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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

One of Kit's red Easter eggs.

CANADA - Kitchener (Wk.12 of 16 weeks)
Week 45 of World Tour

Red Easter Eggs

First of all, I’m a Greek-born Australian, and Easter in Melbourne (Australia) is a major event for the Greeks, which is the largest Greek community outside of Greece (450,000).

So I was curious to see how the Greeks in Kitchener (Canada) celebrated their Easter. Greek Easter doesn’t always coincide with the ‘normal’ Easter period, but it did this year (as it does every 4th year).

Kit’s friend, Lily, is a Greek lady who owns the Slices Family Restaurant in Kitchener. She was a choir member for the St. Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church, so we were able to get a flyer for the church’s Easter program. My Greek isn’t the best, and the Greek that’s typically spoken in Greek Orthodox churches is ancient Greek, of which I have no understanding at all. But Lily told us that the church service was in both Greek and English, so we felt we’d both be able to understand it.

So at 7.45pm on Good Friday, Kit and I visited St. Peter and Paul’s. At the entrance were a couple of boxes of candles. The tiny ones were selling for $4 and the huge ones (10 times heavier!) were selling for $6. Both prices seemed a bit rich for me, but nevertheless, we bought 2 tiny candles. The church was already packed downstairs, so we got a couple of front row seats on the balcony. There must’ve been about 500 people there.

On the altar were 2 priests who both spoke perfect English, 4 psaltes dressed in black gowns (sorry, don’t know what they’re called in English, but they did the back-up vocals for the priests), a choir conductor and 20 choir singers. So it was rather crowded down there.

I was disappointed that all the preaching and church psalms were done in Greek. The only English that was spoken on the night was instructional, giving the congregation details of the order of the Epitaphio procession which would begin at 9pm. But no religious teachings were given in English.

The Easter Psalmery, which was handed out to everyone, impressed me. The Greek psalms were written in both Greek and English characters. Now I didn’t say they were written in English! There’s a big difference. The purpose of the Psalmery was to enable the whole congregation to sing the Easter psalms in Greek, so the Greek words were also written in English characters so the English speakers could sing in Greek. Got it?

The Epitaphio, a flat tray with a canopy and 2 poles running along its side, had been adorned with red and white flowers on the night before, and at 9pm it was carried out of the church by 4 pall-bearers. The procession was led by everyone on the altar, and following the Epitaphio was a sea of lighted candles held by the congregation, who made sure not to walk in front of the Epitaphio, as instructed.

But the Epitaphio was only taken once around the church building! I say this with surprise, because in Melbourne they take the Epitaphio around a whole block of streets! We even have police cars blocking off the streets to protect the over 1,000 church-goers from being abused by annoyed drivers (which used to happen quite regularly, and quite understandably).

The Epitaphio was then positioned in front of the church entrance and raised up so everyone could walk under it as they re-entered the church. Soon afterwards the church service ended and we made sure to meet Lily before we left for home.

I thought I’d soak up the Easter spirit for these few days, so that night I watched the video, Jesus Of Montreal.

The next morning we had breakfast at Lily’s restaurant. And in the afternoon Kit made 2 dozen Greek Easter eggs, by hard-boiling them and dyeing them a rich red colour.

That night I watched another Easter video called The Lamb of God. A little after 11pm, we went back to St. Peter and Paul’s. But this time the church was packed both upstairs and downstairs! So we spent the next 2-and-a-half hours standing against the back wall of the balcony, and being grateful that we were even able to do that

Just before midnight, all the lights were switched off and a wave of light spread out as the holy light was sent from the altar, and from one candle to the next, out amongst the pews. The Resurrection of Christ was being held outside, so soon the church emptied, except for about 100 people who must’ve been concerned about losing their treasured seats.

In Melbourne, I recall that most of the Greeks turned up just before midnight, sang the Easter Resurrection psalm, cracked their red eggs with each other, and were back home braking their Easter fasting with a feast just half an hour later.

The program wrote that the church service would finish by 1am, but at 1.35am the priests had just asked the remaining 150 people to come forth and take communion. By then I was about ready to fall asleep on the pews, and since this was the latest I’d ever stayed in any church, ever, I thought it would be OK to leave without feeling too guilty. After all, we’d been standing there for 2-and-a-half hours and not understanding a word of it. So it was really a test of endurance, which we’d tolerated for much longer than the other 450 people who’d already gone home. In fact, I don’t ever recall going to a Greek church service from beginning to end. It always seemed like it was a place you just went to and stayed for as long as you could cope.

As we got into the car I saw a large rabbit running across the road. I thought it may have been the Easter Bunny, but Kit insisted it was just a jack rabbit.

In our haste to get back home, we’d forgotten to crack our red Easter eggs outside the church. But we did crack them once we got home. And we ate them as well.

On the way to the church the next morning we saw some children with baskets rummaging through bushes outside a local church. They were obviously on an Easter egg hunt. But we weren’t going to St. Peter and Paul’s today. Easter Sunday was to be celebrated at the First United Church, Waterloo. And what a contrast to the previous couple of days.

The service started at 10.30am and went for an hour. The church was almost full (maybe 400 people) so we all had seats. The choir of 15 men and women sang like angels. A handbell choir of 12 ladies dressed in black pants, white shirts and red patterned vests, played soft and beautiful Easter music, holding their brass bells with their white gloved hands and sounding like a symphony orchestra. They even had a trumpet soloist after the handbell choir finished.

Rev. Rick Hawley gave another one of his usual great sermons. In his story he said, “It all begins with a red wheelbarrow full of Campbell soup cans.” He was talking about how someone spent his time helping the needy. It was a positive and inspiring sermon, something I’d never experienced in a Greek Orthodox church. Why don’t the Greek Churches preach to us in English, I thought to myself.

Kit’s son, Trevor, and his girlfriend joined us for Easter Dinner that evening. And afterwards I gave a performance of my play, The Glory Of Athens, to a small audience in Kit’s home. The night ended with a viewing of my 3rd Easter video, The Judas Project.

But Easter didn’t really end for me until the following Saturday. That’s when I saw my last Easter video, Jesus Christ Superstar.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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