Greeks in 2019 once again pulled out all the stops to celebrate Orthodox Easter and the message of the Resurrection of Christ with all due pomp and circumstance, including fireworks and, of course, the traditional roasted lamb.
As in all recent years, the Holy Fire from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was flown in on the official government aircraft, landing at Elefsina air base on Saturday evening to be carried on Aegean, Olympic Air and Sky Express flights to all parts of Greece, to light the candles of the faithful at midnight.
It was met with head of state honours by a national defence ministry honour guard before being flown to Athens’s ‘Eleftherios Venizelos’ international airport by helicopter for the final part of its journey.
Thousands waited outside churches throughout Greece to hear the message of the resurrection and light their candles, with the midnight chant “Christ is risen” followed by both impromptu and organised firework displays and the setting off of fire crackers.
Among the most impressive services were those at the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, attended by the peninsula’s governor and thousands of visitors from Greece and abroad.
Easter celebrations on the island of Corfu once again outshone the competition, with a massive fireworks display seen as far as Igoumenitsa and the coast of Albania. The island is also unique in that both Orthodox and other Christian denominations celebrate Easter on the same day, while the Easter Vigil is chanted outdoors by the Metropolitan of Corfu, accompanied by the island’s choirs and marching bands.
Once all the fireworks, the pomp and circumstance are over, Greeks settle down to their favourite Easter pastime: the traditional Easter feast, complete with roast lamb on a spit, red-painted eggs and many other delicacies traditionally eschewed during Lent.
This year was no exception, helped on by the good weather and sunny Easter skies that sent many into the countryside and the beaches, to enjoy their Easter feast out in the open in nature.
A truly ancient tradition, the spit-roasted lamb over an open fire is believed to date back to pre-Christian antiquity, as a part of the burial rites observed by the ancient Greeks. A form of “wake” held 40 days after the death of the departed, the ancients cooked next to the grave, roasting lambs over a fire, drinking wine and dancing.
This tradition, only very slightly modified, survived into Christian times, with the lamb now symbolising Christ, whom John the Baptist had called ” the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”