Although the sun has come out in Montreal, warm and shining, and the skies carry the hope of the onset of spring, during these days of the upcoming Greek Easter the mind turns back to my native island of Lefkada and the blossoming flowers and perfumes of the season.
I remember the carefree years of my childhood, when the schools would close on the eve of the beginning of Holy Week. We would rush home to play in the neighbourhood, running amuck until exhaustion, as the next day would not allow for any further frolicking. Mom would be calling us to dress up in order to attend the Holy Week services every single night as Dad was a dedicated Orthodox priest.
In a flash, we would shuck our jeans, don our skirts, burnish our shoes and head off to Father's church, saddened by the interruption of our playtime. Regardless, upon arrival, our mood would instantly change. Having forgotten our little "suffering," we would take hold of our book of Holy Week prayers and follow along with the lyrical hymns of the Divine Passion.
We would read from "The Bridegroom," "The Hosanna," "The Betrayal of Judas," "The Uphill Path to Calvary" and from "The Crucifixion" ("...today, he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon a tree...") with all the scenes passing, as a film, in our minds and enshrining our compassion for a suffering Christ.
Every night, after returning home very late, we would cry, together with my younger sister, for the injustice caused to our God. We would live those times very strongly, as if the Divine Drama was all ours. I remember us sobbing, our tears flowing freely, as a result of our belief that life would not be spared us just as it was not granted to our Christ!
On Lazarus Saturday, Father would take us to one of the island's fancy shops to pick out our new Easter shoes. My little sister would chose the most extravagant ones. I, being classic in taste, would limit my choice to the crisp, white ones, adorned with a bow, to match my clothes. At the same time, we would also get to buy our summer sandals which, again, for me, remained solidly traditional, as I did not have the luxury of sifting through the various designs and colors which I had no idea how to match.
My sister would mock me that I had no imagination but, oblivious to her taunts, I insisted on my white ballerinas. Easter was also the time we would buy our light cardigans, in soft spring colors, which made us very happy as it enabled us to jettison the unflattering, stern, made-to-measure dresses of our local seamstresses.
Good Friday was our most rewarding day. Off to church bright and early, it was our task to assist the ladies of the congregation who were busy decorating the "Epitaph" with flowers from their gardens. With the dexterity of our tiny hands, we were an important link in the chain between the bouquets of flowers and the experienced but larger fingers of the ladies. We were anxious to create the most beautifully decorated Epitaph so that everyone could admire our church in the litany that would soon take place on the main street or "agora."
The prayers would make me cry for the lament of Mother Mary. "Oh my sweet spring, my sweetest child, where does your beauty fade?" At the time, we were unaware that this was a rehearsal for the personal grief that would accompany the loss of our beloved ones.
On Holy Thursday, our Mother would dye the eggs with care and proudly place them in large platters, making sure that they were all a smooth, rich red without any spots. On Saturday, she would awake at the crack of dawn to break a clay vessel (the "piece") in order to rid us of any evil spirits. Bam! Bam! Bam! Large crashing noises could be heard emanating from the neighboring houses while, in the distance, the local Philharmonic orchestra would march through the alleys, playing Bach.
At noontime, we would accompany Father to the main street to buy decorated candles ("lambades") and chocolates. My brother would always opt for a plain blue candle while we would be busy selecting the most ornate we could find, replete with bows and flowers. Our brother would buy the fattest chocolate egg he could find while my sister and I would usually come home with two small bunnies.
The Resurrection would be feted at the stroke of midnight accompanied by the deafening sounds of many firecrackers ("bourlota"). Terrified of the noise, I remember running to hide beneath Mother's dress.
Easter Sunday would be spent at our uncle's house in the country where we would roast the traditional lamb, with a red egg in its mouth, on the spit, amongst the green fields with red poppies..
How I wish I could relive those magical moments that would bring about such a serene tranquility. As I replay them, back and forth in my mind, they go a long way in helping eliminate any looming shadows!