A Very Special Time In Greece
It’s that time of the year again when mother nature seems to be stretching and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and all five senses come alive. This is a very special time in Greece. The rains subside; the fields display a tapestry of colors from the countless varieties of wildflowers that begin to bloom. Intoxicating ribbons of delicate perfume drift past you from blossoming orange trees and billowing jasmine bushes. The celebration of life begins again in all its glory. Demeter is reunited with Persephone and to show her joy she decorates the world with vibrant color. The Orthodox Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the most significant and lavish of all Greek religious celebrations. Listen to the inspiring sound of church bells and voices of young and old rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ on Holy Saturday. After the long Lenten period, after strict dietary discipline and pious behavior comes the feast and what a feast it is, for the palette as well as the eyes and the ears. Easter is a time for the celebration of life, rebirth and renewal. It is awe inspiring and a truly magical time to be in Greece.
The Holy Week
The culmination of the Lenten period leading up to Easter begins with the Holy Week before Easter Sunday. On this week every day is a church day and each holy day has its’ religious significance and symbolism. Most people in Greece take their fasting very seriously so you may find restaurants have modified their menus for lent. Women dye eggs red (symbolizing the blood of Christ) and bake Easter cookies and Easter bread (Tsoureki) to be eaten on Holy Saturday after the resurrection which signifies the end of the fast.
Holy Friday is a day of mourning and the atmosphere is solemn. Church bells sound a steady toll of one ring – to signify that Christ has died on the cross. The evening church service starts at 7pm. A silent procession of mourners carry the epitaph through the streets with the congregation following behind with lit brown candles and black clothing. If you are in Athens on Holy Friday then please take my advice and go to Plaka to the church of Agia Aikaterini (Saint Katherines) and follow the procession. It is one of the most moving and meaningful experiences anyone can have during Easter. As you walk slowly behind the epitaph in silence with your candle in hand you come to a better understanding of the true meaning of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind.
Christ Has Risen!
Shops usually operate on a holiday schedule today and many tavernas, restaurants, cafe’s and nightclubs remain closed. Holy Saturday or the Anastassi (resurrection) takes place at midnight and is the most joyous event of Holy Week. Churches everywhere are packed and the courtyards and streets are full of faithful Christians with white candle in hand waiting to receive the light of life and rejoice that Christ has risen. There are quite a few churches in the center of Athens where you can attend Holy Saturday late night mass beginning with the previously mentioned Aghia Aikaterini on Lysicrates st. in Plaka, The Athens Cathedral on Mitropoleos st., Aghia Eirini on Aoilou st. and the Russian church Sotiria Lycodemos on Filellinon st.
There will be no shortages of places to worship or enjoy a traditional Easter Sunday meal of roast lamb. It might be a good idea to carry a bathing suit in your bag in case you want to take a swim to work up your appetite.