My Big Fat Greek Easter
By Barb Mazarakos
I admit it- I LOVE Easter. It’s been my favorite holiday since I was a child, even surpassing Christmas and all of the childlike fun that goes along with it. (Don’t get me wrong, I still love Christmas even as an adult. But Easter has always been my number one). There has always been something about the re-birth and newness of Easter time: the spring air is a bit warmer, the birds are returning to chirp outside my windows, and summer is right around the corner. As I got older and came more into my faith, Easter became so much more. It is the joy of knowing that Jesus loved me enough that he died for ME; lowly, sinful, not-even-close-to-being-worth-it me. It’s the first time I saw a woman from church who I have known since I was a child cry as we took turns hammering nails into a cross one Good Friday to really remind us that it was His love for us that held Him on the cross. It’s the smell of pancakes coming from Ledogar Hall (and the occasional smell of smoke to go with it!) and the conversations with my grandmother as we prepared dinner together while comparing the Holy Week services of our respective churches. And so when I married into my own big Greek family and realized that most years I could celebrate Easter twice?? I was thrilled!
The celebrations themselves are very similar in the week leading up to the Resurrection of Jesus. There are palms for Palm Sunday (in some churches even in the cross shape that we use at Christ Lutheran) and services throughout the week (St. Spyridon Hellenic Orthodox Church in Palos Heights is one of many churches with services both morning and evening for the duration of Holy Week). The difference begins with Holy Saturday, when service is offered not only in the morning, but a special Resurrection Service often begins around 11pm. This is one of the most beautiful services I have been able to be a part of, as we make the transition from the sadness of Good Friday to the pure joy of Easter Sunday and the empty tomb. The church itself even transforms from darkness into light once midnight comes and we reach The Resurrection Service. The priest will light a candle from the eternal vigil light and share that light with the altar boys, who light the candles of parishioners, much like we do on Christmas Eve. Before long, the whole church is aglow and children in their best Easter outfits hold their beautifully decorated candles and process along with the rest of the church outside, to share the Light of the World with those outside the church doors. The priest continues with the Gospel outside (in most cases) and ends with his candle held high, making the sign of the cross with it and greeting church members with “Christos Anesti!” (“Christ is Risen!”) The congregation returns with “Alithos Anesti!” (“Truly He is Risen!”) Everyone returns to the church where service continues, in some cases for another two hours or more, and always includes Holy Communion. Since most of the Orthodox faithful have fasted through Lent to varying degrees, it is not uncommon to have a late (very late!) dinner to break the fast, often consisting of bread, salad, and soup before going home.
Easter Sunday afternoon offers an Agape Service, which is very helpful for those with young children who can’t make it through the late Resurrection Service of Holy Saturday. Here we can listen to the reading of the Gospel in multiple languages, and be reminded of how truly universal the love of God is.
And of course, what is a holiday without a feast? Much like you probably had at your home, there are Easter eggs. Ours are all red, though, representing the blood of Christ and rebirth. A competition of “tsougrisma” often follows, where you tap your opponents’ egg with the tip of your own, trying to see whose will crack first. This is something that the adults love as much as the kids and competition can be fierce! We have tsoureki (Easter bread) and lamb, as well as ham and a variety of sides and sweets. But perhaps most important is the company. Family, and friends who have become family, gather around the table just like anywhere else to celebrate the joy of Easter and the gifts God has given us.
Even though the dates of our Easters can vary by as much as five weeks based on their use of a different calendar than other Christian churches (you can find a full explanation as to the different dates at sites such as www.goarch.org, the site for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) the true beauty of Easter remains the same- Jesus died on the cross and ROSE, just as He said He would. For you. And for me. And THAT is worth celebrating every day, my friends. Whether it is a formal service in church with candles and trumpets and your Easter best, or a Wednesday afternoon in the privacy of your own home, celebrate it.
Christos Anesti! Christ has Risen! Blessed Easter to you.