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Literature

Easter in Greek Literature

The profound spiritual celebration of Easter has also inspired the great writers of Greece. One of the most famous works is ‘Easter Short Stories’ by Alexandros Papadiamantis, who conveys his deep faith through his writing.

Papadiamantis noted that “for my part, as long as I live and breathe and am of sound mind, I will never cease, especially during these resplendent days, to praise and adore Christ, to depict nature lovingly, and to represent with affection those customs which are authentically Greek.”

Andreas Karkavitsas wrote in the European tradition of naturalism, like Papadiamantis, and his works feature the common values of ordinary people. In his short story ‘The Justice of the Sea’ from the anthology ‘Words from the Prow’, Karkavitsas describes a stormy night at sea and the hallucinations of a young sailor that he is transported to the port of Hydra on Easter Sunday: “Suddenly I was plagued by hallucinations of sea beasts, sharks and whales, swordfish and dolphins circling greedily my body and engaging in a diabolical fight with the vultures of the sky for the gobbets of my carcass. I was looking on in roaring laughter seeing the way they yearned for my carrion meat. And then I saw my head rolling slowly, black and resembling a rum cask, into the port of Hydra. It was Easter Day and the country shone snow white, as though built of marble; the church was filled with the sweet fragrance of incense. Trombones sounded and played merry tunes and glasses were filled with ruby-colored wine. Eggs dyed blood red flashed in the hands of the people and the joyous hymn of ‘Christ is Risen’ was quaveringly intoned by coral lips,” (Karkavitsas translated by Vasilis C. Militsis).

Angelos Sikelianos. (Photo: Public domain)

Eleni Choreanthi in her short story ‘Easter on the Island of Jasmine’ describes the Good Friday service that takes place at a secluded monastery on the island of Chios, “far from the capital, the lights, and the fireworks, the professional chanters and the imposing churches.” In this setting, the depiction of the Crucifixion and the burial of Jesus were “like a theatrical performance of ancient tragedy.”

The author then describes Holy Saturday at the monastery, where the other-worldly monk chants the Resurrection Hymn with a tremulous voice and the space was filled with the fragrance of frankincense, thyme, and pine.

Choreanthi also refers to Asia Minor and the Hellenism of Ionia that flourished for millennia and experienced “the Passion of Jesus, the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the uprooting and dispossession that turned them into refugees, without having the opportunity to celebrate their own Resurrection.”

Dionysios Solomos, Greece’s National Poet. (Photo: Public domain)

Costas Kairofylas, a writer and journalist, in his short story ‘Tragic Easter’ describes the events of Easter 1827, six years after the onset of the Greek Revolution: “The Easter of 1827 was not happy… Many misfortunes, many mistakes and especially the cursed disunity which had disrupted the impulse of the young fighters, did not bode well for the future… After six years of struggles and sacrifice, they realized that the liberation of Greece had not yet been achieved.”

The Greek poets also wrote about Easter in Greece, including the Greek National poet Dionysios Solomos with his poem ‘The Day of Easter’ and its message of hope, love, and forgiveness.

One the most moving moments of Holy Week is the ‘Hymn of Kassiani’ (‘Tropario tis Kassianis’) chanted once a year on the evening of Holy Tuesday. It speaks of the woman who anoints Christ’s feet and seeks His forgiveness for her sins. Kostis Palamas, one of the greatest Greek poets of the 20th century, was inspired by the message it conveys that forgiveness is the only path to inner peace.

FILE – Greece’s national poet, Kostis Palamas. (Photo: Courtesy of Nicholas D. Kokonis)

Angelos Sikelianos, another leading 20th century Greek poet, wrote the philosophical poem ‘Prologue to Life’ (1917) which includes the long works ‘Mother of God’ (‘Miter Theou’) and ‘The Easter of Greeks’ (‘Pascha ton Hellenon’).

Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis in his ‘Diary from an April as yet Unseen’ refers to Holy Week. Easter is the culmination of the Diary, just as the Crucifixion is in the ‘Axion Esti’.

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