“Christos Anesti”! Christ has Risen. “Alithos Anesti”. Indeed He has Risen. These are the words that we Greeks say at the culmination of the Holy Saturday Mass. It is a few minutes before midnight. The land is dark. The people wait. Time stands still. And then life begins again. The priest brings out the Holy Light and proclaims the Resurrection of Christ. He then distributes the flame to everyone within the church and a chain of light slowly spreads to every man, woman and child as everyone embraces each other with a kiss. The kiss of life, the kiss of joy. Christ has Risen. Indeed He has Risen.
This image has always moved me, almost to tears. A powerful and symbolic tradition. An enduring faith. The suffering, the penance, patience, humility and finally Light.
And then the fireworks start to go off. The dark night is filled with light and color. The earth shakes from the explosions. Where there was death and sorrow now there is joy and life.
Slowly everyone starts to disperse. After the long fast, a midnight dinner of Mageiritsa, a delicious soup made with egg lemon lamb’s broth and its viscera, and plenty of herbs and greens, awaits. The table is set. A vase of freshly cut red poppies atop a crisp white table cloth sits next to a platter of red eggs. The good crystal glasses are ready to accept the red wine. Red and white. Blood and Flesh. Man and God. Meet, unite, partake in the mystery of mysteries.
But I, I took the road less traveled by last night. I didn’t go for the feast. Something was drawing me back inside the church. Only a few people remained, still clinging to their freshly lit candles. The service was not over. This for me was a different kind of feast. A feast my spirit craved. The Byzantine Hymns , the incense, the warm scent of freshly cut flowers and the words of the priest. This is what I needed. Food for the soul.
I was in one of the most beautiful and historic churches of Greece, the Church of Agioi Taxiarches in Milies on Mount Pelion, originally built in the 12th century. So there was already a lot of energy in this church. I looked at the candlelit faces around me. Their piety was what restored me. I didn’t know but could somehow feel that each of these people had their own cross to bear in one way or another.
When the priest finished the service and crossed himself he turned off the microphone. He wanted to give us his message. He said “Christos Anesti” three times. And three times the few people who had remained in the church answered him: “Alithos Anesti”. He then wished for us to keep the light of hope within us, for our families, for our fellow man, for ourselves. In this time of crisis for Greece, this was the only message that mattered.
There I was, in this little medieval church. Among people I didn’t know. But it mattered little to me. Because in that moment I didn’t need the fireworks to feel that Christ had risen. Christ had risen within me. And that was my Greek Easter.