurrection story from the Gospel of Mark (16:1-8) and leads the congregation in singing the Resurrection Hymn, Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life.” Following, the Orthros service continues and leads into the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.


At some point on Sunday afternoon the faithful gather once more for Great Vespers, With lighted candles they sing, “Christ is risen. ” The people greet one another with the salutation, “Christ is Risen”, which is answered, “Truly He is Risen”. In the Great Vespers, the Gospel according to John (20:19-25) is read in various languages, proclaiming the Good News of Resurrection all over the universe without discrimination. The fruit of faith in the Resurrection of the Lord is love in His Name; therefore, this day is called “Sunday of Agape.”

For the next forty days, the Orthodox Church commemorates the Resurrection of Christ.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

'My Life in Ruins' - Greek-Something Nia Vardalos' Latest Movie Premieres in Athens

"It was a dream come true to shoot in Greece, It was surreal on the set, to stand by the Acropolis, close my eyes before they say 'Action' and feel the wind blowing through the columns. It doesn't get any better."

Nia Vardalos - USA Today

Nia Vardalos is one of our Global Greeks!

Born Antonia Eugenia Vardalos, the Greek-Canadian-American writer and star who brought us so many laughs with the antics of her family-that-could-have-been-ours in My Big Fat Greek Wedding is about to do it again! At the Megaron Mousikis (The Athens Concert Hall) on Friday April 3, Nia wowed everybody present with her latest movie My Life in Ruins.

With special permission from the authorities and filmed against a magnificent and unparalleled backdrop - the Acropolis, Olympia , Delphi and other archaelogical sites of Greece, Nia's latest movie is 100% pure Greek! The best thing that could happen to Greek tourism after last year's Mama Mia with Meryl Streep and Piers Brosnan.

Nia stars as Georgia, a Greek-American who has moved back to Greece and who has lost her 'kefi' or zest for living. Discouraged by her lack of direction in life, she works as a travel guide, leading a group of tourists as she tries to show them the beauty of her native Greece.

Apart from Nia Vardalos, the film stars Academy award winner Richard Dreyfus and Alexis Georgoulis, a Greek actor that she picked out from a magazine and who is perfect in the role of the tour bus driver. (Nia describes him as the George Clooney of Greece in an interview to USA Today. When women on the production team saw his audition tape during a lunch break, "we didn't move, breathe or chew," Nia Vardalos said. "When the scene was finished, everyone jumped up and down and said, 'We've found him!' " )

Executive producers are Tom Hanks and wife, also Greek-American, Rita Wilson, who has a brief role in the film. This is the fourth time Wilson and her husband have collaborated with her fellow Greek. "We don't have a deal with Nia," she says to USA Today. "We just love her. Actually, the script came to us, and it just happened to take place in Greece. We wanted her to rewrite it, and it was just serendipitous."

Due to hit the cinemas in May this year, the film is a hilarious comedy which will leave you with a smile on your face and a let's go-on-holiday feeling.

What better advertisement for Greece?

Click here to watch Nia speak about the film on Good Morning America just before the American Premiere this week.

Click here to watch the official trailer of My Life in Ruins.

Read more
about Nia on Wikipedia.

You may like to note that Nia is also on the Advisory Board of the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival , being held from 25 to 28 June 2009, along with several other prominent Greek-Americans involved in the movie industry. We look forward to featuring these Greek-Somethings on our pages in the very near future.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Golden Global Greeks - The Greek -Something Billionaires on the Forbes List

Despite the economic crisis and the plunge in the value of assets owned by many of the world's richest people, our Global Greeks still rank pretty well in the 2009 Forbes List of Billionaires!

Let's see who they are:

No 376 Michael Jaharis- USA
Source of wealth:
Pharmaceutical Read More: Michael Jaharis

No 376 George Mitchell - USA
Source of wealth:
Mitchell Energy Read More: George Mitchell

No 397 Mike Lazaridis - Canada.
Source of wealth:
Technology Read More: Mike Lazaridis

No 430 John Catsimatidis - USA.
Source of wealth:
Oil/Real Estate/Supermarkets Read More: John Catsimatidis

No 559 George Argyros - USA.
Source of wealth:
Real Estate/Investments Read More: George Argyros

No 701 Alexander Spanos -USA
Source of wealth:
Real Estate Read More: Alexander Spanos & Family

From Greece, although he is a resident of Switzerland, Dr Spiros Latsis remains the richest Greek on this year's list despite the fall in his net worth, and tops the list of Greeks on the list.

No 149 Spiro Latsis - Switzerland
Source of wealth:
Real Estate/Energy/Banking Read More: Spiro Latsis & Family

Kai tou xronou! Kai sta dika mas!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

John Psathas - A Greek-Something Composer for Athens' Magical, Unforgettable, Dream Olympics!!!

Celebrated Greek-New Zealand composer John Psathas is one of our Global Greeks.

John is one of New Zealand's most frequently performed composers, and one of the finest and most talented of the younger generation of composers in New Zealand.

His music is energetic and vibrant, with a passionate exuberance that is a product of his Greek heritage.

One of the few, if not the only, Greek-Somethings to be involved in such a way, John's music was a major part of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the highlight of his career to date.

John commuted several times between Wellington and Athens to work on the music and supervise the rehearsal process. His music included a number of fanfares and processionals to accompany the arrival of the IOC President, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron  and also the music that preceded the Olympic oaths, and he was responsible for the soundtrack to the entire flame sequence of the ceremony. 

John also arranged the National Anthem of Greece, the Olympic Hymn and music by Shostakovich, Debussy and the foremost living Greek Composer Mikis Theodorakis that accompanied other parts of the ceremony. Listen to John's superb arrangement of the Olympic Anthem.

Born in New Zealand to Greek parents, Emmanuel and Anastasia, who have since returned to live in the family town of Michaniona in Northern Greece, today John lectures at the Victoria University School of Music but visits Greece regularly both for personal and professional reasons.

Apart from his numerous visits to Greece in preparation for the Olympics, in December of 2006 he gave a series of concerts in Cyprus and in Patras, which was the Cultural Capital of Europe that year.

His music is heard regularly on the world's concert stages, and has been performed by Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Evelyn Glennie, Pedro Carneiro, Federico Mondelci, Michael Houstoun, and many fine ensembles.

Some of John's most recent compositions are View from Olympus, which he wrote while on Sabbatical in Greece and stayed at the top of New Zealand's classical charts for 5 months, and ‘Zeibekiko’, an entire programme of Greek music celebrating the heritage of Greek music from Antiquity to the present day.

Zeibekiko’ was commissioned by the Eduard van Beinum Foundation at the request of the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble - an invitation to John to create an entire programme based around the theme of 2500 years of Greek Music and was performed by the Nederlands Blazers throughout Holland, at the Bath Festival UK and at the 2006 New Zealand International Arts Festival among others.
The ambience of the Zeibekiko, a Greek dance traditionally performed by men, sets the tone for this magnificent programme which evokes the beauty of the Mediterranean as we accompany John on this musical journey as he explores his ancestral roots. His programme includes the first Hymn to Apollo from Delphi, traditional folk and popular music, as well as original compositions -wonderful and unique, classic Psathas!
For the performances of Zeibekiko, John worked closely with two very gifted traditional Greek musicians, Clarino virtuoso, Manos Achalinotopoulos and master percussionist, Vagelis Karypis.

On August 29 of the same year, his’ "Olympiad XXVIII" had its World Premiere in Beijing at Forbidden City in the context of Beijing’s Olympic Games. Olympiad XXVIII is a new suite of symphonic arrangements based on John’s music for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Athens 2004 Olympics Games.

In 2008, John's composition 'Helix' was played by the New Zealand Trio at Government House in Auckland, to a private audience of Prime Minister Helen Clark and visiting US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice.

Although his music has been performed at the Megaron Mousikis (The Athens Concert Hall) in the past, it would be fantastic to see one of John’s Greek-inspired works either ‘View from Olympus’ or 'Zeibekiko' performed at either the Herodeion or the Megaron!!
What They Said About John
"John Psathas is one of the most talented composers of his generation. He produced wonderful music which added a lot to the success of the music in the ceremonies."
George Koumendakis, Director of Music, Opening and Closing Ceremonies, Olympic Games, Athens 2004

"Many of his compositions have an energy and drive more extreme than any other music I know - it sweeps one up on a frantic roller-coaster ride and carries one to that height of exhilaration."
Jack Body - Mentor and Colleague

  • Awarded the 2002 SouNZ Contemporary Award for View From Olympus
  • Named an Arts Laureate by the Arts Foundation in 2003.
  • His album Rhythm Spike was BEST CLASSICAL ALBUM 2000, and Fragments BEST CLASSICAL ALBUM - 2004, in the NZ MUSIC AWARDS.
  • At Victoria University School of Music he is nurturing a new generation of composers.
  • The NZ Herald named him as a contender for New Zealander of the Year 2004.
  • He was awarded Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in the 2005 list for his services to music.

More about John Psathas


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