Today ends the Cyprus Orthodox Easter, the most important holiday of the year, as Christmas is for Christians. I want to show how to live from within this Easter, so that you know of about religious customs that have been preserved here, and that give to this festivity a special charisma, intimate and familiar.
In Cyprus, the Pope does not command, purgatory does not exist, the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father and they do not believe that the Virgin was born free of the Original Sin. Furthermore, the way cross oneself is different: from right to left, not to mention that in the ceremonies they do not distributed Hosts, they hand out leavened bread pieces. The priests can be married and only give a daily Mass, the first communion does not exist in the baptism ceremony, they priest plunges the head boy instead of pouring water over it. Regarding churches, they lack of statues, temples are full of icons painted in all corners, and prayers are pronounced ArjaÍsusa, the language in which the Gospels were translated.
Holy Week begins on Holy Thursday, the day of the crucifixion of Jesus, also known as the “Red Wednesday”. On this day, they dyed red eggs and the streets are decorated with eggs almost a meter high in the all the villages. The tradition is that families fill a basket, keeping it in their homes until Sunday, the day that everyone gets an egg and start to crashing the egg with the others. The egg that does not break is the winner, who returns to hit the egg with another winner, so until that is named the winner of that year.
On Holy Saturday, I got up at seven in the morning to get to the church at seven-thirty. When I arrived, the church was almost full, is the Mass of the First Resurrection. So, with my tourist eyes, I see: the choir, consisting of six men, is constantly singing, it’s almost eight o’clock and people start to look at their watches, children are hyperactive … all rise from their seats, retractable wooden chairs, and suddenly, they start hitting the seat of the chairs against the back of it. The noise that is deafening, it is to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It repeated two more times while the choir not stop to sing, the kids get super excited and insist on hitting the chairs again, and soon, the church begins to empty, although the ceremony continues for a long time. Here the masses do not have a defined beginning and end, people come and go in very different times.
That night, is the ceremony of the Second Resurrection, no doubt, the most important ceremony. No one else can enter in the church, is completely full. Each one carries a candle in hand, including me, that you take it at the entrance while leaving a freewill offering. In the certain moment, they turn off all the lights in the church except the dome lights. The priest, carrying the flame that comes directly from the heaven, leaves the altar with the flame on top and then something spectacular happens: the thirty people who crowd around him, to light their candles, immediately they continue lighting the candles of other people, creating a chain effect that means that, in a few minutes, all have the candles lit. It was amazing!
Another highlight is the entrance to the temple of any orthodox, very different from what I’m used to seeing in Catholicism. First, cross themselves, joining three fingers (thumb, index and middle), representing Jesus, Father God and the Holy Spirit, and as I said before, starting with the right shoulder. Then, begin to greet in strict order, kissing the Saint of the church, Christ and then to the Virgin Mary, (depending on the church also icons or other holy books) and finally cross themselves again. To exit the church is the same way, repeating this process. So, of course, and as I could see, long queues form to enter and leave the church in important ceremonies.
Beyond the religious ceremonies, at Easter, families organize big meals where people dance and sing traditional songs, and traditional games are made in front of the church (games well known to all in the Canaries), and one day in the afternoon all children collect wood for hours, build a mountain as big as possible to finally make a giant bonfire, so great that in addition to calling the attention of all passers-by, attracted the police, and they had to explain that everything was under control and they were not going to burn down the neighborhood.