Easter Orthodox Style, 2024

Orthodox Easter falls on Sunday 6th May 2024 Image by anncapictures from Pixabay 'Easter'

The Resurrection
Easter or Pascha in Greek, is the most sacred and celebrated of all Greek holidays, the ‘Resurrection’ taking on a bigger significance even than the birth, or Christmas, for many Cypriots.  It is not always celebrated on the same date as the Catholic or Protestant Church as the Greek Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar when calculating Easter.  This year Greek Orthodox Easter falls on Sunday 6th May, 5 weeks after the Catholic and Protestant Churches on March 31st.

100 Days
Around the island, the build-up to Easter has been very important, and following the carnivals, and Green Monday on 18th March, i.e. the start of ‘Lent’, commencing the 50 day period of ‘Triodion’, for strengthening faith in the Lord, Easter with its associated ‘mourning’ and then ‘glorification’ of the Resurrection commences.  The 50 days following Easter are signified by the ‘Pentecostarion’ and are dedicated to the spiritual enjoyment of the participants in the deep belief that God is with all men in their everyday spiritual life.  The total number of 100 days that are dedicated to Easter, 50 before its actual preparation and another 50 after it, thus commemorating the glorification of the Lord.

The word Pascha means Passover in Greek, the eternal Passover from death to life and from earth to heaven, and begins with a 49-day fasting, ending within the Holy Week during which a complete fasting diet is followed.  No meats, dairy, fish, poultry or dishes that are prepared with these foods can be eaten.  Many restaurants around the island also adapt their menus for the convenience of customers who may wish to follow a fasting diet.

Holy Week
The solemnity of Holy Week, the week before Easter, ends with the commencement of Easter celebrations, where it glorifies the Resurrection of Jesus.  During this week, the women bake the special Easter Breads ‘Tsourekia’ and ‘Flaounes’ a cheese pastry, and dye their Easter eggs all different colours, which they use to play something on the line of conkers to see who’s got the hardest egg and we decorate our houses accordingly on the Wednesday before Easter.

A Must
Church services and parades are held on Good Friday ‘Epitaphios’ and the Saturday Resurrection midnight mass that is called ‘Anastasis’.  On Good Friday, the day when Christ was taken down from the cross, most shops and businesses are closed and flags are flown at half-mast in commemoration of Christ.  On Friday evening, services are held, and the bier of Christ is decorated with gold cloth and fresh flowers, where the faithful bow and stoop to kiss the symbolic body of Christ.  After this follows the procession of the ‘Epitaphios’ which is carried out of the church and paraded through the streets in a lengthy funeral procession.

‘Christos Anesti’
Easter Saturday is the day of ‘Anastasi’ or resurrection and is the most important day of the Orthodox calendar.  Most of the Cypriot people and many others attend a church service held on this evening.  At midnight all the lights are extinguished in the church and the priest comes from behind the doors of the altar carrying a candle.  Walking to somebody in the front row and lighting their candle, this person lights the next person’s candle and so on, passing the light from candle to candle until the light fills the church, symbolising the Resurrection.

‘Alithos Anesti’
Everyone then kisses one another and exchanges the words ‘Christos Anesti’ – ‘Christ has risen’, ‘Alithos Anesti’ – ‘truly He has risen’.  Each person then carries the candle back home, taking care not to let the flame go out.  Once home, 3 crosses are made with the flame above the entrance door, in order to bless the house and its inhabitants by the light of Christ’s resurrection.  It is also customary to light a huge bonfire in the churchyard to symbolise the burning of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus.

Easter Eggs
After the mass, people traditionally go home to sit and eat ‘Mageiritsa’ a soup made of lamb’s innards bringing the fasting to an end.  After the ‘Mageirista’, dyed red, hard-boiled eggs are brought to the table.  The red colour signifies the blood of Christ, and these decorated eggs are a symbol of his Resurrection, representing the emergence of Christ from his tomb to everlasting life.  Traditionally people then rap their eggs against their relatives’ eggs, a bit like conkers, and the owner of the last uncracked egg is considered lucky.

Easter Day
Good Sunday is a special day when all families get together and a lamb is spit-roasted over hot charcoals for about 5 or 6 hours, in their yards or gardens.  Early Christians associated the sacrifice of the lamb with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  As the whole island tends to take part in this particular tradition, you are likely to find a cloud of very thick smoke and smell almost throughout the island.  If you are lucky enough to be invited to join a Cypriot family in this, their most important holiday celebration of the year, please do so, it is a wonderful experience, and believe me, the taste of a spit-roasted lamb beats foil-wrapped chocolate eggs any day.

Truly a wonderful time of the year!

by Anastacia Weickyr aka Stanna