The Holy week before Greek Easter on Crete.
The Holy Week is very special to all people, especially for homes that include grandparents. They are the ones that teach young generations the customs and habits of our culture. Also, they are the ones that look after the young children throughout the day since children are on school holiday but parents still work.
Holy week starts on Palm Sunday evening. An evening service is held at church where the icon of Jesus Christ baring the thorny wreath is introduced to the public. It is such an important fact that the icon is covered with flowers and perfume is spread around the church. This icon will be on display until Great Wednesday.
Great Monday and Great Tuesday are of less importance regarding facts. This gives the chance to the household wives to clean the houses and bake the sweets for Easter. Sweets will be baked but cannot be eaten before Great Saturday. The Holy Week is a week of strict lent and mourning, hence you can’t eat sweets. All preparations for the house must be finished by Great Wednesday in the afternoon.
Church service on Great Wednesday evening.
During this service two different facts are of importance. First is the holy Anointing of the sick, a form of religious anointing or “unction” (an older term with the same meaning) for the benefit of a sick person. A bowl with oil is placed in the middle of the church and the priests read 7 Synoptic Gospels and other blessings. At the end of the service the priest blesses each one attending church by putting oil on the forehead, cheeks and hands. The use of oil is for healing purposes and it is allowed to take it home as well.
At the end of service you can see people with small pieces of cotton covered in oil holding it in their hands, either in small bags or in a piece of foil. A small tip for this anointing, you must be clean and it is much better that you don’t remove the oil before you go to bed.
The second fact of this evening is the introduction of the icon of the Last Supper. The meaning of it is the betrayal of Jesus Christ by one of his students. The icon will replace the one of Jesus Christ with the thorny wreath and will stay there until Great Thursday Evening.
Great Thursday is the day of the Holy Communion.
Great Thursday is very popular among the Christians. During Last Supper, Jesus Christ gave food and drinks to his students as a form of communion. Holy Communion in Orthodox Church is made of bread and wine and represents the one of the Last Supper.
On morning service, the amount of people who receive Holy Communion is the biggest you can see. It is a great blessing and even people who do it less often can be met at church this morning. Depending on where you live, the menu consists of something different today. For example, if you visit Northern Greece, you will eat artichokes with your meal. One thing that is common all around Greece is that we must eat something that contains vinegar. Since we are on Crete, traditionally we eat stuffed vegetables or stuffed vine leaves and snails. The Cretan recipe “boubouristoi” includes snails that are fried in a vinegar and rosemary sauce.
The eggs are also painted today. Every household should have some red eggs, either self made or even bought ones. They are painted red due to the blood that was shed by Jesus Christ while being on the Cross. They are placed in a plate and left on the table until Great Saturday.
Great Thursday evening service is the one that introduces the Cross of Jesus Christ to the public. The priests read 12 Synoptic Gospels and at the end of the 5th, the priest holding the Cross enters the main church. The priest walks around the church and there are women dressed in black that throw flowers and a lemon scented perfume on the Cross.
The Cross is placed in the centre of the church and people pay their respects. Wreaths of flowers are placed around the Cross as a promising or a gift. At the end of evening service, people receive a blessing with a spear, representing the cut Jesus Christ received while he was on the Cross.
Great Friday – a day of mourning and sorrow.
It’s the day that Jesus Christ is placed in his tomb and it’s regarded as a day off. A custom made wooden tomb exists in every Greek Church and it is used today. Girls and women of all ages gather at church in the morning and they dedicate themselves into decorating the tomb with flowers. Once it’s ready, it’s moved in the main chapel and during Gospel, Jesus Christ is removed from the Cross and He is placed in the tomb.
It’s a day that people commemorate their beloved dead ones and they react as there is a funeral in their own house. Traditional women that stick to the customs cover even mirrors with a piece of cloth, since it’s disrespectful to admire yourself in a mirror while someone has died. The church remains open all day and people can visit any time to pay their respects. It’s a day of doing nothing and that’s why people drive around churches to pay respects to other tombs and admire the decorations.
During evening service special hymns are sang at church by choirs. These hymns refer to Jesus Christ and His life so far, as well as to how He has affected the lives of His followers. Choirs can consist of anybody who is a good singer or religious enough to believe in these hymns. Once the singing is over, the tomb is taken out of the church and it is taken on a tour around all the churches and streets in a village. In big cities where each church has its own tomb, it is customary that they meet at crossroads. This represents the procession of the dead to the cemetery for burial.
Following the customs, it is a day of the strictest lent. You can’t consume even oil today and you stick to simple food, mainly bread, salad, olives and oven potatoes.
Also, you can’t wash your hair today or even if you do it, you should never do it on a Friday for the rest of your life.
Happy rituals on Great Saturday.
Great Saturday is a happy day and everybody is looking forward to it. Morning service at church starts with the good news of Jesus’ Resurrection. It’s the moment that the women find an empty tomb and try to figure out what has happened. The priest goes around the church giving away flowers for the good news. These flowers are kept close to the iconostasis at home and they are used when there is a great need. Also Holy Communion is very popular today and anyone who hasn’t received it on Great Thursday will receive it today. The rest of the day is dedicated to the preparations for the evening dinner.
Women bake their sweets and make sure that the house is clean for the day. The preparation of dinner can be the most difficult part of the day since “magiritsa” is served tonight. “Magiritsa” is a soup that is made of a lamb’s liver, heart and intestines in a lemon, egg and dill sauce. It requires a lot of effort to clean the intestines but it is a meal that can prove your skills as an excellent cook. Still, because it is a very unique meal and might not be liked by everybody, the alternative meal is a chicken soup.
At 11 o’ clock at night the bells at church ring for the night service. People take their white candles and go to church to receive the Holy Light as part of the procedure. Children have been provided with their own candles by their godparents, something very typical in Greece. By 12 o’ clock the priests have officially announced the “Hristos Anesti” Jesus has risen and people kiss each other for the greetings. By 12.10, almost all people have left the church to go home although night service has just started.
It’s a happy service and not so many people know about it. Once they are at home and before entering the main door, the lord of the house makes 3 crosses with the Holy Light at the top wall of the door. It is a way of keeping evil away and spreading the blessing all around the house. Women who keep iconostasis at home will light the candle with the Holy Light and keep it burning for the rest of the year.
Dinner is ready, the table is already set before church and all the family sits together for dinner. The red eggs are now offered to each family member and there is a contest of breaking eggs among the family. Whoever manages to keep his egg intact by the end of the contest is the one who will be luckier than others. Breaking red eggs symbolizes the breaking of the tomb stone after Jesus’ Resurrection.
On Easter Sunday family and friends eat the lamb from the spit.
Easter Sunday is all about getting together, eating, drinking, dancing and having fun. “Hristos Anesti” and “hronia polla” are two phrases that you hear the most. Families get together usually in a big house with a garden or a courtyard. The hosting family is responsible for the table set up, but everybody helps and brings some food over.
The most traditional food today is lamb on the spit and men are responsible for its cooking. The lamb has been bought since the previous day and the fire is started early in the morning. The lamb is put on the spit, the fire is ready and it’s placed over it. There are two ways of turning the lamb to its sides, either manually and each person takes turns or mechanically where an engine is attached to the side of the spit and it does all the work. In both cases it requires at least 3-4 hours of cooking.
During this time, the rest of the food is being prepared and people start drinking early today. In case of good weather, it is a great chance of getting a suntan while turning the lamb. The specialty of Crete on lamb is called “antikristo”. The lamb is usually cut in 4 large pieces, it is put on the spits and it is placed around the fire so as to “face” it. Hence, the name “antikristo” has an “opposite” meaning. The day can be long and can last till early evening hours. It is a great chance for families to meet, friends to see each other more, children to play around the house or courtyard and pets to enjoy some extra snacks today.
The day finishes with a common phrase “kai tou hronou” –till next year- and the hope that we all meet again healthy and happy!
Other routes or items that may interest you:
The wells and waterfalls of Argyroupoli which you can have a look at in Routaki route 32.