The True Meaning of Easter - an Easter in Cyprus
by Jane Sheppard
For many of us, thoughts of Easter conjure up the same horrors we increasingly feel about Christmas - shelves stacked high with Easter eggs since the beginning of January, children anxious to outdo their friends with more chocolate than they can possibly enjoy and Hot Cross buns being consumed by the dozen, although nobody can actually remember why!
Some of us will take to the road, sea or sky to take advantage of the long weekend and the school holidays, joining the crowds and traffic jams and paying over the odds for a few days sunshine on a beach where we hope to escape the Easter egg bonanza, avoid the supermarket queues and get away from family reunions! At the end of it, we'll have had a break, much-needed after the long stretch from New Year to Easter, but without much sense of achievement or satisfaction.
However, it's not like that everywhere - Easter still remains a festival of great tradition and significance in the Greek Orthodox world and is an experience not to be missed for those of us who yearn for the simpler pleasures of Easters in our childhood.
Even today, every village and town in Cyprus and throughout Greece will hold its Easter celebrations. The whole week before Easter, known as Megali Evdomada (Great Week), has an atmosphere of expectation. Traditionalists fast, or refuse to eat meat, during this week of Christ's suffering, as a result of which, a wide selection of excellent and unusual vegetarian dishes are on offer in the tavernas, as well as in private homes. The celebrations start in earnest around dusk on the evening of Good Friday, when the priests lead the Epitaphio, representing the tomb of Christ, lavishly decorated with flowers and bearing His icon, through the streets of the neighbourhood. The procession grows, as people join in with candles to mark Christ's death. The mood is sombre, but impressive and holds anticipation of the celebrations to come. True believers then fast completely from this moment through Megalo Savato (Great Saturday) and even non-believers traditionally avoid meat dishes during this short period.
Late in the Saturday evening, the Churches are filled with people waiting to hear of Christ's resurrection. During the service, the Church is plunged into darkness and silence, which is broken at midnight with the chant "Christos Anesti" (Christ has Risen). At this point, the priest lights a candle and from this candle lights the candles of the congregation. Candles are lit one from another, extending to the crowds who gather outside and always accompanied by the exchange "Christos Anesti - Alithos Anesti" (Christ has Risen, Truly He has Risen). The Church bells ring loudly and accompanied by fireworks to celebrate the momentous occasion. Families and friends then gather at home or in tavernas to break their fast, with traditional mayiritsa (a soup made of lamb's offal). This doesn't suit everyone, but Easter cakes, such as Tsoureki are much more popular! Tavernas and homes are decorated with red-dyed eggs and there is a great party atmosphere.
Easter Sunday is very much a family day, but many people gather at the beach or in public places to join in the traditional barbecue of the lamb or goat and this is where tourists can experience true Cypriot "philoxenia" (hospitality) and the party often continues well into the night!
Another advantage of the Greek Orthodox Easter over our own Catholic Easter is that it's not usually on the same date! The Easters coincide just once every five years or so, but in 2006 Orthodox Easter will take place one week after our own, which means that visitors can join in the celebrations after many of the tourists have left.
Orthodox Easter in 2006 is Sunday 23rd April.
To view details of villas available in Cyprus for Easter and all other dates visit
About the Author
Jane Sheppard is Managing Director of Hoseasons Villas, who feature a selection of villas in Cyprus and other European countries for the independent traveller and which can be viewed on
www.hoseasonsvillas.com. She spent 3 years living in Greece, where she found Easter to be truly memorable experience.
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