GREEK EASTER HOLY WEEK
by Gary Van Haas
The solemnity of Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church ends with the commencement of
Easter celebrations, where it glorifies the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Greek
religion, every Sunday is dedicated to the Resurrection of the Lord, but one hundred days
also are dedicated to Easter, 50 before its actual preparation, and another 50 after it in
commemorating the glorification of the Lord. Easter is therefore considered, the
"Feast of Feasts".
The 50 days before Easter, known as a part of the period of 'Triodion', are the period
for strengthening faith in the Lord. This is a period of repentance, which changes people
from indifference to full devotion and prayer, which is considered the soul of faith,
which governs relationships with fellowman. With this special preparation, Greeks enter
the sanctuary of Holy Week, not as spectators, but as actual participants in the
commemoration and enactment of events leading up to the death and resurrection of Christ.
In Greek Orthodoxy, people believe Christians must always be well-trained to fight
against those who try to corrupt God's spirit. The Christian must keep his own spiritual
kingdom intact and his freedom of religion and uprightness vivid in order to be a part of
the Kingdom of God, where the compassion's of the Lord and Resurrection will be
experienced. In this belief, there is no other place where the Kingdom of God can be
expanded except the heart of man; and there is no other gate whereby we can enter the
Kingdom but that of repentance.
The 50 days which follow Easter are signified by the Pentecostarion, which are
dedicated to the spiritual enjoyment of the participants in the deep belief that God is
with all men in everyday life and thoughts. It starts with the celebration of the Jesus'
Resurrection. During this period, the Church of Christ (Christ's mystical body) was
instituted and strengthened. His disciples and Apostles miraculously witnessed the
appearance of the risen Christ, and from that became recipients of the Holy Spirit. From
this momentous event, the Apostles became the ambassadors of the new message of salvation
in the name of Christ, 'the Savior'. Nowadays, Christians are also called to commemorate
the same divine events and to enact them in their hearts and minds in realization that
'Christ is Risen'. This is also one of the reasons why the Church from the very beginning
set forth as the center of its worship, the faith and Resurrection of Christ . From the
earliest days after Pentecost, the Apostles designated the first of the Sabbath of each
week for the remembrance of the Resurrection of Christ.
Holy Week itself, begins after 'Palm Sunday' and runs from Monday, where fasting and
observance lead up to the so-called, 'Passion'. The Tuesday following it is usually
devoted to scripture reading and Wednesday is devoted to the anointing the faithful with
holy oil or a spig of oregano. These sprigs are later thought to have healing powers.
Thursdays usually finds the household up and about very early decorating the churches as
priests read bible passages from the Last Supper. Later, the taking of communion begins in
which all the faithful participate. In the evening services, the priest recites passages
from the twelve gospels, describing the Passion of Christ. On Good Friday, most shops and
businesses are closed and flags are flown at half-mast in commemoration of Christ being
taken down from the cross. On Friday evening, the bier of Christ is decorated with gold
cloth and fresh flowers, where the faithful bow and stoop to kiss the symbolic body of
Christ. After this, the bier is carried out of the church and paraded through the streets
in a lengthy funeral procession. Finally on Holy Saturday, the ceremonies come to a close
as people begin to break their fasts, savoring specially prepared dishes like
'margeiritsa' soup, made of lambs innards. The rest of the day is spent preparing for next
day's big lamb feast at the Easter Sunday celebrations.
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