April 20, 2011

Holy Week and Pascha in Zakynthos

The celebration of Easter in Zakynthos and the events of Holy Week are characterized by the Byzantine splendor of the Orthodox faith, but customs and traditions that are found more in the western Catholic Church.

The solemn spirit of the day until the day of Resurrection, surrounds life in the city and throughout the island very openly.

In Zakynthos, Easter, or Lambri (Bright Day) as it is called by Dionysios Solomos in his writings, is lived by everyone everywhere. In the streets, the squares and even in cafes, all are imbued with the spirit of the day.

The festivities begin on the Saturday of Lazarus, when the bells ring joyfully and churches are decorated with "vayia", a work of art crafted in several formats from the spring leaves of palm trees in memory of Jesus entering into Jerusalem.

The next day, Sunday, the vayia enter all Zakynthos' houses and decorate the shrine of the family.

From Great Monday evening there begins in all the churches of the island the somber week of the Passion.

Moving in all respects is when the churches sing the hymn of Kassiani in a special Ionian tone on Great Tuesday night.

On Holy Thursday the churches open their doors in the morning. The bells are rung for the last time before the Resurrection. In the evening the faithful fill the churches, where the divine drama is praised by Ionian ecclesiastical music which is deeply influenced by music of the Renaissance.

On Great Friday all the towns and villages are in mourning colors. Even the balconies of the houses hang banners of mourning.

It is the hour of the death and taking down from the Cross. From the Crosses of the churches, the priest lowers the whole body in the form of a carved icon of Jesus, it is wrapped in a white sheet, and is processed within the church.

Then the priest places the wrapped image in the Epitaphion.

At noon on Great Friday, Zakynthos lives the procession of the Crucifix. Thousands of believers flock to the main square following the somber, mournful hymns of the Philharmonic, the Crucifix and the famous image of Mater Dolorosa through the streets of the city.

The culmination of the procession is at the Church of St. Nicholas of Seafarers, where the Bishop blesses the faithful and carries the Crucifix into the church where he places it on the Epitaphion.

At night, in all churches of the island, the Lamentation's take place. In the Cathedral of St. Nicholas the Stranger the service of Great Friday takes place according to an old custom in the early morning hours of Saturday.

There follows the procession of the Epitaphion through the city streets, accompanied by the Philharmonic orchestras of the island and thousands of believers.

At five in the morning, after the return of the Epitaphion in the church, there takes place the first resurrection. It is time the people celebrating the first resurrection or "kommati" in the squares where they break clay pots from their balconies as the first manifestation of joy for the resurrection event.

This custom is known by the Latin name of Gloria, in memory of the glory of Christ after the Resurrection.

The normal sequence of resurrection, however, is a few hours later, on the night of Holy Saturday to Sunday. After the reading of the Gospel there is the joyous sounds of bells and at midnight everywhere is sung, "Christ is risen."

Since that hour, the world rejoices and entertains as few times in the year.

The uniqueness of the Easter traditions in Zakynthos has only in recent years become known nationwide and has enjoyed the attention and interest of people who love the traditions around the world.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.