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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

CELEBRATING EASTER IN GREECE AND THE GLOBAL GREEK WORLD

Decorating the Epitaphio
Evangelismos Tis Theotokou 
Wellington New Zealand 
Good Friday - 1991

Today is Holy Wednesday (Megali Tetarti) and Greek people all over the world are preparing for the Orthodox Easter and all it entails! (Most of us had a break for the Western Easter holiday and we are now getting ready for our second Easter in a week. This was always, and still is, a bonus for those of us who live(d) outside Greece - it also meant we could buy up Easter goodies - chocolate eggs, rabbits and Hot Cross Buns, at discounted prices). 

Greek Holy Week effectively started last Saturday with the Resurrection of Lazarus, followed by the Palm Sunday services. For a very good description of the Holy Week Services click here

The celebration of Easter in Greece is the most signifi
cant and symbolic of all the religious festivals and, because it is springtime in Greece, the whole country is ablaze with the beautiful colours of the season. Easter is traditionally a time when most people go to their villages or islands, to take part in these very traditional celebrations with their extended families and enjoy the peace and serenity of the countryside, dressed for the occasion in its magnificent spring clothes!

For those who remain in Athens or the big cities, the sights and sou
nds of Holy Week are pretty unique and a must to experience at least once in your lifetime. As you walk down the streets and go past the many churches, you can hear the bells toll mournfully or the melodious chanting of the hauntingly beautiful Holy Week hymns; you can see people going in to light a candle, to pray or just to sit and listen. If you are lucky and happen to be in Syntagma Square on Good Friday, you can watch the Epitaphio procession of all the churches in the near vicinity come together in the Square. A truly unique and magnificent sight!

For those of us who aren't fortunate enough to celebrate Easter in Greece, Easter wherever in the world we are is steeped in ritual and tradition and is very much part of our Greek heritage. Each Community's Church becomes the foca
l point of the community and the Holy Week services attract even those people who are not regular church-goers. Our homes are spruced up and readied for the family celebrations and the big feast after a period of fasting for Lent.

On Holy Wednesday we would put on our best and go to Church in the afternoon to be anointed with Holy Myrrh or Holy Unction. This was always interesting to us as children since we weren't quite sure what to do with the oil on our hands - we knew we shouldn't just wipe it off!

On Holy Thursday, we used to go for Holy Communion in the morning an
d in the evening everyone would go back for the Dodeka Evangelia service, waiting for the moment when the lights were dimmed and the Priest would come out bearing the cross of the Crucifixion and chanting the hymn of the Crucifixion  

'Today He is Crucified...Σήμερα κρεμάται επί ξύλου'



Decorating the Epitaphio 
under the watchful eye of Father Elias Economou
Evangelismos Tis Theotokou 
Wellington New Zealand 
Good Friday - 1959

On Good Friday it was time to take flowers to church and help decorate the Epitaphio before going back home to get ready for the Apokathilosi Service, where as children we loved to crawl under the Epitaphio, and then the Egkomia, some of us taking our places next to the Epitaphio as Myroforoi, holding baskets filled with sweet-smelling rose petals which we would later scatter over 'the Body of Christ' lying at rest. 


Church Choir - Good Friday
Evangelismos Greek Orthodox cathedral 
Wellington, New Zealand

As we grew older we could join the church choir and take part in the service, singing the beautifully worded verses of the Egkomia or the Lamentations. The young men of the Community were the altar boys and carried the crosses and banners (Ksapteryga) for the procession.
Evangelismos Tis Theotokou 
Wellington New Zealand 
Good Friday - 1959
Evangelismos Tis Theotokou 
Wellington New Zealand 
Good Friday - 1991

Almost everyone attends the Good Friday (Epitaphio) Service, holding a candle and solemnly following the Epitaphio Procession as it is carried around the Church grounds or around the neighbourhood.
 
The Midnight Resurrection (Anastasi) Service is also a must and everyone clambers to be the first to light his or her candle from the Fos, or the light from the Holy Sepulchre, at the stroke of Midnight as the Priest chants Defte Lavete Fos, enjoying the fireworks as we gather outside the Church for the Xristos Anesti!

On Easter Sunday (Kyriaki tou Pascha) we roast our lamb either in the oven or on the traditional spit and spend much of the day eating and drinking trying to see who will win in the traditional Tsougrisma of the Eggs! ( we have yet to find a good translation for this one...so we have left it in Grenglish).Apart from the spiritual fulfillment and sense of renewal, once the services are over it is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and be with family, to exchange kisses (always a good excuse if we rather liked someone but were too shy to tell them straight out) and wish each other 'Xristos Anesti' (Christ is Risen) and 'Alithos Anesti'! (Truly, He is Risen).
 
Listen to celebrated Global Greek Irene Papas sing her own unique version of Xristos Anesti (from the magnificent album 'ODES' in collaboration with Vangelis Papathanasiou )


It is interesting to note that many of our Greek communities around the world make the Anastasi and Easter Day celebrations a Community event so that all members can come, bringing their family and friends, both Greek and non-Greek, to join in the festivities.

These are special memories to hold on to and cherish - the traditional bonds of Church and Family which are timeless and hold strong in the Greek Orthodox Church and especially at these times of economic strife.

The ongoing economic crisis in Greece means that most people have cut down on their excessive spending of the past to the essentials so that our traditions are not lost. Those who can have donated goods and time to wonderful individual voluntary initiatives such as Boroume, Oloi Mazi Boroume whilst the Church of Greece and other organisations have stepped in to help the needy, the unemployed and the homeless so that their families don't go without, especially at Easter.

Many Greek Organisations of the Diaspora such as AHEPA, have also raised funds for Greece's less able, and just yesterday, Archbishop Dimitrios of the United States presented financial aid of $500,000 to Archbishop Ieronymos to assist the Church of Greece in their mission.

To all our Global Greek friends around the world who are in the process of dying Eggs, baking Koulourakia and Tsourekia, planning for the Mageiritsa and generally making preparations for this year's Holy Week/Megali Evdomada, we would like to congratulate you for keeping our wonderful traditions going and ensuring that the spiritual meaning and message of the Resurrection and Easter is handed down from generation to generation... 

To each and everyone of you wherever you may be we wish you and your families 

Kali Anastasi & Kalo Pascha !! 
Καλή Ανάσταση & Καλό Πάσχα! 
Have a Truly Blessed Easter!


Photo Source: Sophia Economou - Economou Family Archives

At Global Greek World, We ♥ Greece...and it shows!
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