Easter is the greatest holiday in the Orthodox Church. It is fixed according to the moon - that is to say, it is always celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon of the spring equinox. To celebrate Easter everything should look clean and new, so houses are cleaned, painted or white- washed, and new clothes are a "must", especially new shoes. Holy Week is dedicated to church-going and to baking, etc.
The period of fasting before Easter is called Apokria and starts during the month of February at Carnival- time which is the traditional period of fasting before Pascha (Easter). The first week of Apokria is called Meat Week (Kreatini) and this is the last week you can eat meat. The second week is cheese week (Tyrini) and also the last week to eat cheese and other dairy products before Easter. This is the time of Lent and on Green Monday the fasting officially begins and lasts for 40 days. This day is a public holiday in Cyprus and people traditionally go on picnics and fly kites. All this period called “Sarakosti”
The preparations for Palm Sunday can be seen from the previous Friday. The people at villages plait intricate "vaynes" ~ palm-leaf flower holders ~ which when finished, resemble little swallows nests perched on sticks. The young children fill them with flowers and take them to church on Palm Sunday when they follow the icon of Christ around the church in a procession commemorating Christs entry into Jerusalem. The older boys hold large palm leaves.
Olive leaves are put into pillow-case-like sacks which are taken to church; there they are kept for forty days after which they can be used for incense burning. From now on there are church services morning, afternoon and evening.
Holy Week is the peak of these activities. On Thursday most women do their Easter baking of "flaounes", a kind of cheese cake found in Cyprus, made of shortcrust with a cheese, egg and mint filling, formed into triangular and square shapes. "Koulouria" are baked with milk, spices and a little sugar and "Tyropittes" ~ loaves with small pieces of cheese added and rolled in sesame seeds.
Eggs are dyed as well. Traditionally they are dyed red with a special root called "rizari", that is sold in bundles at the market during these days. They are also dyed yellow; for this purpose the yellow marguerites that cover the waysides and fields during April are used. However, in the towns you can buy small packets of different colored dyes from your grocer. Some dye their eggs in a more artistic way by tying the marguerites onto the eggs with a piece of muslin before boiling them in a color. The end product is most effective.
Holly Thursdaycommemoratesthe Last Supperof Jesus Christ withthe Apostles. It is the fifth day ofHoly Week, and is followed byGood Friday
Good Friday begins with everyone taking flowers to church so that the young girls can decorate the "Epitafios" ~ Holy Sepulchre. This, in our church, is a four-postured litter with a canopy in which the icon of Christ is laid in state. The whole structure is completely decorated with flowers, a job that takes the greater part of Good Friday morning. At lunchtime the traditional "Faki Xidati" - vinegar and lentil soup - is eaten, containing vinegar because it is said that when Christ asked for water on his way to Calgary He was given vinegar instead.
From early afternoon you will see streams of cars and pedestrians going from church to church to pay their last respects to Christ - and to compare the decoration of their own parish "Epitafios" with that of the others. In the meantime, all the streets along which the "Epitafios" will pass in the solemn procession later that night are being decorated with colored lights. The procession starts after the evening service with the priests preceding, then the Scouts or young men carrying the litter of Christ and then the choir, singing hymns. The whole congregation follows, and children light sparklers on the way. Fireworks are lit from the balconies while the procession moves around its parish boundaries and ends up at the church again.
Saturday is a quiet day, although there is a sermon towards lunchtime during which the church doors are banged and candleholders shaken, when the news is brought that Christ is no longer in His grave. The real sermon of resurrection is at about midnight. Everybody goes to church with a candle and the sermon is held to the accompaniment of fire-crackers. A big bonfire is lit in the church yard. When the priest proclaims that "Christ has risen", all candles are lit and everyone greets everyone else with "Christos anesti" ~Christ has risen, to which the other answers "Alithos anesti" ~ Indeed He has risen.
On Sunday morning most people who have not taken Holy Communion during the Holy Week take it now and afterwards they go home, where red eggs are cracked, flaounes eaten and the fast broken. The children go around cracking and winning colored eggs, for if your egg cracks then you lose it and the child with the unbroken egg gets it. At lunchtime picnics and family gatherings are held everywhere; lamps are roasted on the spit and wine flows freely.
In the villages, Easter is an all-village affair apart from being a big holiday. On such days after Mass, the priest stands at the church door with the Cross and everyone leaving kisses the Cross, then shakes-and takes - the hand of the person in front, thus forming a large circle in the church yard which symbolizes the renewal of friendship with one another. After this, all friends and relations, but especially people from other towns or villages, are invited to the villagers homes where they sit down together, eating and drinking until late in the afternoon.
In many villages it is also the custom on Easter Sunday and Monday for everyone to have lunch in the church yard and each family brings its food and wine and everybody eats at long tables made out of stands and long wooden planks. After lunch there are various games, dances and jokes. So all old quarrels are forgotten. The young people celebrate by hanging up "souses" - swings. For this purpose young men and girls hang ropes from trees and while the girls swing, they all sing love songs, or teasing songs called "Tchatismata" - rhymes –