April in Greece, part 6: Easter

In 2022 most Christian countries celebrated Easter from April 17-20, but for followers of the Greek Orthodox religion Easter was from April 22-25 . This is because of different calendars.

Most countries switched from the Julian calendar (named after Julius Caesar) to the Gregorian in 1752. The latter is named after Pope Gregory XIII who revised the calendar in 1582. Greece still follows the Julian calendar, which explains the gap in dates every three years.

Greek Orthodox Easter Friday is a solemn day. Bells toll most of the day to mark the death of Christ. For all the solemnity it is a lovely sound. Here in Athens shops closed on Easter Friday until Easter Monday.

On the Saturday the faithful gather at churches in cities and villages about 11pm carrying large white candles. Church lights are turned off just before midnight to symbolise the darkness that Christ endured as he passed through the underworld.

At midnight a priest appears holding a lighted taper and reciting the phrase “avto to fos” which means “this is the light”. His candle — called the “Holy candle” — is used to light several of the congregations’ candles who then light the candles of their neighbours. This continues until the entire area is bright with flickering light.

Soon after midnight fireworks embolden the sky and bells toll to celebrate Christ’s resurrection or “Anastasis”. The crowd offers the salutation “Christós anésti” (Christ has risen) to each other, to which people respond “Alithós anésti” (He has truly risen). People carry their lit candles home.

According to legend, if people can make it home without their candle going out they will have a good year. Before entering their homes they make the symbol of a cross above the door with the smoke of the candle.

Easter Sunday is a day of feasting and rejoicing because the faithful have been fasting for the past 40 days. A typical feast consists of lamb roasted on a spit outside the house, served in honour of the lamb of God. Celebrations last all day with food, wine, music, friends and lots of dancing. Despite the late hour the previous night, people start early. Music surged through our flat at 8am on Easter Sunday from a party on the roof.

On Easter Saturday Julia and I visited the church of St George atop Mount Lycabettus. Views are spectacular. You can see as far as the port of Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf. Elsewhere you can see the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

The mount — a hill really — is the highest point in Athens at 277 metres above sea level. The photo at the top of the page shows the church entrance. It is filled with icons of the church hierarchy and was selling “blessed” Easter candles for Euro 5.

Depending on where you stand you can get almost 360-degree panoramic views of Athens. It’s a good way to appreciate the congested nature of the city, with more than 3 million people crammed into a valley with Piraeus the opening at one end.

The journey on the Metro between Athens and Piraeus helps one appreciate that the two cities have effectively joined. That trip is not the most picturesque.

One legend suggests that Mount Lycabettus was named because of the number of wolves in the pine forests around the hill.

Another says the hill was created when Athena accidentally dropped a rock she had intended for the Acropolis.

Places like the Acropolis can just about be seen through the smog that pervades Athens. Air quality is not one of the city’s best attributes. See the photo at the bottom of this article.

A cafe just below the church sells ice-cream and coffee. Prices are a bit inflated (8.10 Euro for 3 scoops) but you are paying for the view.

Be warned that the walk is steep and can be hard work on a hot day, so the easiest way to get to the top is to take the cable car from the corner of Aristippou and Plutarch streets.

It operates until midnight and leaves the summit every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour. The three-minute journey through a tunnel costs 9 Euro return or 6 Euro one way (extortion might be the most appropriate descriptor unless you have tired legs).

Be aware that some taxi drivers can be greedy. One charged us 8 Euro for the 10-minute drive from the nearest Metro station (Evangelismos) to a point about 100 steps from the summit. The fare should have been less than half that price.

Categories: Greece, Not home

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