Easter rituals in Greece: Holy Week on the islands
There Easter it is, of course, a very special time for Christians all over the world. But the Ortodox church, to which most of the Greeks belong, has a unique way of harmonizing the two moments and the different aspects that characterize Easter. On the one hand, suffering and the martyrdom of Christand on the other, the joy for the Resurrection. Here, these two apparently distant feelings merged in a unique way, incorporating some traditional rites of pagan origin, linked to thearrival of spring, the season of hope and rebirth. Many of the customs of the Easter in Greece in fact they originated in the distant past. And subsequently they were adapted as Christianity spread, assuming a new meaning, linked to religion.
There are four rituals that form the basis of Easter celebrations across the country: the red egg tincture of Maundy Thursday, the funeral procession of theEpitaphios (a symbolic representation of Christ’s coffin) on Good Friday. The end of the 40 days of fasting and the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday (at midnight on Saturday) and the festive Easter Sunday lunchaccompanied by songs and dances.
Then there are a myriad of local traditions spread across the country, as every community celebrates Easter in Greece in its own way. And in islands this has a particular value that represents popular feeling and sometimes even competition with other communities.
Easter in Greece: rivalry and traditions
This is what happens, for example, between Spetses And Hydratwo gems of the Saronic gulf, between which there has always been considerable competition. On the island of Spetses, the processions of the Epitafios start from each of the four main churches of the island and then converge on the square in front of the Poseidonion hotel on the evening of Good Friday. The youths strive to lift the heavy decorated statues as high as possible so that they can get a special blessing.
Meanwhile, a Hydrathe Epitafios literally comes out of the sea, carried in arms, in the picturesque fishing village of kaminia. It is no coincidence that this happens. It is a way to bless both the waters and the boats. And the result is a very touching show where an ancient and profound popular faith is breathed.
Easter in Greece: Catholics and Orthodox united
TO Syrosin Cyclades, the two faiths- orthodox and catholic – come together to celebrate Easter in unison. And this is a truly extraordinary fact. The island is in fact one of the few places in the world where the Catholic community – the largest in Greece – and the Orthodox community have chosen to experience the period of Christ’s Passion together in a particular atmosphere. In detail the Good Friday the faithful go out into the streets, following theEpitaphios (each church prepares its own) in evocative processions that depart from the two Catholic and three Orthodox churches.
Along the procession the faithful carry particular symbols: the Orthodox have images of cherubs while Catholics bring cloaks and sponges on spearsevident symbolism of the Christ’s passion. The processions then meet in the central miaouli square, in front of the town hall where traditional hymns are sung by the choir of the Orthodox parish of St. Nicholas. Finally, two places not to be missed are the Catholic monastery of St. George in Ano Syros and the orthodox church of Resurrection of Christ, on Dili Hill: this is where midnight mass is celebrated. After the celebration you will be mesmerized by the fireworks fired from the two overlooking hills Ermoupoli.
Devotion in little Folegandros
TO Folegandrosthe splendid and small island of CycladesEaster is celebrated with particular devotion and the festival involves all the inhabitants but also many who come from Athens. On Easter day thePanagia iconpreserved in the splendid church perched above the town, is carried in procession through the narrow streets of the Kastro in Chora. But the celebration begins much earlier: houses, churches, squares and streets are repainted in white while the women prepare the traditional cakes.
On Good Friday, theEpitaphios, is exhibited in the church of San Nicola and then around 21 is carried in procession through the Chora. Further preparations take place during the Sabbath; then the faithful meet in the late evening outside the church of St. Nicholas with a candle in hand. At midnight the priest announces that Christ has risen from the dead and all the candles are lit as the church bells begin to ring. People return to their homes with lit candles and a traditional meal is held with a typical dish of the feast.
After the dinner, many people, especially the younger ones, continue the celebration in the centre, listening to traditional Greek music. On Easter Sunday the silver icon of the Virgin is carried from the church of the Panaghia up the hill, up to Chora. The procession stops in most of the houses and the believers kiss the icon offering the person carrying the image something to eat and drink. The procession continues until late afternoon. At sunset, after all the houses have been blessed, the icon is given to the people of the other village, i.e. Ano Meria. And as always happens at Easter in Greece the party continues at the table.
Easter in Greece: Corfu processions
Corfuthe charming queen among the Ionian islands, is noted for the complexity of the rites, particular in the entire panorama of Easter traditions in Greece. In fact, the events cover the entire Holy Week involving the entire population. Since the morning of Palm Sunday a suggestive ceremony takes place in the Sanctuary of San Spiridione where the miraculous liberation of the island from the plague in 1629 is commemorated. Following this, a large procession follows the streets of the old walls with the Philharmonics (as the local brass bands are called) playing.
In the following days there are other moments of devotion. But it is Holy Thursday that brings the celebration to life. In the cathedral, 12 candles are lit and extinguished after the reading of twelve passages from the Gospels. On the same day, the ringing of the bells means it’s time for the Easter eggs they dye themselves red, a habit that symbolizes the rebirth of life and nature. The Good Friday it is characterized by the procession of the Epitaphios which continues until the evening while on Saturday a unique ritual takes place: the people, shouting “Christ is risen“, he hurls clay pots from windows and balconies that crash noisily onto the streets below. An exciting moment is the Catholic Mass of the Resurrection in the Cathedral: the streets are lit by thousands of candles lit on balconies and windowsills.
Finally, to celebrate Easter Sunday, venture out of the city, towards the countryside villages where parties are held with dancing and rich meals.
Chios, the island of Mastica
In addition to being the fragrant island of chewthe famous plant resin that grows only here and that in Greece it is called precisely “tears of Chios”, this island is also famous for its magnificent Easter celebrations. On the night of Holy Saturday, the inhabitants of Vrontádos set fire to the night. Start a virtual fight between the church of Panayia Erythiani and the Church of Agios Markosa custom that dates back to the time of the Turkish occupation which is repeated every year at Easter and which transforms this village of Chios, nei islands of the northeastern Aegean in a virtual battlefield.
Midnight mass is also an occasion in which everyone participates, each with a white candle. Special candles made for Easter are called “labathda” and are lavishly decorated. They are almost always given to children by their parents and are only used for the midnight celebration.
Easter in Greece: Patmos the sacred island
So let’s go to Patmosthe sacred island of Dodecanesebecause here was written the book ofApocalypse. Also for this during the Holy Week visitors are immersed in a deeply spiritual atmosphere and the presence of St John’s Monastery leads to a particular respect for ancient Christian traditions.
One of the most important moments is the foot washing which is performed by the abbot of the monastery on a stage specially set up in the square of the Chora. The ceremony is very impressive. The abbot, having washed the feet of 12 monks, goes to a secluded place to remember Jesus’ journey to the Gethsemane. Then, always in the monastery, the re-enactment of the Deposition from the Cross takes place. While the Epitafios go out in procession down the narrow cobbled streets.
On the evening of Easter Saturday, the monastery opens its doors. Thus locals and visitors alike have the opportunity to attend an Orthodox Mass in an atmosphere of mystical concentration. When you hear the formula “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen), a show by fireworks fills the night sky. However, the culmination of the Easter ceremonies is the “Liturgy of love“, which is held on Easter Sunday at 15 in St. John’s Monastery. During this liturgy the Gospel is read in seven different languages When mass ends, red eggs are offered to all to symbolize the perpetual rebirth of life and nature.