This post is being written on Good Friday of Holy Week and I thought to write a post that enlightens you of how Orthodox-Christians and more specifically Greek-Orthodox spend the next few days until the culmination of Easter Sunday. The Great Lent began March 7th (Katheri Deftera) or Ash Monday and those that adhere to the fast would have abstained from eating any meat or meat by-products up until the stroke of midnight, when Easter Sunday arrives. Shellfish, cephelopods and cod-fish (on March 25th and Palm Sunday are allowed) and consumed with vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and fruit. It’s thought of as a spiritual and bodily cleanse and although I do not fast for the entire period of Lent, I do feel better – even after a week-long fast!
For the Orthodox-Christian, the run-up to Easter and the actual day itself are the most significant events in our religious calendar. The events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection are read out and re-enacted in church serves. Megalo Pempti (Thursday) and Good Friday are the most somber days of the Orthodox calendar. The mood in the church is akin to funeral service – that of Christ’s. On Good Friday during the day, parishioners pass by the Epitaph of Christ and pay their respects and then later in the evening we gather once again for as the Epitaph is carried out on the shoulders of men who carry it around a town, village or neighborhood. The Epitaph is made of solid oak, contains an icon of Christ, it’s adorned with many-many flowers and I’ve had the honour of carrying the Epitaph on a few occasions here at our parish St. Nicholas in Scarborough.
Megalo Savato (Saturday) is a day filled with preparations for Easter Sunday: the lamb is purchased, the Tsoureki (Easter bread) is made, Easter eggs are dyed, Koulourakia (cookies), cleaning of intestines, organ meats for an array of Easter Sunday appetizers and the must-have Magheritsa soup. Megalo Savato flashes by quickly and the family gets dressed to attend church for the evening mass. Candles are held by all and just before midnight the Holy Light is passed around and lit – illuminated the church and the area surrounding the church (crowds swell on Megalo Savato) and at midnight, the resurrection has occurred – Christ Has Risen! Indeed He Has Risen!
Families head back for home and for many, they have been fasting for some 40 days and waiting for them is the Easter Soup called Magheritsa containing organ meat, lamb meat, intestines, lots of scallions, herbs and greens and made into a creamy Avgolemono-type soup. From a dietary sense, it’s recommended to eat this soup after the midnight mass so as to not shock the body from a fasting period to a feast on Easter Sunday. Easter eggs are cracked (traditionally dyed red to represent the blood of Christ) and rest is quickly on the minds of all as Easter Sunday awaits…lots of work, lots of celebration!
Easter morning usually starts out with a breakfast centered around more eggs being cracked (and eaten), Tsoureki is consumed with coffee, tea or warm milk and preparations for the day commence. Greeks will cook a lamb (or goat) in a variety of methods, depending on the traditions (or whim) of the family’s origins in Greece. The most famous is the whole lamb on the spit (rotisserie), there’s whole leg of lamb in the oven, sometimes a leg of lamb is roasted on the spit as well. Some Greeks from the Aegean islands will stuff the cavity of a lamb or goat and slow-roast it in the oven.
There’s preparation of appetizer meats, salads, dips, breads, ensure there’s enough water and wine, table settings, etc. Family and friends arrive for Easter Sunday. The home smells of Easter, spirits are high and the anticipation of the feast ahead is great. We snack all day until the main meal of lamb (or goat) is ready and then we eat some more! Greeks always cook for more than who we expect for attendance as family and extended relatives have an open invite to drop by and as we share in this remarkable day surrounded by the most important period in the Orthodox calendar – the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ.
Kali Anastasi & Kalo Pasxa!
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