Easter was very exciting time for us growing up. Yes, we looked forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny, but it was more than that.
I was raised Greek Orthodox and to be perfectly honest, we do Easter a little different. First off, is the date. Greek (or any Orthodox) Easter does not follow the same calendar as other Christians. It’s based on 3 conditions:
- The Julian Calendar — and not the Gregorian Calendar,
- It’s always AFTER Passover
- It’s on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox (full moon was last Monday).
Every so often Orthodox Easter and what my family called “American Easter” falls on the same day — like it does this year (I believe it was on the same day last year too!).
The 2nd difference is Lent — or really Great Lent. Orthodox Christians have a 40-day period of Lent, but it’s different than other faiths. It starts with 3 weeks of Pre-Lent. Lent begins with Clean Week (not Ash Wednesday) and throughout Lent meats and cheeses are not eaten. Olive oil and wine is also restricted (*cries*). The purpose of fasting is ” to cleanse the body as well as the spirit in preparation for accepting the Resurrection at Easter.” Now, my family didn’t go CRAZY with the fasting – but we did follow it on Wednesdays and Fridays and during Holy Week.
Holy Week is also something that’s a little different. There are different eating rules that apply to different days and a service is held each night (and many times during the day). I’ve been to MANY Holy Week services because my brothers were alter boys. I always enjoyed them because they were different than a typical Liturgy. The services that stand out most in my head are Holy Wednesday (where we are all anointed), Holy Thursday (the Matin Gospels are chanted which cover the time from the Last Supper to the Resurrection. There is a 45-minute Gospel read – usually one of the altar boys fell asleep or lit their hair on fire), and Holy Friday (a very symbolic service where we sing lamentations around the tomb and then go outside the church and sing).
Holy Week culminates with the Paschal Vigil. When we were younger, we didn’t participate in this service. When we got older would fast the entire day. We were very cranky. We would get to the church Saturday night (dressed in our Easter finest) around 11pm and one-by-one the lights would go out at the church. At midnight the priest comes out and start lighting candles. The congregation then goes outside (stopping at the 4 sides of the church) singing. We stop at the front door – which represents the tomb. As we come in we pass from death into life.
When we were younger, we would leave at that point. When we got older, we stayed through the Divine Liturgy and took communion (and we were STARVING). The candle is lit the entire time — the goal was it get the candle home without it going out (I was never successful at this).
At the end of the end of the service we received a red egg. The red egg symbolizes the blood of Christ and new life. We would bring the eggs home and later use them in an egg tapping game.
Once we got home we would EAT. The first few times we went to this service my mom made a full on Easter Dinner. At 3am in the morning. She then realized it was a bit much, so we started eating Publix subs instead and reserved the dinner for the next day.
Easter dinner was one of my FAVORITE meals my mom cooked — Lamb, Greek potatoes, Green Beans, and Greek cheese-filled triangles called Tiropitakia. My mouth is water now just thinking of it! After dinner we would crack eggs and pass out from eating too much.
I haven’t celebrated Greek Easter in a number of years. I could come up with a million excuses, but honestly life has just gotten in the way (and the church is a good 40 minutes from here). Every year though at this time – I get the itch to go back! I’d love for my kids to experience the same things that I did.
So on that note…Χριστός ἀνέστη! (Christos Anesti – Christ has Risen. The reply is Alithos Anesti – he has truly risen). Hope everyone who celebrates has a WONDERFUL Easter!
Do you have any Easter traditions? Did you have any growing up that you don’t celebrate now?