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Epitaphios: Traditions of Holy Friday


Easter is one of the biggest religious celebrations of Christianity commemorating the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the passage from death to life. But as with other religious celebrations, the Christian celebration was predated by other events that were of importance to people, and since ancient times people have tended to combine the advent of a new religion and its components with their already existing customs and traditions.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover (Pesach) by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. The Jewish Passover is a commemoration of the liberation of the Jewish population over 3,300 years ago by God from slavery in ancient Egypt that was ruled by the Pharaohs, and their birth as a nation under the leadership of Moses. In many languages, the words for “Easter” and “Passover” are etymologically related or homonymous.
The pagan roots of Easter celebrating the transition from darkness to light, from death to life, have been absorbed by the early Christian religion and still survive to date. The corresponding Greek word for Easter is Lambri (meaning brilliant), because the day of the resurrection of Christ is a glorious day and foretells that death is not the end for humans.

However, before redemption comes with Christ’s Resurrection, the faithful must go through the Holy Week, during which the passions of Jesus are commemorated from the day he entered Jerusalem until the crucifixion and subsequent Resurrection.
Some of the highlights of the Holy Week are associated with the Epitaph and its litany on Holy Friday, which is the saddest day for Christians, a day of absolute fasting and no work. On Holy Thursday housewives traditionally prepare tsourekia (Christ bread) and dye eggs red, an ancient symbol of new life and the color symbolizing the blood of Christ.
In older times people used to place the first red egg οn the iconostasis of the house to cast out evil spirits. In some villages, they would mark the head and the back of young lambs with the red dye used for coloring the eggs.
On Holy Friday the Church mourns the death and burial of Christ. Housewives usually do not do any housework on that day avoiding even cooking. Instead, women and children go to church and decorate the Epitaph with flowers they either buy or pick from their own gardens. In the evening, the Epitaph procession takes place across the country and the faithful venerate it and go under it to receive God’s grace.
Moreover, many people drink vinegar on that day in resemblance to the vinegar given to Jesus on the cross. In Crete, more particularly, they boil snails and drink their juice, which is quite bitter. In many villages men stop doing any craft that might involve nails or spikes, which refer to Christ’s death on the Cross.

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