EASTER CUSTOMS OF CYPRUS
Pascha, the Majestic Feast in the Heart of Spring “and so shall bloom the spring of faith” in our hearts
Pascha, the most luminous feast of Christianity and the greatest feast of Hellenism and the people of Cyprus, who call it, “Lambri”, “the Bright One” since it shines with the light of
Resurrection that bathes life and all its facets: morals, customs and tradition. As the Services of Holy Week coincide with Spring, the divine Passions seem to relate to the passions and resurrection of Nature and man. It is, after all, the time to bid farewell to the long and absolute silence of Nature, to the agonising period of gestation in anticipation of welcoming the fruits, the flowers: of orange, pomegranate, rose, yarrow, lilly and the colours.
Everything predisposes the great triumph of life, renewed life, the redemption of the living, the Resurrection of the dead as descriped in the triumphant Paschal hymn:
This is the message of the spiritual extravaganza of these days, from Lazarus’ Saturday until Pascha Sunday. A ritual that narrates the divine Passion and relates to the tribulations of the suffering man, that culminates with Resurrection, depicted in byzantine iconography as the “Descent to Hades” by Christ, where the Resurrected Christ gives His hand to Adam, to raise him up and set him free from the bondage of death.
The path to Pascha begins on Lazarus Saturday. On Palm Sunday in the morning Liturgy, all the faithful take to the church olive branches in remembrance of the olive branches carried by the crowd of Jerusalem during Christ’s welcome to the city.
In the evening of Palm Sunday the faithful come to the church to witness the Service of the Bridegroom that initiates the Holy Week. In a solemn atmosphere and after putting out all lights in the church, the icon of Christ comes out, depicting Him wearing a red tunic, a crown of thorns and holding a cane in His tied hands, a unique depiction of Utter Humiliation.
The next three days, Great and Holy Monday, H. Tuesday and H. Wednesday every morning and evening long Services are celebrated. On Holy Tuesday evening the Troparion written by the nun Agia Cassiane is chanted in all churches for the repented whore who washed with myrrh the feet of Christ. On Holy Wednesday the sacrament of Holy Unction is served.
On Holy Thursday morning, the Holy liturgy in memory of the Last Supper is celebrated. All the housewives clean their homes, prepare the stavrokouloura (cross-shaped buns) and dye their eggs red. In the evening of Holy Thursday the Service of the Passion is chanted, a lengthy Service enacting the Crucifixion of Christ and the twelve Gospels are read out.
On Holy Friday in the morning the Un-nailing takes place, that service during which Joseph from Arimathea and Nicodemus, the nocturnal disciple of Christ, removed His Body from the Cross and laid It in the grave. After this Service, girls in all churches decorate with flowers the Epitaph. This is one of the most beautiful customs in all Cyprus. In the evening, lamentations are chanted (short troparia) to the dead Christ and then the Epitaph is carried in litany through the streets of cities and villages while the church bells toll in a mournful tone.
On Holy Saturday morning, during the matinal Holy liturgy, the so called “first Resurrection” takes place and in Cyprus it is celebrated in a special way. The black veils covering the icons during the Holy Week drop, the priests throw laurel leaves and myrtle to the floor, the faithful bang their pews, the bells toll merrily and the general mood is triumphant. In the evening of Saturday, at midnight, the Holy liturgy of Resurrection (the “Good Word”) is held in the courtyard of churches. A huge bonfire is lit in the churchyard to burn Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus and if you are out and about you will see many fires all over Cyprus. There will be a few fireworks too so the night sky will be ablaze, a bit like bonfire night.
On Pascha Sunday the Vespers of Love are celebrated. All families roast on coal lamb on a spit or bake lamb in the oven, crack the red eggs and feast in large family groups. Easter Sunday is when the celebrations really begin. Feasts of souvla (large pieces of lamb or pork, or chicken are cooked on an open charcoal fire), salads, cakes, sweets, and alcoholic beverages are also on the menu! The smell of outdoor barbeques infuses the whole island! Lamb is the main traditional Easter meal as the early Christians adopted this custom from the ancient Jews who sacrificed lambs for their Passover celebrations.
Paschalogiorta” comprises many customs that are preserved in Cyprus to this day. The main ones are the red eggs, avkotes (bagels or buns decorated with eggs) and flaounes (special cheese pies).
Avkotes. Very characteristic of Easter baking are the various types of bagels or buns decorated with one or more red eggs. On Holy Thursday buns and avkotes (bread-cup) were baked and eggs were dyed usually in red but sometimes in yellow. The traditional way of dyeing eggs was with onion leaves, yellow daisies, yarrow, with special seaweeds, various roots such as wild rubia also known as rizari, which were thrashed and boiled in water.
Flaounes. Holy Saturday in all of Cyprus is dedicated to kneading and baking the Easter food par excellence, the flaounes (cheese pies). Flaounes are intricately linked with Easter in Cyprus as the relevant cypriot proverb goes «no flaounes before Easter, no dowry before the wedding». The preparation for kneading the flaounes started on Holy Friday. The grated cheese was mixed with eggs, after adding proportionally the leaven, mastic, mahlep, black raisins and fresh mint. This knead is called foukos or fokos and was kneaded following a ritual. The leaven was added in a crosslike fashion to the flour at five points, as many as the nails hammered in the body of Christ.
Wheat (in the form of bread) and egg (symbol of perpetuity and rebirth of life) complete the Paschal and prosperous symbolism of Greek Pascha. Milky cookies and bagels with sesame (symbolizing the passions of Christ such as: cross-buns, crown of Christ, the flagellated hands of the Groom, Pascha cross with red egg) Christ bagels, tsoureki, avkotes in the shape of small baskets in which red eggs are placed) Pascha poulles (cross bagel) milky bread (daktylies) and cakes as well as other baked delicacies with cheese such as flaounes, that make Greek Pascha very tasty! Among these are various “cheese round pies” that filled Pascha tables throughout the Greek Isles and Cyprus. They come in various shapes and patterns and look like a pie, Pascha pie similar to flaounes. Flaounes are the most characteristic Pascha food of Cyprus. Their filling (of grated cheese, the best of which come from Pafos, kneaded with eggs (and to make them more red, partridge eggs are used) lots of spices such as mahlep, mastic, fresh mint, cinnamon, black raisins) is called foukos. The pastry for the wrapping of the flaounes is made fluffy by using the best ingredients such as milk, eggs, butter, and oil. To make the flaounes, the pastry was flattened into small pies in a square, triangular or round shape that were filled with foukos. The name flaounes comes from an ancient greek word “flao” which means to crush or from the word «palathe» a pie with dried fruits. In Pafos, «paskies» (from Pascha = Easter) a type of flaounes containing meat, were consumed all during the week of Bright Week.