Greek Easter is the most important religious event for Greek Orthodox Christians and a time for all the family to come together.
Yesterday was Good Friday for Greeks (we follow the Julian calendar-every 7 years it is the same as the other Christian denominations) and last night, I took my children to the Epitaphio (the symbolic bier of Christ) at the Greek Orthodox Church in Leeds. The Service of Lamentation mourns the death of Christ (the congregation wear black) and the bier, ornately decorated with cabbage flowers and jasmine, (traditionally by women and girls-the latter wear white) and bearing the icons of Christ, is kissed by the mourning congregation to mark his burial. (Tonight, Saturday at Midnight, Greeks will celebrate Christ’s resurrection).
…As we approached the Epitaphio, my three year old Oliver asked who the ‘One with the Beard’ was (The Priest) before accepting flowers from the flower girls by the altar who also sprinkled our hands with oil and rose water, rituals he relished in, questioning their purpose and when we could light another candle (his highlight).
As we took our seats, Oliver lifted the laminated hymn sheets from the pew and requested to “look at the menu” which made us laugh. A family of foodies indeed! A moving service, it was further touching to experience it through the eyes of my children. Baby Alexander appeared captivated too, the welcome attention from others delighted him, the Greek chanting and singing soothing.
Looking around the Church, low lit, thick with flickering candles, I caught familiar faces in the crowds, old friends, some with their own children too, mostly from my time at Saturday Greek School, many years spent laughing, playing, learning our parent’s language, Greek dancing, eating penny sweets at break time, correcting the former Priest’s English sermons “it’s Disciples not Disables, Father” and collectively gaining an understanding of our cultural identity…making sense of being British Greeks together…all the things I hope to pass onto my children.
About to leave, I encountered my oldest friend’s mother briefly (he wasn’t there himself)…a friend I’ve known since we were merely months old, a friendship that sadly fell apart (over something silly) a few years ago…yet seeing his mum, I realised these friendships never really die, that long history of laughs over the years at Greek School last a lifetime because they’re so formative and meaningful and like icons, are layers and layers of gold leaf imprinted memories, affecting us forever…and maybe, one day those friendships might return again. Perhaps you just need a little faith.