Every Easter the Orthodox are supposed to fast for Lent. Now that I stay in Durban it seems everyone thinks a fast is like the Muslims do for Ramadan: nothing passes your lips from sunrise to sunup.
The Orthodox fast is supposed to be a sacrifice as well, but not of meal times, just of food types. One should forego luxurious items, and if one were an aesthete one would live on unleavened bread and water for 40 days. Most Orthodox fast for the week leading up to Easter, from Palm Sunday. My father was very strict on himself. No animal products, no shellfish, no olive oil for the week. Vegetables and legumes and bread and water, with fruit made up his diet. Included was attendance at the services on each night of the Holy Week and also the morning service of Good Friday where the semblance of the body of Christ was placed in the Epitafio, for the procession later that night.
In the beginning of the church’s existence in Alberton, we had to help set up the stage outside the church for the priest to deliver his “Xristos Anesti”, Christ has Risen, message to the community after the midnight mass on Saturday. Sometimes we had communion on Saturday morning, some years on Thursday morning before School. Come to think of it, I think Greek school in the afternoons was cancelled over the Holy Week.
Communion was really communion in those days. The priest knew everybody by name, they would all have fasted Islamic style that morning and the first item to pass through their mouth was the gold spoon holding the sweet wine representing the blood of Christ. The priest then gave the spoon a quick wipe before the next lamb of God sucked on it. And we all lived healthier lives than now despite the lack of hygiene!
The midnight mass started around 9 pm. My father would be in attendance shortly afterwards. Most people arrived at 11:30 pm, in time for the church to be plunged into darkness and occasionally silence from the rabble gathered outside, and the light of God to make it’s way out from the altar. The priest would proclaim “Xristos Anesti” and then sing the beautiful funereal celebratory song. The congregants would join in and then wish each other. The community would pass out red eggs and these would be broken against friends and family member’s eggs, to symbolize the return to life of Christ.
Everyone in the family and friends would then make their way to Aunty Marina’s house, a few houses away from the church. Everyone except my father. He would stay on till the end of the service and then come, holding the candle with the new light reverently.
We all went there to break the fast. Aunty Marina made the most divine egg and lemon soup, a rich creamy broth with pieces of chicken on the side. This was in some years the first protein to pass your lips in a week, and then in the early hours of the morning.
Over the years we had a variety of priests. Some concluded the service early and my father could join us at Aunty Marina’s house. Other years the priests would extend themselves to try make up for all our sins and my father would pick up his bowl of soup from her front porch, while everyone else was asleep in their beds.
I visited my mother last night and Aunty Marina made Avgolemono soup. Just look at what flavours of memory can create….