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Greek Orthodox Easter

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)  Considered the most important holiday on the Greek calendar, the celebration of Orthodox Easter (Pascha, Greek: Πάσχα) is unique in almost every corner of Greece. Special traditions mark not only the mourning of Christ’s Crucifixion and the celebration of Resurrection, but also the passage from winter to spring. The uniqueness in celebrating Easter the traditional Greek way lies more in the week leading up to the event (Holy Week) rather than the actual religious holiday. The word “Pascha” derives from the Jewish “Pasah” which means “Passover”. Jewish people celebrated “Pasah” to commemorate their liberation from the Egyptians and the passage of the Red sea.While in the ancient Greek years, Easter time coincided with the month of Anthesterion (the flowering month), a celebration of spring and the rebirth of vegetation.  

                                          Greek Orthodox Holy Week

» Saturday of Lazarus

Holy Week is the last week of Lent, the week immediately preceding Easter Sunday. The week of Easter begins on the Saturday of Lazarus with children going from door to door singing the hymn of “Lazaros” and collecting money and eggs.  

» Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday observes the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem that was marked by the crowds, who were in Jerusalem for Passover, waving palm branches and proclaiming him as the messianic king. The branches of the palm trees symbolize Christ’s victory over the devil and death.



» Holy Monday

On Holy Monday the Church tells us the parable of the barren fig tree.The first days of Holy Week remind us of Christ’s last instructions with his disciples. These teachings inspire the readings and hymns which are  consisted of Great Compline, Matins, Hours and the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts with Vespers.

» Holy Tuesday

The need for true repentance is the concern of Holy Tuesday evening’s service. The Gospel tells Christ’s prophecy of His second coming and the Last Judgment. 

» Holy Wednesday

On Holy Wednesday afternoon the Orthodox Church administers the sacrament of Holy Unction for the bodily and spiritual health of the participants. 

» Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. In the evening, the Holy Passion service of the reading of the Twelve Gospels is conducted and the crucifixion is re-enacted. In these readings Christ’s last instructions to his disciples are presented, as well as the prophecy of the drama of the Cross.  

» Good Friday

Friday of Holy Week, traditionally been called Good Friday, is a day of mourning in church. It commemorates the execution of Jesus by crucifixion. The drama of the death of Christ is followed with great devoutness. Early in the morning, parish girls collect spring flowers for the epitaph (bier). Vesper evening on Good Friday, is followed by the procession of the bier. Mournful dirges are heard all day and culminate in the evening with the spititually uplifting candlelit procession of the epitaph through the streets.

» Holy Saturday

On Holy Saturday evening, the Resurrection mass takes place. At midnight the ceremony of lighting of candles is the most significant moment of the year. People, carefully, take home their lighted candles with the holly light of the Resurrection. Before entering their houses they make a cross with the smoke of the candle on top of the door, they light the oil candle before their icon-stand, and try to keep this light burning throughout the year.

» Easter Sunday

The Lenten fast ends on Easter Sunday when friends and family gather in homes, eating lamb on the spit and dyed eggs. This day is also called “Lambri” (Brightness) because the day of the Resurrection of Christ is a day full of joy and exhilaration.
                                                                                Reading Greece

If you Know little of the history or theology of the Greek Orthodox Church and wish to learn more, Timothy Kallistos Ware’s, “The Orthodox Church” (Penguin, 1993) is a good start. Bishop Ware’s approach covers virtually all aspects of Orthodox Christianity – history, theology, and church organization. His approach is ecumenical, addressing issues that unite and divide Christianity.Due to his background as an Oxford academic who embraced Orthodoxy, Kallistos Ware is particularlyqualified to fully explain Orthodox Christianity to the English Speaking world. Moreover, you may browse through the Church of Greece “Myriobiblos” e-text library for views on Orthodox Christian theology and culture.  Kallistos Ware interview…   A Critique  of “The Orthodox Church”…

                                       Greek Easter Table

» From Fasting to Festive Dishes

The traditional services and customs of Orthodox Easter are inevitably linked with both fasting and festive foods. When the Christians began to celebrate Easter, they retained some of the features of the Jewish Passover, such as eating lamb. In Byzantine times, it was the custom to bake ring-bread with a dyed red egg in the middle. The egg is a symbol of life, while red is the color of life.

During Holy Week complete fasting is to take place. Palm Sunday, which is the first day of the Holy Week, is a day when only fish and fish courses are served. On Good Friday, sweet things are not eaten – for the love of Christ, who was given vinegar to drink. Soup made with sesame-paste, lettuce or lentils with vinegar is the food eaten on this day.

Following 40 days of fasting, the traditional Pascha meal is abanquet of meat, eggs and other long – forbidden animal products. Cheese, eggs, and richly scented breads play an important part on the table, but the meal is always centered around meat.On Easter Sunday celebration begins early in the morning with the cracking of red eggs and an outdoor feast of roast lamb followed by dancing.

» Easter Recipes

The Easter table reflects the culinary differences around Greece. Recipes have evolved based on the lie of the land, on what is available place by place, and on the tastes and origins of local populations.

Mageiritsa” made almost universally from any variety of chopped, sauteed innards, herbs and lettuce, and bound with avgolemono, the country’s well-known egg-and-lemon sauce-is not the dish of choice with which to break the fast.

  “Lamb” (or goat on the islands) is the traditional Easter meat served throughout Greece, although how it’s cooked varies from region to region. Spit-roast lamb, which originated in Roumeli, is now the prevalent tradition, but many areas preserve their distinctive way of preparing the Easter dish. On many islands–including Andros, Samos, Naxos, and Rhodes–lamb is stuffed with rice and herbs, then baked in the oven.

One of the nicest Greek customs is the use of “red eggs” for the Easter celebration Greeks mainly color eggs red (scarlet) to signify the blood of Christ. They use hard-boiled eggs, painted red on Holy Thursday. People rap their eggs against their friends’ eggs and the owner of the last uncracked egg is considered lucky.

There are many other delicacies included in the Paschal feast depending on the region of Greece. Included in these are cheese pittes, regional fresh cheeses and yogurt served with honey. As previously mentioned the sweets include special tsoureki and of course, the koulouria tis Lambris (Paschal cookies).

gourmed.gr: Easter in Greece

odyssey.gr: Easter Stories

                                                                                      The Holy Light




On Holy Saturday at the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Patriarch enters the Holy Sepulchre alone to pray. Moments later he emerges with burning tapers to proclaim that Christ has risen, and the bells ring out. The ” holy fire“, he miraculously receives, in this annual, centuries – old ritual, from the entirely darkened chamber surrounding Christ’s place of burial, is later flown to Athens Airport. From there it is received by a guard of honour and it is taken to distant parts of Greece. The flame arrives in Athens at the church of Ayioi Anargyroi in Plaka, seat of the representative of the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem to the archbishop of Athens, from whence it is distributed to the churches of Attica for the midnight service.

                                                                                Greek  Easter Customs

These are customs related to the religious holiday of Easter which is the biggest celebration of the Orthodox Christians and the one richest in folklore. All over the country a plethora of customs and traditions are observed during the week prior to and during Easter. There is a festive atmosphere everywhere and people eat and dance usually until late into the night.

Many places in Greece celebrate Easter in their own way. A few examples:

On the island of Patmos the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet takes place on Holy Thursday morning. It is based on the New Testament and can be compared to corresponding Byzantine customs. On the island of Tinos, on Good Friday, Jesus Christ’s Holy Sepulchres (of both Orthodox and Catholic churches) meet at the port of the island. The members of the clergy chant together and the portable Holy Sepulchre of the church of Aghios Nicolaos goes into the sea. In Vrodathos on the island of Chios, once the psalm commemorating the ascension of Christ begins, on Holy Saturday, fireworks light up the midnight sky.

On the island of Corfu the patron saint Spyridon is celebrated. His body, that has not decomposed, is carried around and is believed to perform miracles. On Easter Saturday ceramic pots are thrown out of people’s windows to throw away Evil.

On the island of Crete, as well as in any places around Greece, a doll is made of old clothes from each house hold and burned symbolizing the burning of Judas.

In Central Greece, in Nafpaktos, on the evening of Good Friday, large crowds of people who accompany the epitaph, pass through the town’s harbour where lighted torches have been placed for this purpose on the fortress surrounding it. In the centre of the entrance to the fortress, the torches form a large cross, which lights up the harbour, creating a scene of unforgettable beauty.

In Leonidio in Peloponnese on the night of the Resurrection the sky is filled with hot-air balloons released by the faithful of each parish.

In Thrace and Macedonia young women in traditional clothing called the Lazarins go around the villages singing traditional Easter songs.

The official information gate to Greek rural tourism: Easter Celebrations Around Greece

Greek National Tourism Organisation: Easter Customs