Thursday, 2 April 2009

Easter in Dodecanese


Patmos is known as the island on which St. John wrote the Revelation, and as it has the privilege of the faithful and uninterrupted observance of all the traditions, thanks to the presence of the Monastery of St. John the Divine, it attracts many visitors. At the centre of the ceremonies and services is the "Washing of the Disciples' Feet". Each year, with its decorations of palm branches and a rich variety of spring flowers, it has a powerful visual and emotional effect on all who attend.
On Holy Thursday, a platform is set up in the square of the main town (Chora), which is always crowded for the occasion. During the ceremony, which lasts about an hour and a half, the Bishop, who "plays the part" of Christ, washes the feet of twelve monks -the Disciples- in imitation of the action of Christ before His Crucifixion.
On Easter Sunday at 3 p.m., at the Patmos Monastery, the "Second Resurrection" takes place, at which the Gospel of the Resurrection is read in seven languages, and red eggs are distributed by the Abbot to the faithful.
The Easter ceremonies - which convey with bold brushstrokes the splendour of Easter on Patmos - end on Easter Tuesday with a procession of the Monastery's icons in Chora.


On the Saturday of Lazarus ( the Saturday before Holy Week begins), children go from door to door singing the 'Lazaros", and collecting money and eggs for the priests. In the old days, no farmer went to the fields to work on that day, since they believed that whatever they would touch would wither. They were only allowed to collect dry sticks for the ovens in order to bake the Easter cookies (Koulouriakia) during Holy Week. Also on that day, the housewives bake "Lazarakia" -coiled ring- breads, symbolising the wrapping of the body of Lazarus in his shroud.
On the morning of Holy Thursday, groups of children visit all the neighbourhoods of the town, carrying baskets, singing and collecting flowers to decorate the bier of Christ. The epitaphios procession takes place in the early morning hours, after the Crucifixion rite, after which it is also customary for women to stay in church to sing the traditional laments.


On Lazarus Saturday, the custom of kneading “Lazarus” is still observed. Bread is shaped into a figure with clearly distinguishable hands, legs and head. After morning mass, children roam through the neighbourhoods singing Lazarus carols.
On Holy Thursday night, young and old women sit around the Crucifix and chant the “Funeral Song of Christ” which is passed down from generation to generation. The Funeral Song lasts about an hour and has its own melody, something between a Byzantine hymn and a mourning folk song. It is repeated many times. On Holy Friday, the procession of the epitaphs (the biers of Christ) takes place. Some biers are adorned with flowers and others with silk cloth and the Christians follow them in procession holding lit candles. They all come together and pass by the Bishop in front of the Cathedral to receive his blessing and then return to their parishes.
On Holy Saturday, when the prophecies are read in mass and the priest says “Christ has risen”, the entire congregation starts clapping; they applaud out of joy and satisfaction and the deep belief that Christ has really risen.
After mass, lambs are slaughtered and stuffed with rice and thin sliced pieces of liver. Then the stuffed lambs are placed in special earthenware pots, called “mououri”, which are then put in traditional dome-shaped ovens. At 12 o’ clock (midnight) exactly, church bells ring, while dynamites are thrown from mountain tops.
On Easter Monday, in the afternoon, people gather at the port square where they reenact the departure of the sponge fishers as it used to be done in the past; that is, they sprinkle the ships with holy water, and songs and dance follow.


While the grown-ups are occupied with the seasonal tasks and churchgoing, the children also prepare themselves for Christ's Resurrection. They take large old-fashioned keys, tie a string to them and attach a nail to the other end of the string. Then they fill the key with gunpowder and put the nail in the keyhole. On the evening of the Resurrection the key is banged hard against the wall to make the gunpowder explode and create a pandemonium. Others take long strips of paper, put gunpowder and a wick at one end of the strip, fold them up in triangles with the wick protruding. This is lit the moment that the priest pronounces the words "Christ has risen".
On the morning of Holy Saturday, the church is decked in white and strewn with strongly scented flowers from the mountains, particularly small purple scented flowers (lambres). The women make Eaters pastries and stuffed lamb.
The young people make an effigy of Judas out of old rags, put into its hands the price of betrayal (a bag containing 30 pebbles) and hang it in the courtyard until the rags catch fire and go up in flames.


On Karpathos, instead of spit-roasting the Easter lamb, the custom is to stuff it with rice, split grain, and intestines. It is prepared in this way on Holy Saturday. It is then put into the traditional Karpathos oven, which is sealed with mud and clay. On Easter Day, the oven is opened and the lamb is eaten accompanied by local wine and traditional dances.
In the community of Menetes, St George's Day is celebrated by a custom called the "Laki". The villagers gather on a hill (St George's Hill) where they entertain visitors and the people of the nearby villages. Visitors are offered wine and lamb (free of charge) and then the villagers throw sticks of dynamite into the gorge.

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