The unique traditions of the Greek church are not only a sincere and humble focus on the true meaning of Easter, but a deep concentration on what the actual story of Easter and what this means today for us as believers. Today and tomorrow are a deep mourning time and this is represented through each act of the service. A highlight and something special that I enjoy is carrying the bier (tomb) and επιτάφιος (pronounced epi-TA-fi-os) around the village. This symbolizes the funeral of Christ and the epitaphios is above his tomb, decorated with many, many beautiful flowers.
A band/choir playing and singing solemn music precedes the procession; they are followed by all the church and its surrounding neighbors. All along its route, people scatter flowers and perfume on the epitaphios, holding lighted candles in their hands. Upon returning to the church, the bier is held up high by some strong men of the church and all the parishioners walk underneath, either touching or kissing as they pass. SPRING is in the air, and Greeks worldwide are preparing to celebrate their pascha or Greek Orthodox Easter.
Another one of my favorite moments is tomorrow (Saturday night), the service begins at around 10pm and around midnight the lights will all be off and the church will be quiet. At this point, the priest will bring out a single lit candle (the HOLY light) and announce, CHRIST IS RISEN!!! He will then share the Holy light to everyone around and the church slowly becomes bright and glowing from everyone holding candles! This light will be carried to their houses and kept for as long as possible. It is a truly magical feeling and everyone is smiling and greeting one another saying, Χριστός Ανέστη “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen) and they will reply, Αληθώς ανέστη “Alithos Anesti” (Truly He is Risen)!!!
As you leave the church and even when you arrive home, sometimes around 1am, you celebrate and crack an egg with your family and friends. This not only represents Christ breaking out the grave and rising to life after three days, but it represents the NEW LIFE you walk in Christ as a believer! The spirit will be joyful and festive for at least the next 40 days as Greeks continue to celebrate with food, family, wine, dancing, music, and all around merriment!
The food traditions of celebrating Easter are rich and full. Besides the sweet tsoureki breads that are made, there is a popular Easter soup called, Magiritsa. It is made from various parts (not typically eaten like the intestines and liver, blech) and an egg/lemon sauce; it is supposed to be a gentle way to reintroduce meat back into the diet after fasting for about 50 days. Personally, I have never tried this soup and I may or may not this year… only time will tell.
The following Sunday morning, everyone returns to church for one last service and communion before going back home and having massive outdoor feasts with their family and friends, usually with each family roasting a whole lamb. The celebrations will not stop until Monday which is also a national holiday in Greece. There will be literally a smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, sauces, and sweets galore. I will be sure to take some pictures if we attend any barbecues this year.
I hope wherever you are for this Easter that it may open your eyes even wider to the love of Christ and that you would understand how much He loves you and draw closer to Him.
Καλό Πάσχα & δόξα στον Θεό,
(Happy Easter & Glory to God),