By Athena Mavromatis
Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Sunday, April 12, 2015; also known as “Easter”. Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter later than other Christians due to the Orthodox calendar. However, before all the festivities of Easter occur, Orthodox Christians go through a very spiritual Holy Week and events that lead up to Easter Sunday. Tarpon Springs is very fortunate to have a strong Greek community because the Greeks are devoted Orthodox Christians and demonstrate Orthodox Holy Week the truthful way.
For those who are not of Greek Orthodox faith, they may see the traditions as “crazy” or “over the top”, but it’s much more than a cultural tradition; it is a spiritual and religious one. Allow me, a woman of Greek Orthodox faith, to take you into my world of culture and religion for this not-so-typical, yet wonderful journey of Orthodox Holy Week.
The journey with Christ all begins with Palm Sunday service. The service commemorates when Christ rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey while being greeted by believers waving palm branches. We celebrate by embellishing St. Nicholas Cathedral with palms, give out palm crosses that were made the Friday before by the volunteers of the community, and have a fish fry feast after service. Let’s skip to the deeper services and discuss Holy Wednesday.
Holy Wednesday is where the intensity of these sacred services begin; we now are at the part of the journey where Christ has the Mystical Supper and we Orthodox Christians are anointed with Holy Unction (holy oil) by our priests. We are also gifted cotton swabs that are dipped in holy oil at the end of the service. We take these to loved ones who couldn’t attend service that night so they may receive the blessing.
Thursday service is when Christ is captured and our priests give us a visual during the night service by “putting Christ on the cross”. After service we are invited to kiss the icons of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Joseph.
Friday is a service that even non Orthodox Christians love to witness because of the cultural and spiritual value it holds in Tarpon Springs. Young adult members of St. Nicholas cathedral decorate Christ’s tomb, which we call the Epitahio. It is decorated with flowers, prepared all Friday morning, and is carried around the block of the church at night with hundreds of strong Orthodox Christians following it, along with spectators of the town.
Holy Saturday is the most awaited and beautiful service! Hundreds gather at 11pm and await the priest to come outside and read the gospel. Once the clock strikes 12, we are officially broken from our fast of 40 days and Christ has officially risen! We chant for 3 hours the hymn “Christos Anesti”, which translates to, “Christ has risen”!
Sunday is the great service where we celebrate the resurrection of Christ by attending Sunday service and gathering our families afterwards for a Greek style feast of lamb!