Dr. Despina Siolas and her husband, Laurentino Ibarra, witnessed the unique Holy Friday Greek Orthodox celebration in Tripoli, Greece, with their relatives Pitsa Gerou Macarouni, a philologist, her husband Christo Macarouni and three sons, and her God brother, Dr. Alexios Vardouniotis, ENT surgeon, and his wife Kanela, a psychologist, and son Spyridon (Clint). They drove to Tripoli on Good Friday and stayed at Hotel Mainalon facing Plateia Areos, the main square.
“Holy Friday was special because we spent the evening with middle class families holding on to the old traditions,” explained Dr. Despina. Areos Square was decorated with butterflies and a giant red Easter egg. The Holy Friday Lamentations featured the Procession of the Epitafia (Jesus’ body carried in a tomb) of eight different church communities from the area that paraded around Agiou Vasiliou Square. Chanter, Orpheus and City of Tripoli choruses, the military and citizens participated in the Epitafia processions that led to the cemetery outside of town. Their Lenten dinner was octopus, shrimp pasta, French fries and bread, no chemicals, all organic. Pastry shops had windows filled with tsoureki covered with white chocolate, thumbprint cookies with jelly, baklava and kourabiedes.
Holy Saturday was spent hiking through the Lousios Gorge. The gorge has been inhabited for centuries by hermits in caves and monks. Two monasteries remain open to visitors, Philosophou and Prodromo. Philosophou is famous due to its reputation as being a secret school during the Ottoman occupation. On their return to their hotel room, they received two Easter candles on behalf of Tripoli city by its mayor, Dimitis Pavlis. “From the bottom of my heart, we wish every person a Kalo Pasha,” his message read. “May the Holy Light illuminate the lives of young and old with Love, Hope, Health and Progress. Happy Resurrection.” In addition, they had a platter of koulourakia, tsoureki and two eggs.
“We said Christos Anesti with my aunt, Philologist Pitsa Gerou Macarouni and her husband Christo and three sons, explained Dr. Despina. “ They all hold on to old traditions. Aunt Pitsa told me ‘I have a fourth child, a daughter, you, Despina. You are my blood.’” Blood ties are very important in 2015 Greece. Their home had photos of family members in traditional tsolia, amalia costumes and military uniforms.
“Holy Saturday evening in Tripoli is different from New York,” she explained. “We attended church at Agio Vasilis with a presentation of the military, chanting of Christos Anesti, firecrackers and fireworks. Everyone was happy. We took the holy light to Thia Pitsa and Thio Christo’s home. Everyone burnt the entrance to the door frame with their candle for good luck.” Would we do this in the U.S.A.? Most people in America would likely be frightened of a fire. Greeks are brave.
Easter morning dinner at 1 a.m. was cracking red eggs for good luck with magiritsa, tomatoes, feta, kasseri, tiropita, salad Italian bread, magiritsa (liver soup) barbecued lamb cut up in pieces and wine. The house was decorated with colorful embroidered tablecloths, tulips, rabbits, chocolate covered tsoureki, red roosters, chocolate Easter cookies, chocolate eggs and a large red Easter egg. “We want you, Despina and Laurentino, to communicate with our children for as long as you live,” said philologist Pitsa Gerou Macarouni. “We want blood ties to continue among our youth. This is the meaning of family.” Worry beads were given to Laurentino so he can use them and remember Tripoli.
On Easter Sunday, the city of Tripoli has an exciting Easter celebration at Areos Square with lambs barbecuing, tsoureki, Easter eggs, koulourakia, wine with traditional folk dancing. This is free to the public. The City of Tripoli understands their community comes together in preparing food for their Easter celebration. Bonding takes place.
The best way to describe Tripoli is Andreas Lykourentzos’, 2009 former Deputy Prime Minister of Education, welcome of His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew’s first visit to the Peloponnese. “His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople visited Tripoli on September 21-22 (2009),” according to an article. Lykourentzos welcomed the Patriarch by saying “from the heart of Morea and the capital [Tripoli] of Arcadia, the homeland of Modern Martyrs, we show our great love for the Patriarch of Constantinople, leader of the Christian Church. I welcome you first as a Tripolitsiotis and as an Arcas, representing our people of Arcadia. Our citizens are dedicated to the trades, professions and sciences. We are your supporters in Greece and Overseas. The Arcadians remain loyal to the traditions and sacrifices of our Nation on behalf of the Christian Faith and for the freedom of our country. In the 21st century, The Light of the Phanar shines in our hearts and the world.” This description “first as a Tripolitsiotis and as an Arcas,” is handed to each generation remember, who and what they are: holding the light of Hellenism and freedom from ancient times.
“In Hospitality, the chief thing is good will,” says a Greek proverb. To the Ancient Greeks, Hospitality was from God. The host was expected to make sure the needs of his guests were satisfied. In Greek society, a person’s ability to stand by the laws of hospitality determined nobility and social standing. This concept is woven into Greek culture for thousands of years. Greek Hospitality is alive during the spring of 2015. Sharing food is part of the human experience.
The Athenian and Peloponnesian families, restaurants and hotels, brought these tourists closer together. This is what makes Greeks stand out as people of class and hospitality. Honor, loyalty, integrity is part of hospitality. One must remember. Never forget. Hospitality is alive in 2015 Greece.
All photos by Despina Siolas, MD/Ph.D.