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Orthodox Easter

Orthodox Easter 2018 and 2019

Easter in Cyprus follows the Orthodox Calendar, which places it as the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs at the spring equinox.

20186 AprFriOrthodox Good Friday
9 AprMonOrthodox Easter Monday
201926 AprFriOrthodox Good Friday
29 AprMonOrthodox Easter Monday

Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, lies off the southern coast of Turkey and has a population of about 1.1 million. The island has been divided into Orthodox Greek and Muslim Turkish sections since 1983, Greek Cyprus occupying the southwest and Turkish Cyprus the northeast. Nearly 80 percent of residents are ethnic Greeks who follow the Greek Orthodox Church and celebrate Easter accordingly, along with an admixture of local traditions.

After a festive carnival, and 40 days before Easter Sunday, a fasting season called “Apokria” (without meat) commences. This corresponds to the Lenten season of other traditions, and meat, dairy products, and oil are avoided for most of the period. The first day of Apokria is known as “Green Monday” in Cyprus, though it is called “Clean Monday” in Greece. Green Monday is a public holiday and is called “green” because Cypriots use the day for picnicking and kite-flying in the already green outdoors. Interestingly, the first week of Apokria is known as “Kreatini” (meat week) and is the last week wherein meat is permitted to be eaten before Easter. The following week is called “Tyrini” (cheese week) and is a time of eating cheeses and other dairy products.

Orthodox Easter occurs anywhere from mid-April to early May. Easter is celebrated in Cyprus as the holiest day of the Christian year and the whole of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday till Easter Sunday, is observed.

On Palm Sunday, leafy palm and olive branches are brought to the churches by the people, who then carry them around the church while following an icon of Christ. This is done to recall Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. The olive leaves are later pushed into little sacks to be burnt as incense in the months ahead.

On Holy Thursday, the date of the Last Supper, Cypriots bake traditional breads like flaounes and prepare dyed eggs. Flaounes are small, triangular or square-shaped loaves with cheese, eggs, mint, and optionally raisins, baked into them. They are topped with sesame seeds. The eggs are decorated in many colors, but red predominates. The red eggs are meant to symbolize the blood of Christ. The rizari root is used for the red dye. Although Christ died on the following Friday, the death of Christ is observed “prospectively” on Holy Thursday and his burial on Friday.

On Good Friday, called “Great Friday” in Cyprus, the people bring flowers to church in the morning to decorate “epitafios” that represent the buried Christ. They cover Christ’s “coffin” in an embroidered cloth and march it through the streets in a great procession that ends back at the church.

On Holy Saturday, a midnight vigil is held to herald the “Anastasis” (Resurrection) of Christ. Wood is gathered and piled up to prepare a place to burn Judas Iscariot in effigy. Later, when midnight arrives, the church bells ring out in celebration. Attendees then pass the “Holy Flame” from candle to candle, beginning with the candle of the priest. All walk home carrying their candle and saying to those they see “Christ is risen!” The traditional reply is, “He is risen indeed!” There are also fireworks displays on the way home.

On Easter Sunday, “Pascha,” there is a family feast which breaks the 40-day fast. Roast lamb, representing the Lamb of God, is the main dish. Other common food items include: a lamb soup called “magiritsa,” red-dyed boiled eggs, chocolate eggs, Cyprus’ special Easter bread called “flaounes,” Greece’s special Easter bread called “tsoureki,” salads, potato chips made from Cyprus’ famous potatoes, “paskies” (mini meat pies), “tiropites” (mini cheese pies), and “koulouria,” which are sweet, well spiced biscuits.

As Easter Week is a time of great celebration in Cyprus, it is an ideal time to visit the island. There are many discounted flights and other special travel deals to be had during the season, though the longer you wait to book, the higher the prices will rise. There will be many events in each local area, but three important ones you should consider attending are:

  • The Passion Play, or “Way of the Cross,” at the historic Agia Kyriaki Church of Kato Paphos began to play every Palm Sunday only in 2014, but it is quickly becoming a new tradition. While it is a Catholic production, the 50 or so actors hail from all faiths, even including Buddhists. The arrest, trial, death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ is dramatically performed just outside the church building, and all are welcome to attend free of charge.
  • In early spring, not far removed from Easter, is the Anthestiria or “Flower” Festival. This celebration of spring dates back to the times of ancient Greece and once was held to honor the pagan god Dionysus. Today, it involves flowers hung throughout town and along the streets, parades with highly decorated floats, and numerous shows and special events. Some of the best Anthestiria celebrations are held in Larnaka, Limassol, and Paphos.
  • Cultural Events in Nicosia are organized by the municipal Cultural Committee in an effort to preserve and enhance Cypriot culture. They revived the Good Friday epitaph procession in Nicosia as well as in other Cypriot towns. They also arrange for events on Easter Tuesday in Kaimakli Linear Park. These include egg-and-spoon races, tug-o-war, sack races, poetry reading, traditional songs and dances, folk art, folklore, and tasting of culturally significant foods.

Cyprus has much to offer those who wish to learn about interesting Easter traditions different from their own, and there are many Easter time events both in and outside of church for tourists to participate in. By scheduling your visit to Cyprus to coincide with Holy Week, you can both save on ticket prices and greatly enhance your experience.