It was Easter week last week in Cyprus the most important celebration both in the Greek Orthodox calendar and in the Greek community at large regardless of how religious or devout they are. It is a time of families coming together to celebrate life in the usual way that Greeks celebrate… with food. All around the country this is heralded by the appearance of huge red fibre glass eggs and bizarre kitsch tableaux of chickens and rabbits dotted about on roundabouts or road junctions ,which always bring a smile to my lips. The most bizarre figure I saw was a huge one of Christ perched precariously on the roof of someone’s house in Neo Chorio.
The church is at the centre of much of the celebration beginning with the decoration of the epitaph by the women of the community with colourful fresh flowers of Spring, these can become works of art. The icons of the iconostasis are dramatically covered with a black cloth on Good Friday and at the service late on Saturday evening this is taken down and candles lit in the congregation. I remember my first and only experience of this service with my grandmother in my father’s village of Yerolakkos many many years ago, a truly dramatic event as the lights in the church were extinguished and we, the congregation, took our candles outside to walk around the church three times. Then we made our way home announcing to anyone we met in the street ‘Christos Anesti’ Christ is risen and met with the reply “Alithos Anesti” ‘he is truly is risen’. The traditional soup, Mayiritsa is made with the offal of lamb or goat to break the fast of Lent and eaten on return from church, then on the Sunday the lamb or goat is cooked in the clay oven or on the spit for lunch. Avgolemono soup is quite often substituted instead .
Bonfires are lit outside the church these days although I don’t remember this being part of the celebration all those years ago, and young boys go around lighting firecrackers everywhere which quite often resulting in injuries very like our own Bonfire night in the UK. Sunday is all about food and family. Flaounes, the wonderfully aromatic pies made with mint and three kinds of cheese mixed with eggs, are eaten, and on Monday traditionally the children play communal games in the villages.
Sadly this year this was a very different Easter as we are all confined to barracks and not allowed to mix even with our own family unless we live in the same house. Even the tableaux were missing from the streets.A very challenging and difficult circumstance for such a gregarious and sociable people to navigate. As the churches are closed it is particularly hard for the older generation who find great solace in the ritual of service and prayer, such familiar activities being denied in these times of stress and isolation is particularly ironic as these are the very times they are most needed. But on the Saturday evening at Midnight many people around the island listened to the service on the radio or watched on television and came out into the street to light their candles and at a distance showed union with their fellow men . This was an extremely touching sight , a symbolic gesture of light after the darkness so poignant at this time, one that gives hope. One enterprising priest took the Epitaph lit with fairy lights loaded it on a truck and travelled through the streets for the villagers to see ,chanting the Liturgy as he went defying the curfew. If Mohammed can’t go to the mountain etc.