The most important celebration of the year, Greek Easter is a special occasion, a time of rebirth and new things. Greeks look forward to the feast and Holy week with eager anticipation, and the island of Cyprus in the Eastern Meditteranean has it’s own way of celebrating.
It is not often that the Orthodox and Western Christian Easter fall on the same date, but for the next two years it will be the same, and will not coincide again until 2017. Based on the Julian calendar, the date of Orthodox Easter is determined by being on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox.
Carnival and Clean Monday
The Easter celebrations really begin from Carnival two months beforehand. The festival of ‘Apokria’ is a fancy dress extravaganza with Carnival prcoessions in the large towns and huge effigy’s of Judas are set fire to. The following day Clean Monday or ‘Kathari Theftera’ marks the first day of Lent and the long fast where animal and meat products are abstained from. Greek-Cypriots take to the fields and countryside for picnics and kite flying with a traditional meat-free, feast, replaced with squid and calamari grilled on the charcoal, accompanied with various salads and the traditional unleavened bread ‘lagana’.
Red coloured eggs are dyed on Holy Thursday or ‘kokkinobempti’, the deep red symbolising the blood of Christ, and the traditional ‘Flaounes’ are baked, a sort of cheese pie made with mint, cheese, sultanas and a sesame crusted pastry, the aromas waft through villages. Left over pastry is sweetened and rolled into ‘koulourakia’, a sweet cookie.
Good Friday is a mournful day, the ‘epitaphion’ or Holy Sepulchre is adourned with fragrant flowers. Throughout the morning, Cypriots bring flowers to the church and the women dress it for the evening’s mass. That evening the procession of the ‘Epitaphion’ is followed by the congregation through the town, the followers carry lit candles and sing mournful laments, some line the streets and sprinkle holy water on the procession and over the ‘Epitaphion’. As it returns to the church grounds it is held up high so that people can pass underneath to be blessed.
Scriptures say that Easter Saturday morning is when Christ was no longer found in his grave, the morning sermon marks this occasion by banging on the benches and doors and those who have fasted receive Holy Communion. By late evening the church bells toll and everyone gathers at the curches. It is the climax of Holy Week and Greeks wait in anticipation with their large candles or ‘lampathes’. By Midnight the church is in darkness and as the Holy Light is passed on by each parishoner, the church bells begin to chime, both signify that Christ has risen. ‘Christos anesti’ Christ has risen the priest confirms, fireworks and bonfires are lit. and the sound of firecrackers is almost deafening.
Friends and family gather at their homes to break the fast with a midnight feast, the traditional Greek-Cypriot ‘Avgolemoni’ soup, Egg and Lemon soup, with boiled chicken, and flaounes adourns the table. The red eggs are cracked to symbolise Christ breaking from the tomb, and ‘Christos Anesti’ is relayed to one another, to be responded to with ‘Alithos anesti’ – Indeed he has risen!
Easter Sunday FeastDespite the late night, the preparartions for the big feast begin early, marinated new spring lamb is roasted on the charcoal spit accompanied by roast potatoes, Easter bread ‘tsoureki’ and greek deliacacies. Traditionally in the villages the feast was held in the church yard on long tables and villagers would bring their food to share it with friends and family. Flaounes and the red dyed eggs are the centrepiece on the table, and wine is free-flowing. It is a time to celebrate new beginnings and a new year. ‘Chronia polla’ a good year is wished for and ofcourse God’s blessing.