Tomorrow is Greek Orthodox Easter. The simple answer for the difference in the date used by Greeks and others of the Eastern Orthodox faith from that followed by Protestants and Catholics is that the former calculate their Easter based upon the Julian calendar while the latter use the modern Gregorian calendar. If you want to know precisely how the date is determined, check out this link to my post a few years back around this time.
But no matter how the date is determined, Easter is by far the main event in Eastern Orthodoxy. It is preceded by more than a week of significant religious and cultural observations. And on Mykonos, Easter literally brings the island back to life.
In the winter, Mykonos is a sleepy island village with virtually no tourists, no business, few open bars, fewer restaurants, and no clubs. But come Easter Week everything changes. Red and yellow springtime poppies burst to life all over the island’s hillsides, and those and still more varieties of flowers embroider the blanket of green covering the nearby holy island of Delos. There are Church services every day of Holy Week, as well as daily preparations for the feast to come at the end. Breads and cookies are readied on Monday and Tuesday, baking is done on Wednesday, and eggs are dyed red on Thursday, the day before Christ was put up on the Cross.
By Thursday, Mykonos is filled with mainland Greeks flocking to their vacation homes and others looking to participate in a perfect example of spiritual and temporal coexistence: Easter church rituals strictly observed during the day, followed by the island’s as nearly hallowed party traditions through the night. But that taste of the coming mid-summer craziness is short lived, for if you don’t catch the action that weekend come by in June, because Mykonos is back in hibernation come Tuesday.
Evening services on Good Friday start at seven in the old town’s three main churches, Kiriake, Metropolis, and Panachra. At precisely nine, each church’s clergy and worshipers leave their church in separate processions carrying their church’s epitaphios (the painted or embroidered cloth representation of Christ on a bier elaborately adorned in spring flowers and symbolizing his tomb) along a prearranged route, winding past the other two churches before ending up back at their own to complete the service. It represents the funeral of Christ, and Mykonians and visitors line the route, some standing on balconies and sprinkling the participants below with a mixture of rose water and perfumes, the rodhonoro used on Christ’s body when taken down from the cross.
The same three churches serve as the scene of the following night’s Holy Saturday services. Most generally start heading off to church around ten, but for certain everyone is there by midnight. For that is the high point of Easter, when church bells ring out across Greece and even total strangers exchange the traditional Christos Anesti and Alithos Anesti greetings that Christ has risen, kiss each other, and light each other’s candles to share the light and joy of the occasion—a light brought to Greece for just this purpose from the Holy Flame of Christ’s nativity cave in Jerusalem. Worshipers carry the light back into their homes or their favorite restaurants, except for the hearty souls who remain in church for the balance of a service that lasts hours more into the morning.
Now it is time to challenge each other with the customary one-to-one smacking of those dyed-red eggs for good luck to the winner (mine always cracks first) and devour the traditional mayiritsa soup (made from parts of a lamb you may ask me about if you really want to know), fluffy tsoureki easter bread, and salads to break the forty-day fast leading up to Easter.
But the big feast, the one everyone looks forward to, comes on Sunday. That’s when all the work of the week and all the spring lambs find their purpose. There is church, too, of course, but this day is more about celebrating with family and friends. And eating.
Dieting starts Monday. Kalo Paska
Jeff — Saturday