Friday, May 3, 2013

So many Good Friday & Easter memories...

Today is Good Friday in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Greeks and Greek-Americans who observe Easter have been fasting since March 18th. And they have been spending every night this week in Church -- all the while preparing for Saturday at midnight, the high point of the most important church holiday of the year and the moment when we say "Christ is Risen." 

There so many memories around Easter...Lent was important in our Stockton family. But it was not difficult to appreciate Lenten dishes like lentil soup, spinach w/rice, and stuffed peppers (no meat). As a child I really appreciated the days when we could not drink milk and had to be satisfied with Seven Up -- a sacrifice worth noting! But it was difficult to both go to church every night during Holy Week and keep up with homework during the years (3 out of 4) that we did not celebrate Easter at the same time as the rest of Christianity. It was even more difficult explaining why.

St. Basil's Greek Orthodox Church memories abound, beginning with the original church on Stanislaus Street.  Spilling into the street -- before the days of the newer church building w/the parking lot -- on Good Friday night with the "epitafio" was totally creepy and exciting. Then on Saturday night, more candle wax dripping onto our hands with oddly comforting familiarity as we chanted "Christos anesti ek nekron." (Now we have those newfangled plastic wax-catching things. Can't we just bring back the Dixie cups?)

The many Easters I spent in Greece provide more amazing memories. In Thessaloniki, the procession on Good Friday from Aghios Dimitrios Church -- containing the relics of the city's patron saint -- included a band playing dirge-like music all along the way. And how about the Easter Sunday spent in Alexandria, Imathias, with my brother George at the home of student -- where the father (a butcher) began roasting his lamb at daybreak and we helped by drinking tsipouro. Does it get any better?

Holy Trinity, Peterborough ON
Back in New York City, there was Easter at the tiny St. Nicholas Church located in the shadow of the World Trade Center and later tragically destroyed on 9/11...Memories of a Holy Saturday night at the multi-ethnic Orthodox Church in Missoula, Montana, include freezing, gusting weather and the priest -- Father Gregory Wingenbach, someone I actually knew from my days at the American Farm School! -- knocking on the closed Church door before we reentered.  A memorable, celebratory feast followed in the basement church hall...More recently on Good Friday, I usually process around the block including the small Church of the Annunciation in North Miami -- with a police escort blocking the intersections, flags and church banners, the whole nine yards. And it is still exciting, but not so creepy.  After the Saturday midnight Liturgy, the church community sits down together to eat the traditional "magheritsa" soup. Should I tell you what's in it?...This year I will celebrate Easter in Canada, at the Holy Trinity Church in Peterborough, Ontario -- creating new memories of the Greek diaspora.

On Sunday, St. Basil's congregants will celebrate Easter with an "agapi" service and picnic on the church grounds.  Sounds nice. But will it be like the gatherings we used to have at the exotic (or so I thought) Micke Grove Park in Lodi with an outdoor church service and picnic that I could hardly wait for? There were always other people in the park that day, and I was always so proud of us -- a vibrant, diverse Greek community with a common cultural heritage and purpose celebrating Easter to the fullest. Those were the good ol' days!

Kali Anastasi kai Kalo Pascha!

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