Saturday, April 3, 2010
A long church service tonight..... Orthodox services are different from western Christian ones, in that the priests conduct their business pretty much without the involvement on the congregation. Oh there are prayers, hymns and responses - but these will happen whether the church is full or not. People come and go, drift in and out - the men step out to have a smoke, the kids to check their cellphones and then pop back in. My memory of our Anglican services is that they started on the tick of the hour - BANG - the doors shut and no one got in or out until all the hocus pocus was finished. The ever-practical Greeks handle these long services much more sensibly it seems to me. The priests do their thing, but you and your god or personal saints commune alone and much more efficiently.
I sat well back on a marble wall and watched the Naxians gather for this most important service. I don't want to intrude, but I so much want to observe. After 25 years of coming here though, I see so many people I know, for everyone comes out to this service. So soon, I am pulled into the loving circle of a local family - for this is indeed a family occasion.
The centre piece of the church is the epitaphios - a richly decorated cloth placed on the symbolic bier of Christ. The women and girls have been up all night decorating the bier with fresh flowers gathered that day. The bier, or canopy for the epitaphios called the kouvouklion, looks like an elaborate wedding cake. Also in the church is the icon of Christ on the cross. After a selection of the Gospels are read, the icon is removed and taken into the sanctuary. The Gospel book is placed on the epitaphios. The faithful are at some point in the day and evening, expected to pay reverence with prostrations, a kiss or prayers or all of the above. The more nimble crawl under the kouvouklion symbolizing their entering into death with Christ.
After the lamentations are sung, candles are lit, the church bells toll solemnly and the kouvouklion is raised and carried in a procession through the community. Everyone joins in this long winding parade, singing the traditional funeral hymns.
In Naxos town, there are three main large churches - two Orthodox and one Roman Catholic - a throwback to early Venetian occupation of the island. All have their own processions, but all meet at a central point in the town and pause briefly for hymns before continuing on their way back to their own church. The crowd slowly disperses, most to family dinners or gatherings with friends.
Excitement builds on Saturday as last minute preparations for Easter dinner are made - midnight mass at the church to share the Holy light - brought in directly from Jerusalem, courtesy of Olympic Airways.