The Feast of the Dormition of Mary

In my journey of being a Protestant to joining the (Eastern) Greek Orthodox faith, there has definitely been some ups and downs. The first down was in the beginning of dating my husband and discovering that we not only had many cultural differences but religious ones too. I then lacked the faith that we could find some common ground to stand on together without trying to persuade one another to the other side, God proved me wrong! At that point though, there was already an abundance of love pulling us together, so from there we began the challenging road of figuring out how we could be together and what it would look like in an everyday life setting. The first high came when I began to look into the history of Christianity and Orthodoxy. I was enthralled to discover so much about not only the roots of the Christian faith itself but also the foundations of the Orthodox faith. I became captivated about where, when, and how Christianity started and even carried on today in so many of the same ways! 
I won’t recount all of the ups and downs I have faced thus far, but another one of the difficulties I had in accepting the faith was all the emphasis the Orthodox place on the Virgin Mary. Growing up Protestant, the only fuss made about Mary was around Christmas and even then it wasn’t such a big deal. Through all my reading and asking about why there is so much attention given to the mother Mary, I have learned or realized why more in depth through a few of the following reasons: …(this is not an extensive list)
1. Mary was chosen by God to bear his son; God specifically chose to not only use a human, but MARY uniquely!

2. She is seen as the bridge God used to send Christ to earth and because of this bridge, she is called “All Holy” and receives veneration.

3. She is seen as the fulfillment of the Old Testament archetype revealed in the Ark of the Covenant, because she carried the New Covenant in the person of Christ, giving her respect and reverence as a result.

4. The Orthodox make a great distinction between worship and intercessory prayer, just as we ask others to pray for us, asking the Virgin Mary or other Saints of the faith to intercede on our behalf is common practice. This though is much different than praying to them or giving them your adoration, which in the Orthodox faith is held only for Christ himself! 

5. She is called the “Theotokos” as an affirmation of the divinity of Christ being both fully God and Man. 

6. She is recognized as the highest saint of the faith because she accepted the will of God without hesitation, thus making her the perfect Christian model for us to eagerly follow. 

Although, I honestly cannot say that I have asked Mary to intercede on my behalf, I do not see it as a division of my faith anymore. I especially like the example of heeding God’s will and creating a “saint worthy” life to be left as my mark. There is still so much I am learning about this faith, and in spite of the fact that I am living in the country that full force practices Orthodoxy, I feel lost so much of the time with the language barrier. Church itself is so very different in practice than what I am used to or how I would even prefer to grow spiritually, but I am pressing forward with determination to make the most of where God has placed us for the time being!!!

Tomorrow, August 15th, is the “Dormition of the Theotokos” (Mother Mary) celebrating the death, resurrection, and glorification of Christ’s mother. According to Orthodox tradition, Mary died like all humanity, “falling asleep” not voluntarily, like her Son, but by the necessity of her mortal human nature which is invisibly bound up with the corruption of this world and then the ascension of her body into heaven. For a greater understanding and explanation of the icon (above) for this feast, please visit the GO ARCH webpage (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America). We plan to celebrate with a huge feast for lunch, I will include a picture asap with all the wonderful delights we have/will prepare!

All of the struggles we have and will face, by the grace of God, make us not only stronger individually but together in our marriage and the unique faith we have found together! My prayer for each of you today is to not only be thankful for where God has you now (despite the ease or difficulty of season), but to whole heartedly trust – without evidence of what your eyes see, be led by your spirit instead – where He is taking you! I am in the middle of trying to do the same, so let’s journey together!

Side note: we will be in Lesvos another year after MANY ordeals and lack of communication from anyone within the department that sends teachers abroad! This is me trusting and looking by faith that God’s plan for our lives is better than our own, amen!

Lefkada, Greece

I am safe and sound in Greece after 24 hours of traveling and a small side trip with my wonderful husband. I have gotten to travel some within Greece, but there are still so many wonderful places we haven’t been yet either. I think one could spend a year just traveling in Greece – mainland and the thousands of islands – and still not see all the beautiful hidden jewels of this country. There are a total of 6,000 islands and islets of Greece, but only 227 of those islands are inhabited – and only 78 or so have more than 100 people living on them. Each island and even city is known for something unique and special from that area and there are hundreds of different village accents depending on where you are traveling. 
Upon picking me up from the airport, we drove to northwest Greece and visited a smaller island that is reachable by a bridge, Lefkada. This was a couple of the best days in my life. Now, it could very well be that I had been away from my husband for 2 months and we could have been in a village forgotten by God and still been happy, but I think Lefkada was beautiful as well. 
The one thing I was not a fan of was traveling in peak season, now that it is August we were surrounded by more tourists than Greeks (not that it is a bad thing, just the density of people was troubling). We even took a day boat trip to visit a couple of the nearby smaller islands and swim at some beaches unreachable by car, and we didn’t find out until the trip that it was actually a Scandinavian tour – we were 2 of the 7 Greeks aboard, I was the only native English speaker!!! So, I admit that I don’t do well with crowds, I would much prefer visiting somewhere with a few people and feeling like it was more authentic and special; no Disney Land for me 🙂 
Staying to ourselves wasn’t really a problem either, we toured the island and didn’t bother much with the mainstream nightlife or crowded villages. The one place Lefkada is famous for that we did go though, is Porto Katsiki (Port Goat – named because of the steep cliffs that the goats often love). This was probably the most popular beach on the island and supposedly in the top 10 of Greek beaches overall. IT. WAS. SPECTACULAR. But it was also VERY crowded and I got easily annoyed by not only the hundreds of people that kept flooding in but also the audacity for them to charge for parking at a public beach after driving an hour and trekking down to the actual beach. We stayed only an hour and when we were in the water swimming and not inundated by all the people and shouting, it was picture perfect! I felt like we were placed in a postcard and all the colors came to life, a little surreal to be true. I definitely recommend visiting in more of the mid season so you don’t have to share the beach with as many people, but keep in mind that the water will be pretty dang cold outside of August-September! Here are a few UNEDITED photos from Porto Katsiki and some other beaches around Lefkada. 

I will try to post some more pictures when things settle down a bit more, as of now we are in north Greece with the in-laws and trying to figure out exactly where we will be next year. There is still a small chance we could be moving stateside, but we aren’t holding our breath until it actually happens. I will keep you updated as we find anything out! As of now, we will 99.9% chance be in Lesvos again. We are trusting that God is in control and not us, He always knows better, right?!

I haven’t been cooking lately either, just enjoying lots of gyros, summer fruits and vegetables, and now my mother-in-law’s amazing cooking. Especially during times of fasting like now (until August 15th for the Ascension of Mary) she can transform the most simple dishes into complete masterpieces!!! I will have to observe and learn some of her secrets, and maybe I will share them with you too!!!

Hope you are all enjoying the wonderful summer, especially if you are near a beach!!! 

American Culture

I have only been in the USA for approximately 3 days, 12 hours, and 42 minutes but from the moment I touched down in Miami, I knew I was in for lots of surprises. I expected to be welcomed with lots of friendly faces speaking English, but I think there are more people speaking Spanish than English – oddly enough, I felt a little bit more comfortable hearing another language!

I am in a lot more culture shock than I expected to be, there are just so many differences between a big city like Dallas and an unknown village called Kalloni. Let me paint you a picture of some of the major contrasts. Before I left the island, the sun was getting hotter and hotter and the beaches were becoming more and more crowded. Foreigners and locals were filling the coffee shops drinking gallons of instant coffees (like frappes) and rolling dozens of cigarettes to smoke hand in hand with their coffees. There (surprisingly) isn’t much chit-chat during the 2-3 hour coffee breaks and relatively little mobile phone use at all. As a matter of fact, people are just in another world and seem to have very little stress or worry, or maybe it is because they are too bored to really do anything more than sit and drink their coffees. As far as traveling within Greece/Europe, people also kept to themselves and even packed their own snacks, they take their time and never seem to be in a hurry for anything. I had a ridiculous argument with the baggage check-in lady because she came at me ready for a fight or at least in my perspective, she did NOT know the meaning of the word customer service. One of my biggest pet-peeves is that (especially in Greece) people don’t really know their jobs like they should, you should always be ready to be ping-ponged from office to office or person to person.

While I have been trying to transition here, I have gone through a little culture shock, or rather reverse culture shock. I never expected to see EVERYONE with iphones, the expression “everyone and their grandma has one” is totally true – my Nana actually has an iphone!!! There were also so many people with iphones, ipads, kindles, and other entertainment devices, and if they weren’t busy with something electronic, they were chatting casually with their neighbor, very uncommon for me over the last year and a half. Everywhere I went, random people would initiate conversation or there would be be a constant chatter sound around me. Even the “acceptable” walking pace is at least double or triple that of Greeks, this part I enjoy because I always am ahead of everyone. The little shopping I have had to do, I have been amazed at the friendliness and eagerness of everyone to help and welcome me – that is one huge thing I miss a lot. The last major thing is the variety and accessibility OF EVERYTHING!!!! I get overwhelmed walking into a gas station or grocery store and have quickly forgotten what it is like to not be able to find something I want or need. I had adjusted and grown accustomed to anextremely simple life without the need for many things.

Hopefully the transition will continue to be smooth, but someone very wise explained it to me very well: he said that coming back from a village (especially visiting my circus of a family) is like drinking from a fire hose instead of stepping into the kiddy pool – that is exactly how I have felt in a good/weird kind of way, I adore my family but we could totally be a traveling circus!

To keep this up as a food blog, I really want to share with you a delicious little Czech stop on South I-35 that sells the best kolaches and other sandwiches. If you ever find yourself between Austin and Waco, I highly suggest that you stop in West, Texas for a couple dozen.

I made pastitio for my family today and it seemed to be a big hit, I substituted the long, hallow noodles for just the small ziti ones and it still turned out wonderful. Thanks for your continued patience as I ease back into this culture and my very hectic schedule!
Kali Orexi,

Giveaway Winner….

I think I might just love having giveaways as much as you guys enjoyed participating!!! Seriously, I was eager and giddy with every comment, every facebook like or refer, and every tweet! 
A BIG thank you to everyone who participated: 
We had about 75 people participate, 60 comments, and 290 total entries including all of the possibilities! With the random number generator, we have our winner: #125 was Lisa Bennet, Congratulations Lisa and I hope to hear from you in the next day or two for a shipping address! 

Since my first giveaway was so fun and such a success, you can guarantee that I will have more to follow (as my budget allows, of course!) ,,, so keep your eyes open for more Greek Giveaways!!! Maybe next time I will ship out some Greek ouzo, Greek coffee, and some other popular treats!

Thanks again sincerely to everyone who participated, I wish I could send you all a package! 

Orthodox Iconography, Part 1

I did not write the below article, but it really expresses what I have learned in my walk through Orthodoxy as well. I am excited to share this with you and I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Here is the LINK to the original article written by Cindy Elgy, I have simply copied and pasted it below for ease to the viewer. 

“There are approximately five million Eastern Orthodox Christians in America (Nabil, 2000). A minority in a nation dominated by Protestants and Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox culture has maintained strong familial and cultural identities. Understanding something about them, being able to lay aside preconceptions and ethnocentricity to view life from the Orthodox Christian’s perspective will allow the onlooker an opportunity to increase in understanding not only of the Eastern Orthodox Christian but of human nature. It is this author’s intent to introduce the reader to an insider’s perspective of iconography in the life of an Orthodox Christian, in the hope that understanding will increase.
A legend passed down for nearly 2000 years describes the first icon. At the time when Christ was traveling to Jerusalem where He would experience the trial and crucifixion, King Abgar of Edessa sent for Jesus. Christ could not go to the King, so instead He sent a linen cloth on which He had dried His face. The story continues that the cloth carried to the King had an impression of Christ’s face on it. The King’s illness was healed when the cloth was taken to him. This first icon, “not made by human hands”, began a tradition of portraying Christ and the saints in pictorial fashion. (Benz, 1963). The entire town of Edessa treasured this first icon, that is the linen cloth with Christ’s face imprinted on it. It was widely acknowledged throughout out the East and still written about in the eighth century (Ouspensky, 1978).
So what is an icon? Webster defines an icon as an image (Webster, 1966). In the Orthodox Church an icon is a sacred image, a window into heaven. An image of another reality, of a person, time and place that is more real than here and now. More than art, icons have an important spiritual role. Michel Quenot says it well in his book, The Icon: Window on the Kingdom, an icon is “theology in imagery, the icon expresses through color what the Gospel proclaims in words”.
For this reason the rules regarding the creation of an icon are rigorous. The iconographer must prepare himself for the task of painting an icon by following a strict discipline of fasting and prayer. He must quiet his spirit and submit himself to God. The icon he creates will not be signed. He will not expect accolades or applause when the icon is completed. The icon will be created to inspire and lead others into worship. Painting the icon is not a use of imagination. Instead, the icon will be painted using the prescribed regimen and style that has been passed down through the centuries. Everything from the facial expressions to the colors used is predetermined. The following is a prayer recited by an iconographer prior to starting to work:
O Divine Master of all that exists, enlighten and direct the soul, the heart and the mind of your servant: guide my hands so that I might portray worthily and perfectly Your Image, that of Your Holy Mother and of all the Saints, for the glory, the joy, and the beautification of Your Holy Church. ( Quenot, p.13)
The primary purpose of the icon is to aid in worship. Its design follows that purpose. Through lines and color the iconographer conveys the awesomeness of the invisible, divine reality (Evdokimov, 1990). The creation of an icon is defined by tradition. That is a 21 st century iconographer would not decide to change the shape of Christ’s face. It is understood that a person who saw them in the flesh painted the first icon of an individual. St. Luke is accredited with painting the first icons of Christ and Mary the Blessed Virgin. Each subsequent iconographer will use the original icon as a guide. There is room for a small amount of stylistic change but tradition limits the options for that change ( Forest, 1997).
Icons are not created to force an emotional response. When portraying historical scenes the faces don’t show emotions but instead portray virtues such as purity, patience in suffering, forgiveness, compassion and love. An example of this would be the portrayal of Christ on the cross. Neither is the icon a sentimental picture. Christ is always shown as God. Even the icons of Christ seated on His mother’s lap show Him with an adult face, revealing that even though Christ lived as a child among us He was also God ( Forest,1997).
Icons depict silence. There are no actions displayed, no open mouths. The icon invites the Christian to enter into contemplation,prayer, and silence (Ware,1979). Space is not defined as three-dimensional and time is insignificant. The story told by the icon precludes time and space. An example would be the icon of the Nativity, which shows the cave where Christ was born in the background with those who came to adore in small vignettes. Lighting proceeds from the character portrayed in the icon. There are never shadows in icons. This shows us that the saint portrayed is “glorified” having completed the race and entered into heaven (Quenot,1991).
Symbolism is used in icons and details are used minimally. For example, when showing John the Baptist baptizing in the river the grown man he baptizes is shown as an infant because the baptism is a rebirth. Colors are also symbolic. Blue reveals heaven and mystery. Green is youth, fertility and the earth’s vegetation. Red, the color of blood, suggests life, vitality and beauty. White is purity, the divine world and innocence. Gold indicates sanctity, splendor, and the glory of God and life in the heavenly kingdom. Purple reveals wealth, power and authority.
First and foremost, icons are a constant reminder of the incarnation of Christ, that is to say, they remind us that God “sent His only begotten Son”(Bible, John 3:16) to rescue us from our sin and death. We cannot see God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, but, because Christ chose to take on human flesh, we can see Him. His face can be portrayed on wood with paint. We can also paint His Mother and other saints who have finished the race and gone on to heaven. The Orthodox believe that surrounding themselves with icons help them to acknowledge the constant presence of Christ and the saints in their lives.
According to Father Nabil, priest of St. George Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, IN, the icon is a representation of the person portrayed upon it. The term used to describe this link is typology. Typology means that an event or item is somehow related to another event or person. An example of this would be the icon buttons on the computer tool bar. When a person uses the tool bar and clicks on the “print” button the user knows that the print button represents something else. That is, the print button will not cause itself to be duplicated on paper with ink but instead the user knows that the print button at that moment is a typology for the item on the screen. By interacting with the “print” icon the user expects the item the button represents to be printed. When an Orthodox Christian gives honor to an icon by kneeling or bowing before it or by kissing the icon the Christian is not paying respect to wood and paint. Instead he acknowledges that the icon represents much more and that the link between the icon and the person in the heaven is real. He believes that in some mystical fashion the veneration given to the icon will be received by the person it portrays.
As a recent convert to the Orthodox Christian faith this author has some experience on which to base an analysis of the use of icons. As a convert ten years ago icons were one of the additions to worship unfamiliar to me. I came from a protestant background and the worship I had been involved in up until this point involved sitting in a pew and repeating prayers, creeds and hymns when appropriate. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Orthodox utilize all of their senses and beings in their worship. Incense floats through the air representing the prayers ascending into heaven. A bell is rung during the call to worship and at other key times in the worship. Altar boys, deacons and the priest serve in the altar area, chanting prayers and hymns, bowing, performing prostration, acknowledging the heavenly hosts of saints and angels whose worship we are entering into. Parishioners do not sit primly in the pews but may walk throughout the church lighting candles, venerating icons. The hands of parishioners are not quiet and closed but may be raised heavenward to show the lifting of the worshiper’s heart toward God or they may be making the sign of the cross, reminding the one who makes it that Christ loved us enough to die for us. Later communion will be available so that one can even utilize the sense of taste during worship. In those first weeks the activity of worship seemed almost distracting to me but as I have entered into the worship it has became natural. The Orthodox believes worship is ongoing in the heavenly kingdom. They believe heaven is a place where worship doesn’t cease, that those who have gone before and have been faithful are worshiping the Holy Trinity continuously. When earthly Christians join together to worship we join the heavenly throng and begin participating in that worship. For that reason the walls and ceilings of the church are decorated with icons of Christ, Mary the Blessed Virgin, saints and angels. When parishioners stand in the pew during worship they only need to look around to see the saints surrounding them. In this way the icon is a reminder of a larger reality. It reminds us that we have stepped out of one world and into another. It reminds us that though we struggle on a daily basis to remain faithful to our beliefs and our God there are many who have finished this life successfully and now dwell in a place were there is no more sorrow. We are encouraged to persevere, to set our eyes on the finish line, to continue to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Living as we do in a society that demands that our lives be lived at a fast pace and with very little quiet time the icon beckons to us to slow down. The stillness of the icon draws us into the quiet so that we can lay aside the cares of this world and meditate on the splendor of the next. The benefit of the icons is not so much in analyzing the style of painting, the iconographers name or even in knowing the individual representations in the icon. The benefit is in meditation, in quietness and in guiding the heart to prayer.
There are other components of the Eastern Orthodox culture that contribute to the use of the icon. It has been this author’s personal observation that the Orthodox culture values family. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins and so on worship together, live together and often even work together. A large number of Orthodox are immigrants who have been able to assimilate into the American culture due to a strong work ethic and a respect for the freedoms afforded a democratic society. Many have lived under Communist governments, some have suffered under the authority of anarchists. Strong family ties, even family businesses have helped to sustain these immigrants. This respect for unity and extended family goes beyond the earthly family and makes the recognition of the saints more acceptable. For example, if Aunt Sally prayed for us while she was on earth and we know that she has eternal life now, why would we expect her to stop praying for us now?
Also, I have found that the Orthodox are a very expressive people. If I meet an Orthodox friend at the grocery store or at church I have learned to expect that friend to drop whatever he is doing and come toward me with both arms reaching out. First he will embrace me, then give me a kiss on each check. This is called the kiss of peace. Often a greeting such as “Christ is Risen!” or “Thanks be to God” will accompany the kiss. It should be noted that this kiss of peace is shared among men and women equally. The greeting can be between two men, two women or a man and a woman. I have often wanted to follow a single person throughout a Sunday worship to tally the number of such greetings a person offers on such a day. If such a greeting is given to people who are simply acquaintances then the kissing of the icon is in keeping with the cultural practices.
In conclusion, viewing the use of icons from within the Orthodox culture has given the author the opportunity to develop an appreciation for icons. I have found that hanging an icon in my home reminds me that God is present in my home. When I pass the icon I remember that I am to be praying continuously. When life is just speeding by too quickly I know where to go to find some quiet and to pray for the peace that surpasses understanding. It is no longer surprising to me that the God who created humans would realize that sometimes in our crowded lives it is beneficial to have a “window on the kingdom” (Quenot, 1991).”

In Part II, I will share more on my thoughts but until then I would love to hear yours! 

Easter continued…

Unlike, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” the movie, my husband’s family is quite small and intimate. A brother and sister were missing, but even when the whole family is all together it is a very tame function; I cannot however say the same for my side of the family. My family in Texas must have some a lot of Greek spirit in them, because THEY are MY big fat Greek family. All of my aunts and cousins come over and are shouting all at the same time to be heard, everyone is in everyone else’s private business, and it is not a family get together if someone doesn’t cry or leave abruptly. You probably think I am exaggerating, I am not 🙂 But enough about my family holidays, I don’t want to scare my Greek husband too much, he has only been around his in-laws for a while and still adores them all! What’s not to love about full blown honesty and letting someone know when they have gained a few pounds, right?

Easter in Greece is very different for me. Besides the wonderful church celebrations and emphasis on Christ, there is also a huge stress on family and spending time celebrating all together, I just love that! We have eaten so much since Saturday night that I think it might be time for another brief fast. Here are our lunch tables: 1) Prepared my my wonderful mother-in-law, anything she makes turns into gold, seriously, she makes the most authentic and homemade Greek food I could ever imagine; 2) prepared by our only living yiayia (grandmother), she too has a great talent in the kitchen. I try to get them to teach me how to cook, but they insist that I will learn better then them, I only hope to become as great of a cook as either one of these wonderful ladies. 

Just some Greek coffee and fresh juice on a typical visit to yiayia’s house.

 Our Easter lunch at home in my husband’s parent’s house. Stuffed beefteki, lamb meat skewers, traditional Easter soups, salad, lots of wonderful cheeses and sauces, wine, and of course red eggs to hit together!

A wonderful spread of homemade Easter lunch with my most favorite yiayia around! We ate a wonderful baked chicken with potatoes in a delicious red sauce (I must learn this sauce!), baked goat with greens, the best homemade tyropita, salad, sauces and cheeses, white wine and ouzo, and again some red eggs to crack all together before eating. 

 Even Meli has enjoyed the benefits of the sacrificed lamb and RISEN KING. I am sure she loves being here more now with a garden to run in, chickens to chase, and bones to hide and eat!

We have had our fill of amazing desserts too: chocolate and strawberry cake, syrup sweets, ice creams, rizogalo, chocolate biscuit pudding, ect. . . 
Let’s just say that we are not going without here! Typically, all the families join together outside and roast either a whole lamb or goat and play loud music, lots of drinking, and eat until there is no more room – because Greeks always prepare more than enough food, they will never run out of food! It is even common to join your neighbors or friends throughout Easter Sunday or even Monday for a drink and some meat! 
An incredible way to celebrate with lavish food, drinks, sweets, and surrounded by great company!!!  

Hope you are still enjoying this wonderful holiday season!

Χριστός Ανέστη!
Christ is Risen!

Good Friday to Easter Sunday

On Holy Friday evening, the theme is Christ’s descent into Hades during which the Gospel of repentance and reconciliation with God is shared for all. The service begins by singing lamentations as we stand before the tomb of Christ remembering His unjust punishment and the shedding of His innocent blood. But the service will end with a joy and hope from the reading of Prophet Ezekiel in which he describes his vision of the resurrection yet to come. In the midst of despair, we are told there is hope, for not even death can separate us from the unfailing love and power of God. Death will be conquered and faithfulness rewarded.

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),


The Holy Week

Holy week serves as the ultimate preparation to face and worship the risen Lord!!! The joy of Easter cannot be complete without reliving the events that lead up to it. During Holy Week all the passions and pathos of the last week of Christ’s life are retold and reenacted. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday, the services recount everything Jesus endured to fulfill the will of the Father. On Good Friday, God’s will is completed on the cross and then with the Resurrection. By reliving Christ’s experiences of Holy Week, the faithful can be resurrected and come closer to becoming like God (theosis).

For me, these next two weeks are really wonderful to actually get to experience in Greece. This first week, called Big Week, is really somber and quiet throughout the villages, but beginning Saturday after midnight the celebrations and parties begin and last for another whole week!

During Holy Week, people are expected to be spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically preparing for Easter. Almost all cafes are empty and social events are reserved for the next week. This is the same behavior as if one is preparing for a funeral of a deceased loved one. Most people at least fast during Holy Week, abstaining from meats and the more strict abstaining from all dairy and oils.

Some wonderful preparations begin on Big Thursday, also known as Κόκκινο Πέμπτη (Red Thursday). This is the day when you dye your hard boiled eggs a bright red, and most families make their own homemade Easter breads known as, Τσοθρέκι (pronounced Tsoureki).

Red symbolizes the blood of Christ shed on the cross, and it is very common to see bright red eggs everywhere. Some people even save the first dyed egg for a sort of protection for the following year. Eggs can also be dyed on Big Saturday but not on Good Friday. This day is considered the most intense day of mourning and there should be no preparation for Easter, only preparation of your heart and spirit. You take with you some of your dyed eggs in your pockets to the Easter service Saturday night and after Christ has Risen and the church lets out, you hit your egg with a friend to see who’s egg will crack. Church begins around 10:30pm and lasts until after midnight, it is even common for the older woman of the church to stay all night long, either Friday night praying or Saturday to Sunday morning singing celebration hymns.

Some other preparations or traditions are buy a new outfit to wear to the Easter service, representing the NEW you that has risen with Christ. Most families also prepare their lambs to be roasted on a spit and many other meats along with freshly made cheeses and sauces! This is the greatest time for feasting all year!!! I definitely mean FEAST too, last year I was shocked how plentiful peoples tables were and how much they ate. We went to a couple of different Easter barbecues and it was if they were prepared for a King, they also ate and drank all afternoon! Let’s just say that Greeks KNOW how to celebrate THE RISEN KING!!!!! 

I will continue to share more about Easter celebration and even my own Τσοθρέκι recipe in the following days. We are planning on leaving for north Greece late, late tonight and will be enjoying this time of preparation! 

Something special for the one you love…

So, this is a completely random post . . . I made my husband these sugar cookies around Valentine’s Day and just never got around to posting them! They are simple sugar cookies and iced with love and sugar. The best part is my husband adores flying and airplanes. He just loved these cookies, I caught him once even flying one around in the air and into his mouth like a precious little boy, I guess it is true that men are really just boys inside! 

Sometimes it is the simple things you make for someone that counts the most! 

A trip to the west . . .

West Lesvos, that is. Here are some photos from a trip to Agra and Eressos in the late winter. Agra is one of the villages that I teach English in every Thursday. It is a rich, mountain village that easily lives off the land surrounding it. The people are unique and simple, my kiddos there are pure and lively! It is very common here on the island to encounter a heard of sheep in the road, a man on a donkey, a dozen stray cats or dogs, and/or especially the warm sun shining down on you as you drive on an abandoned road.

There are a few other photos from this trip, if you want to see them, click on my Flikr slideshow and it will take you to my account. There are two sets of pictures, this one from West Lesvos, and the other from our trip to Chios Island! Hope you enjoy, although the island life can be boring, we are truly surrounded by the beautiful and simple life!!!