One reason we travel is to better understand how another part of the world lives from day to day, but if we’re really lucky we find ourselves in a certain place at a certain time to participate in something so special to that culture that it stays with us for a long time.
I hope you all had a happy Easter and at this time of year I now remember the Orthodox Easter I celebrated in Greece, in Chania, Crete. My friends and I planned to be in Chania at a certain time, we were staying with my friend’s Aunt Karen, but we had no idea we would be arriving during Holy Week. I grew up as a Catholic but was very familiar with the Orthodox religion as my mother grew up as an Orthodox in the Middle East. My mother was excited for me to be able to experience first hand one of the Orthodox religion’s most important events.
On Good Friday, we went to the church in the village we were staying in where everyone convened for a candle-lit procession through the streets. At the front of the walk, several people were carrying a casket symbolizing Jesus’ death and we all followed as residents stood in the doorways of their homes sprinkling holy water on us as we walked by. We walked for a half hour through the village as a priest recited prayers and hymns were sung. Everyone was quiet for the most part except for the singing and the noise of people’s feet crunching the gravel below. Whenever my candle blew out, there was always someone next to me to relight it.
Once we arrived back at the church, the casket was placed inside and the huge congregation that had assembled, walked into the church in single file up to the casket to touch it, take some flowers surrounding the casket, and to walk under it to pay their respects to Jesus. The inside of the church was a contrast from the dark funeral procession through the streets. It was all blues, pinks, purples, greens, and golds and people were chatting away. I was in awe the whole night of the community’s loyalty and passion.
The next night, Easter Eve, the whole town of Chania gathered at a bigger church in the town’s center down by the harbor waiting for a flame that came all the way from Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem to be lit inside the church. The flame was escorted into the town and into the church by a military troop and once the candle inside the church was lit, it was passed from person to person through the whole crowd until everyone’s candles were aglow. We walked from the church to Karen’s shop and marked a cross at the top of the doorway with the smoke from the flame to serve as a form of protection for the coming year. We walked back through the deserted and dark streets glimpsing bobbing flames from passerby.
Easter Day arrived and we were ready to eat meat that we had abstained from all week as an act of solidarity with Jesus and all he had to sacrifice in his death. Our main dish was a baby goat that was killed in the village for us. Even though it was a baby goat that I truly felt sorry for, I’m not one to shy away from trying something new. It was delicious and we had chicken sausage, spinach pies, salad, tzatziki, and bread to fill the rest of the table. It was a home-cooked meal that my friends and I had not had in eight months which made it taste even better.
Joining us for dinner were Karen’s friends, a couple from England, and her gardener Clyde who was from the South in the States. It was a diverse group and as we shared a dessert of chocolate torte, chocolates, and champagne I looked around the room and thought how amazing it was that Karen brought all of these people together and we were all enjoying each other’s company. Months ago I didn’t expect that I would be sitting at the table I was sitting at with a great group of people celebrating a religion unknown to me but sometimes you can get that lucky while on the road.
Have you ever been at the right place at the right time to experience an event special to a country?