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EASTER IN SYROS

Easter in Syros is a unique celebration of the island’s long coexistence of the Orthodox and Catholic faiths and the magic of spring in the Aegean.

From your very first moments, you are transported to a world of devotion and tradition, in a setting that is dominated by medieval and Cycladic architecture and the interplay of Easter and spring atmospheres.

Spending the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday in Syros is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Church of St Nicholas of the Rich in the Vaporia district greets passengers arriving at the port. And on the hills above Ermoupoli, the Orthodox temple of the Transfiguration of the Savior and the Catholic cathedral of St George (San Giorgis) in Ano Syros are just two of the dozens of churches preparing to mark the Resurrection of Christ.

Each day of Holy Week has a special meaning and is celebrated in its own way. There are daily church services and community events, and nature activities around the island (hiking, cycling, horse riding etc) are made all the more magical by the aromas and greenery of spring.

In every settlement – from Ermoupoli and Ano Syros to the villages around the island – locals follow time-honored traditions and prepare for the most joyous celebration of the year.

Holy Week in Syros

 

Monday

The smell of freshly baked tsoureki (sweet bread) and koulourakia (Easter cookies) fills the streets of Ermoupoli and elsewhere, marking the beginning of the Holy Week leading up to Easter in Syros. After the Palm Sunday church service the night before, households rise early to get baking. Be sure to try the sweet cheese pie (known as Catholic tiropita) also baked on this day. It is made with local mizithra or goat’s cheese and honey and finished off with a dusting of ground cinnamon.

Tuesday

The highlight of Holy Tuesday takes place at the church of Agios Nikolaos of the Rich in the Vaporia district (so-called because it was built in 1848 with donations from wealthy benefactors). The combination of the lavish interior and the hypnotic chanting of a polyphonic choir, singing the famous Kassiani hymns, is one of the most memorable experiences of the week.

Wednesday

Wednesday is the perfect day to travel around Syros, observing the Easter preparations and enjoying the services in both Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Thursday

Thursday is when Orthodox churches decorate their epitaphs (representing the funeral bier of Christ) with spring flowers, including lilies, violets and lilacs. Households traditionally dye or paint hard-boiled eggs red (representing the blood and sacrifice of Christ) today, in preparation for the Easter Sunday festivities. And the ‘Twelve Gospels’ are sung and Maundy Thursday services are held in Catholic churches (including St George and St Sabastian in Ano Syros and in settlements around the island, such as Vissas, Finikas, Manna, Posidonia, Kini, Vari and Galissas).

Good Friday

Catholic churches decorate their funeral biers today in preparation for ‘Epitafio’ processions of Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion of Christ. Between 16:00 and 17:30, the epitaph of the Monastery of Agia Varvara, near the village of Kini, is paraded in a service made more magical by the scent of wildflowers. And in villages all around Syros (Finikas, Vissas, Manna, Posodonia, Vari, Galissas and Pagos), Epitafio processions follow.

The procession of the Catholic epitaphs from the cathedral of Saint George in Ano Syros and the church of Evangelistria in Ermoupoli are magical events. The highlight is the meeting of three Orthodox epitaphs by the steps of the Town Hall in Ermoupoli, accompanied by the hymns of the choir of St Nicholas and music by the municipality’s Philharmonic orchestra. With the Town Hall bathed in mournful purple light, the epitaphs of the Church of St Nicholas and the churches of the Transfiguration and the Dormition also arrive. In the most devout and solemn ceremony of Holy Week, crowds gather and each epitaph is accompanied by parishioners holding candles, altar boys bearing crosses and priests wafting incense.

Holy Saturday

The First Resurrection of Christ is celebrated on Saturday morning and the Orthodox churches of Syros have a unique way of doing so. Churchgoers vigorously beat the pews and sing resurrection hymns, while priests scatter lemon leaves around the church. However, the night Resurrection service is the main event of Easter Saturday in Syros, as it is in churches across Greece. People gather in and around their local church with candles (lambades). At midnight, the priest emerges with the Holy Light (a flame that he has blessed) to mark the Resurrection of Christ. Saying Christos Anesti (Christ is risen) and Alithos Anesti (Indeed, he is risen) to each other, people pass the Holy Light from candle to candle.

Perhaps the most impressive Resurrection services in Syros are held at the Catholic Cathedral of St George in Ano Syros and the Church of the Resurrection of Christ on Dili Hill, from where you can enjoy a fireworks display set off from both hills overlooking Ermoupoli. A decorated statue of Jesus is paraded after the service as there are no icons in the Catholic churches. The night ends with people going to their homes and tavernas to break their fast with traditional magiritsa soup, followed by lamb in the oven with lemon potatoes.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is the climax of Holy Week, when families and friends gather in homes and tavernas to eat lamb and kokoretsi (lamb or goat’s intestines) grilled on a spit. The dyed eggs are cracked in a game called ‘tsougrisma’ (the winner is the person’s whose egg remains uncracked) and festivities (mostly involving eating and drinking) continue long into the afternoon.

A final Easter church service is the afternoon Vespers of Love, with the burning of Judas in the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The icon of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the church is the work of Dominikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco).