Monday, March 25, 2013

Easter in Cyprus

I have not had time to blog about our mission lately, and I apologize, but I am going to make some time right now to share with you all how Easter is celebrated on this lovely Island. Byzantium reigns here, especially during Easter season. The world celebrates Easter on a different day/month than do the Orthodox. It is THE highest Holy Day in the Orthodox faith, far more prominent than Christmas. It is begun with a 40 day fast from meat. Even fast food places such as McDonald's serve veggie burgers and fish during the 40 days of Lent. Here is the timeline for the celebration, which lasts the whole month of May this year.

Easter Celebration in Cyprus

Easter is the most sacred of all holidays in Cyprus. According to the Greek Orthodox tradition, this year we are celebrating it in May. During this Holy Week, Cypriots will come together to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with religious rituals, sumptuous feasts, singing and dancing.

The Easter celebrations begin on the Saturday of Lazarus (the day before Palm Sunday) when children go from door to door, singing the ‘Lazaros’ and collecting eggs and money.

On the morning of Palm Sunday, churchgoers are given crosses made of palm fronds, which they take home and keep on their icon-stands for the rest of the year.

From the Monday onwards, fasting and reflection in the day lead up to the Passion of Christ in the evening.

Tuesday is devoted to scripture reading and on the Wednesday, the faithful are anointed with holy oil or a spring of oregano – a herb which is believed to have healing powers.

On Easter Thursday there is the grand ceremony of the dying of the eggs. This custom dates back to Byzantine times when a ring-bread was baked with a red egg in the middle. The red eggs symbolise the resurrection of Christ: the egg stands for the birth of new life and the colour red represents the blood of Jesus. The eggs are then put on display until Easter Sunday.

Good Friday is a day of mourning for the death of Christ. This is the time to serve special soup, made from lettuce or lentils, and sesame paste and vinegar (in memory of the vinegar Christ was given to drink on the cross). Sweet foods are avoided and it is considered a sin to work with a hammer or nails or to sew on this day.

On the evening of Good Friday the procession of the Epitafios takes place. The Epitafios represents Christ’s funeral and a decorated bier is carried around the streets, followed by a band or choir, cantors and clergy, women carrying myrrh, scouts and guides and the local people. It is a wonderful sight to behold as all along the route flowers and perfumes are thrown onto the Epitafios.

On Holy Saturday the food for Easter Sunday is taken to the church and blessed by the priest. At midnight, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. This is considered one of the most important rituals of the year. Bells are rung and candles are lit from the Holy Light inside and outside of the churches.

In the evening, the traditional supper is served which includes traditional Easter bread and a special lemony lamb soup called Magiritsa, followed by Flaounes – special cakes made of local cheese, semolina, sultanas, mint and yeast wrapped in pastry.

The big focus of the holiday is Easter Sunday, when families make their way to church for the service. The Lenten fast is finally broken after the Easter Sunday service. Families gather together to crack the red-dyed eggs before eating them and to wish each other with the words ‘Jesus has risen’ to which the traditional reply is ‘Yes he has’. It’s said that the person with the last remaining uncracked egg will enjoy good luck throughout the year.

On Saturday 4th May, firewood will be gathered in the chapel courtyard ready for the evening, when the effigy of Judas will be burned on the lambradja (bonfire) to symbolize his punishment for the betrayal of Christ.

The evening will climax dramatically when the church lights are put out and then relit to the ringing of the bells, to symbolize Christ’s resurrection.

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