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April 13, 2012


                                    Holy (or Great) Saturday

     On  Megalo Savvato (Holy Saturday), the sorrowful mood of  Holy Friday has somewhat abated. Now Greeks concentrate on the final preparations for the next day's Easter feast as Easter is the most sacred observance in the Greek Orthodox faith. Today is the last chance to buy the Easter lamb ( or sometimes goat).

     At home, dishes that can be prepared in advance are made and  the mageiritsa soup is being prepared. This is the traditional Easter soup, which will be eaten tonight after the midnight liturgy - the first meal to break the fast. It's very rich, made from a variety of herbs and the intestines and offal of the lamb which will be roasted on Easter Sunday.

     Also, today it is customary in many places in Greece for young people to light a huge bonfire in the churchyard to burn Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus.

     On Holy Saturday evening the Resurrection mass takes place. It is an occasion attended by everyone who is able, including children. At about 11.00 p.m. the churches are overfilled with people eagerly anticipating Christ's Anastasis– Resurrection.

     The whole congregation is holding white candles that will be lit at midnight when they are given the Holy Light from the priest. Children carry their lambathes (Easter candles). These are special candles made for Easter that are beautifully decorated, and presented in special boxes, often accompanied by toys,  which are given as presents from their Godmothers or Godfathers and taken to church for the midnight service on Easter Saturday.

       At midnight all the lights are extinguished in the church and the priest comes from behind the doors on the altar carrying a candle and calling out "Christos Anesti" (Christ is risen), and passes the flame, the light of the Resurrection, to those nearest him. The flame is then passed from person to person, and soon the whole church and courtyard become bright with flickering candlelight. Eveybody joins in the singing of the Byzantine Chant "Christos Anesti," and the "fili tis Agapis" (kiss of Love) and wishes are exchanged. People wish each other, saying "Christos Anesti" and, in response, "Alithos Anesti" (truly, He is risen) or "Alithinos o Kyrios" (true is the Lord).

  As is the custom, as soon as "Christos Anesti" is called out, church bells ring joyously non-stop, ships in ports all over Greece sound their horns, floodlights are lit on large buildings, and great and small displays of fireworks and noisemakers are set off.      

     Here's a short video of a local custom at Chios island:


      After the midnight service people, carefully, take home their lighted candles with the holy light of the Resurrection. It is the custom to carry the Eternal Flame home and use it to make the sign of the cross on the door frame in smoke. The smoke cross is left there throughout the year, symbolizing that the light of the Resurrection has blessed the home. The aim is to get your candle home without having the flame extinguished, but this can be difficult, especially if it's windy. People are constantly stopping to relight strangers' candles and this adds to the jollity – it's a wonderful feeling/experience to be walking throught the streets in the early hours, surrounded by people carrying candles. Even the interiors of the cars that pass are glowing with them!

     Once home, everyone gathers around the table for the traditional meal to break the fast, which includes the mayiritsa soup, tsoureki (sweet bread), koulouria (Easter biscuits) and the red eggs.

     But before the eggs are eaten, there's a traditional game we play called: "tsougrisma" (cracking of the eggs or battle of the eggs). Holding your egg, you tap the end against the end of your opponent's egg, trying to crack it. It's a game enjoyed by children and adults alike. The winner is the person whose egg lasts the longest and the prize is good luck all year! 

     This game, of course, continues tomorrow on Easter Sunday before, during and after the big feast!

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