Feast and Frolics

The big celebration is gradually dissipating now, although it is Tuesday the holiday continues as some shops are still closed and the supermarkets are open reduced hours.The flaounes are gradually getting eaten. I went to the large church in Polis to experience the evening service on Good Friday.I was lucky to get the last seat as the church gradually filled with more and more people after the service had started they even lined the balconies. Throughout the service the congregation one by one went up to the Epitaphos to kiss it. The service lasted two hours during which time the helpers read in a chanting  voice from the scriptures, hymns were sung but in a repetitive chanting style. Some of the congregation had an order of service which they were following and joined in refrains at certain points.

I don’t follow any particular religion myself and was not able to understand what was said so this may have  effected  my perceptions but I didn’t feel any particular spiritual upliftment coming from the service as it seemed very much done by rote. There didn’t seem to be any sermon or special thoughts offered by the Bishop or priest on such a special date in the Orthodox calendar. There was more depth of feeling coming from the congregation than the men of the church although some of the congregation treat the church as a meeting house and gossip through the service.

I didn’t venture forth to witness the unveiling of the iconostasis on Saturday night or join in the lighting of a candle to usher in that “Christ is Risen – Christos Anesti“. as it was very cold on Saturday night. I instead joined in a feast at my cousin’s table on the Sunday lunchtime. I was eager to witness the lighting of the ‘fourno’ in the morning to cook the meat and potatoes and arrived at 9.30 am ready with my camera only to find that my cousin had decided to cook the meat the night before and I’d missed it. I had to make do instead with the lighting of the fire to cook yet more lamb on the spit using a type of fire that my cousin had seen when in Crete. He made his own in his garden and you can see how the meat cooks with the skewers resting on a central rod from the photos. It took 4 hours to cook and I  cannot describe to you how good that meat tasted, I have never tasted such flavour and such succulence. The whole day was a delight spending leisure time with cousins and sons and daughters of cousins and even a son of a daughter of a cousin.Food was delicious and company delightful. Christos Anesti!!!

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Better Late Than Never

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XRISTOS ANESTI ! to all.

I know I am a few days late but it resonates over the week don’t you think? I’ve just looked up when Ascension day is and it isn’t until the end of May so if He hasn’t yet ascended Christ must still be risen?  For those not familiar with the term it is the greeting given to all you meet after the midnight service on Easter saturday at the Greek Orthodox church. It translates as “Christ is risen” and the response is ” Alithos Anesti” he is truly risen. Easter is the most dramatic celebration in the Greek Orthodox calendar and one can see why it is such a loved part of the year. For some reason I had a great desire to be there and join in the preparations and celebrations this year, although I have only been present at Easter time in Cyprus, once. The preparations made and anticipation experienced in the days preceding Easter are akin to how the Western world prepare for Christmas or in the States, Thanksgiving but without the materialism.

Lent is the time of spiritual preparation and contemplation of the soul while abstaining from rich food and ‘sins of the flesh.’ Piles of flaounes are made along with the batches of ‘koulourakia‘ biscuits in the week before Easter using many of  those forbidden foods; eggs,cheese, milk, butter; the devouring of which are are eagerly anticipated on Easter day . The church is prepared with masses of flowers adorning the sepulchre. Then the dramatic service at midnight when the church is put into darkness, the congregation all light candles and walk around the church three times, on their return the icons have had all the black coverings removed and a bonfire is lit outside. The day itself is when a feast of souvla is cooked and once again meat can be eaten and savoured after abstinence. Even non- participants of all the rigours of religious practice and rituals before the day, all revel in the celebrations that come with the arrival of the day, a time to be spent with friends and family enjoying good food.

This time of year has been celebrated throughout millennia when the days grow longer and the earth awakens from its slumbers, the sun growing stronger to warm the ground where green shoots appear once again, and the food cycle starts once more . Easter in pagan times was a time of worship of Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love and war so the egg would be a very apt symbol for this, some say this is where the word Easter came from. Many Christian celebratory dates were placed to coincide with the pagan ceremonies in order to encourage people to to convert to Christianity without losing any of the festivals.

Whatever your belief you share may your days be filled with joy. Xristos Anesti!!!

 

Xristos Anesti!!!

Easter egg

Easter egg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Easter is approaching this week in the UK and it will be Good Friday in a couple of days.

In the UK Easter is represented by the Easter Egg  and hot cross bun; these days the latter is not especially related to Easter as we can now get them all year round??? I don’t know why retailers do this as it is another example of making everything the same thus taking the delight and anticipation away. What’s so special when you can get it anytime? A bit like being able to buy Christmas trees and Christmas puddings all year round. Oh! wait a minute, I bet we can if we look hard enough? Gripes aside, (I love a good gripe), Easter is a special time for me because it heralds new life. Everything in nature is taking a deep breath and sighing out it’s many folded layers of growth and having a good stretch. We can all feel the sun on our backs and we feel, literally, a spring in our step. More daylight streams through our windows and the light changes as the sun rises higher in the sky and sets later allowing us leisure to walk out in early evening light. The birds are noisy and active and the little wren in my garden is singing its head off.

It is obviously completely back to front in the Southern Hemisphere, how strange that would be? In Cyprus it is a magical time with all those seemingly barren rocks and dusty fields shining with the little gems of flowers and vast expanses of bright colour suddenly appearing after the rains, giving the whole place a completely different look; like a drab maiden suddenly putting on her glad rags for the party.

Hot cross buns for Easter.

Hot cross buns for Easter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember many, many years ago when I was staying in my Dad’s village, Yerolakkos at Easter time, the whole village took part in the religious ceremony of it. It is a very special time in the Orthodox calendar and has far more importance  than Christmas. I have only vague memories of the order of the religious celebration but what I remember most clearly is attending the service in the church on the eve of Easter Sunday with my Grandmother .We sat upstairs and the men were downstairs doing all the singing. All the icons as well as the iconostasis, were covered with a black cloth and the whole event has a great air of drama. The service was quite long and as we approached midnight the lights were turned off and the whole congregation lit a candle which set the  church aglow. I had a memory of walking around the outside of the church three times holding the candle but I could be wrong. When we re-entered the cloth had been taken down. We then all turned to each other and proclaimed “Xristos Anesti”  meaning Christ is Risen and this is answered with “Alithos Anesti” truly he has risen. We then went through the village greeting anyone we met with this phrase and home to break fast.

I have found this interesting blog written about Easter in Greece where he describes the whole of the religious observance of Easter week.

The lunch on Easter Sunday is truly a banquet to celebrate the ending of the 40 day fast and traditionally a delicious roast of lamb is eaten, I am salivating just thinking of the flavour of it. The other delicacy eaten at Easter are flaounes; delicious little open pies filled with a special cheese, eggs and mint. My Aunt Eugenia made a huge quantity of these, using goodness knows how many dozens off eggs that were stirred in a vast dish together with the other ingredients. They all disappeared into our greedy mouths at a rapid rate though.

                                                                      Happy Easter and Kalo Pasxa!