Visiting Cyprus, you will notice that religion is a major part of people’s lives. More than 70% of the Greek Cypriots are Christians belonging to the Greek Orthodox and about 20% of the Turkish Cypriots are Sunni Muslims. The rest accounts for other religions on the island, including Roman Catholic, Maronite, Protestant, Jewish, and others. This article is about the Great Lent and Easter in Cyprus an important religious event.
But wait, firstly it’s Smelly Thursday
Twelve days before the Lenten season, Cyprus is celebrating a carnival parade in the city of Limassol. This has been going on for over a century when residents express their faith and optimism for a good year. A lot of merry-making, dancing, meat feast and of course the celebration of wine. Remember my article about the village in Omodos?
Further Reading: Omodos Village – Fine Wines, Folk Arts and Handicrafts
And speaking of a meat feast, a day before the start of the carnival, which falls on a Thursday is Tsiknopempti or Smoky/ Smelly or Charred Thursday. Can you smell the aroma of grilled meat?! Please don’t be hungry yet!
The Lent Begins on A Green Monday
Seven weeks before Orthodox Easter and twelve days after the Carnival is the start of the Great Lent, which falls on a Monday. Here in Cyprus, it is Green Monday and in Greece, Clean Monday. The Greek word is Kathara Deftera.
This day calls for purity, leaving behind sinful actions and thus, fasting begins. Eating meat, dairy products and eggs are forbidden during this season. Shellfish is permitted however, fish is allowed only for major feast days. An unleavened flat bread, Lagana is a staple for this day.
Cypriots usually celebrate this day with a picnic and with kite flying that signifies the start of spring. But during this no picnics due to pandemic.
The Great Lent
With the start of the Green Monday, the Great Lent runs for forty days. The faithful prepares himself for the Resurrection of Christ. Preparation entails fasting, confession of sins, attending church services, limiting entertainment and spending. More importantly, dedicating to good works and charitable works too.
Prayers for the dearly departed are increasingly offered at this time. It is a Christian obligation of charity to pray for the dead. Saturdays are dedicated for the dead with a liturgy, hymns and prayers.
The Weeks During Great Lent
- First Week – The Clean Week. At the start of Green Monday, the faithful undergoes spiritual cleansing through fasting, prayer, and begging forgiveness. Cleaning of surroundings is also a tradition in the sense that one’s disposition matches with the environment. Throughout this week, fasting is very strict, which means eating only on Wednesday and Friday evenings, for those who have the strength.
- Second Week – The Commemoration of St. Gregory The Palmas. He is the great defender of the Church’s doctrines. On this week until the sixth Friday of Lent, one meal per day. On the sixth Saturday of Lent, Saturday and Sunday fasting is the same as the first week.
- Third Week – The Veneration of the Cross. This time is the midpoint of the forty days. An all-night vigil begins as the priest brings the cross to the center of the Church venerated by the faithful, until the next Friday.
- Fourth Week – The Afterfeast of the Veneration of the Cross. On Monday and Wednesday, a veneration of the cross happens in the first hour. And on Friday, the cross is returned back to the sanctuary by the priest and deacon.
- Fifth Week – Chanting of The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. The longest canon with nine odes.
- Sixth Week – The Great Lent Ends on Sixth Friday. Also ends the readings of the Old Testament. On Saturday celebrates the resurrection of Lazarus and on Sunday is Palm Sunday.
The Holy Week
While the Roman Catholics have Lent Season observing the Holy Week, in Orthodox the holy week is separate from the Great Lent. But the services mirrors with the Great Lent.
- Holy and Great Monday. Joseph an important figure in the Bible.
- Holy and Great Tuesday. The Parable of the Ten Virgins.
- Holy and Great Wednesday. The Anointing of Jesus at Bethany.
The first 3 days, is eating one meal a day with cooked food without oil.
4. Holy and Great Thursday. The Mystic Supper. One meal with wine and oil.
5. Holy and Great Friday. The Passion. No food for this day.
6. Holy and Great Saturday. Burial of Jesus and Harrowing of Hell. One meal a day with cooked food without oil.
Below is the celebration of Easter of the year 2019, before the pandemic hit us. For 2020, it was a lockdown period, and for this year with the churches now open, crowds will be limited and as well as house guests.
With Roman Catholic’s lent season may differ in dates with the Orthodox, here in Cyprus the church dates are in synch following the Orthodox calendar. This is to unite both churches and for residents in both religions to celebrate together for the holidays.
The Easter Eve
Church service usually starts at 11:00 PM, to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Arriving at the church bringing candles to receive the holy light. The language used for the hymns, gospel, and prayers is Greek Byzantine. Families came for the service -grandparents and the young generation. Every minute the church grounds get filled with families.
Before the clock strikes 12MN. The lights inside the church were turned off and the priest starts to pass around a lighted candle, The Holy fire/light from Jerusalem.
Earlier today, there was video footage from the airport, a plane arriving from Israel with bishops bringing the Holy light. The light was received by bishops here and distributed to different churches.
According to the Orthodox Christians, this symbolizes the miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday, or Holy Saturday, the day preceding OrthodoxEaster. (wiki).
As tradition the light must keep burning till it reach the homes.
Once the majority receive the candle light, the church lights are back up; then the priest move towards a platform outside.
Priest: Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen)
Response: Alithos Anesti (Truly, He is Risen)
A gospel reading follows and hymns. Slowly, some of the churchgoers start their way home to celebrate with their families and friends. And we too, head our way out.
Though I was waiting for the happy easter greetings, to say to one another just like in Athens. But here in Cyprus, the greetings are at the end. Outside the church, a bonfire was lit with Judas’ head at the tip – the apostle who betrayed Jesus.
The Easter Eve at Home
On our way home, we made sure to keep the candlelight burning, as it should reach the house for blessings. And yes it was successful! Every corner of our home was blessed with this light.
As a tradition, a soup made of lamb’s liver and intestine is the first meal. But the supermarket was out of stock, we had chicken soup with lemon instead.
Then the easter eggs! I dyed the eggs with red last Thursday. So each of us chose our eggs and start cracking them. The egg which doesn’t crack or has the less crack wins. Everyone enjoys this game on Easter.
Egg cracking or egg tapping is a symbol of rebirth.
Easter Sunday Lunch!
This calls for a big celebration with family and friends with a grand feast. More than a month of fasting or abstaining certain foods, this is the time we feed our hungry tummy. All kinds of dishes are prepared on this day, and usually the main dish is the grilled lamb and grilled innards of the lamb, kokoritsi. This time the smelly aroma of grilled meat is back and enjoy the taste of Cypriot cuisine!
Further Reading: The Taste of Cypriot Cuisine, An Appetizing Journey
Of course, you can still tap the easter eggs against each other and find out who is lucky!
Καλό Πάσχα! Happy Easter!
I’m sure the first part of this article I had you salivating. Yet as you move further in the observance of Lenten season, fasting in Orthodox religion is very strict. Fasting and abstaining from the food we enjoy is no easy feat. Our tastebuds get excited with the mention of our favorites. Even at night, we think of our menu for the next day or sometimes can’t sleep right away because of our cravings! Or how about when your doctor recommends a better way of eating and hands you the meal plan from the dietician? For health reasons, right?
Most of the religions have holy seasons where the faithful fasts as an act of cleansing and sometimes sacrifice. Being a Roman Catholic, I rarely fast and when compared to traditions of Orthodox, ours is a little bit lenient. But this year 2021, I will try, though not as strict, at least avoiding meat as much as I can. And we will see how I will fare at the end of the forty days.
And lastly, if you are up for a cultural trip, Easter is one of the best times to visit Cyprus. Two years ago, my childhood friend included Cyprus on her Europe trip just in time for Easter. Indeed a memorable experience for her! And I felt the same during my first trip to Greece, celebrating with my Greek family and friends!
But I think the Zivania or what we call the “holy water” made her trip memorable. 😉
Any memorable Easter destination you’ve been to?
Or any fond memories during the Easter holidays?
Did you ever try fasting during the Holy season?
To all Christians have a blessed Lenten Season.
P.S. Thanks to J-Anne for some of the photos.