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“Flying Priest” Marks Holy Saturday’s Liturgy in Greece

Flying Priest
The tradition of the “Flying Priest” from the island of Chios, which occurs on Holy Saturday, has now spread throughout Greece and Cyprus. Video frame of Father Christoforos on Chios

On Holy Saturday, Father Christoforos Gourlis reenacted the tradition of the “Flying Priest” from the Greek island of Chios.

The “Flying Priest” tradition from Father Christoforos has become nationally known for the theatrical way he comes hopping out of the sanctuary to announce Jesus Christ‘s first resurrection.

The church bells of Chios‘ Holy Temple of Panagia Evangelistria rang to celebrate victory of the divine over death, while the “flying priest” threw handfuls of bay leaves over the faithful.

The flying priest tradition spreads to other parts of Greece and Cyprus

This tradition, which began on Chios many years ago, has now spread throughout Greece and Cyprus.

Holy Saturday is the day Christ’s body lay in the tomb while his followers mourned.

On Saturday morning, Greeks congregate in their church yet again to remember how, while his disciples were mourning on earth, Jesus descended into Hades, bringing salvation to the souls of the dead. That’s why Greeks call this Saturday the “First Resurrection.”

Worshippers venerate an icon of Jesus pulling Adam and Eve out of the fires of hell. This is the pivotal moment when Christ has defeated the devil and death.

On Holy Saturday, psalms are read and Resurrection hymns are sung, telling of Christ’s descent into Hades: “Today Hades cried out groaning,” the psalm says.

The hymns speak of the conquering of death and the day’s celebration is called “First Resurrection.” Most of the readings of this day are from the Old Testament on the prophecies and promise of the conquering of death.

In Greece, the Resurrection Mass takes place on the night of Holy Saturday. A few minutes before midnight, all the lights are turned off and the priest exits the altar holding candles lit by the Holy Light, which is distributed to everyone in attendance.

At midnight, the priest exits the church and announces the resurrection of Jesus.

Fireworks and crackers go off and the dark night is filled with light and colorful explosions.

The priest has changed out of his mournful black vestments and into hopeful white ones. Now much more joyful and animated, he tosses dried flower petals—representing the broken chains of hell—over all gathered.

After the Resurrection Mass, people return home, bringing the Holy Light along, and use it to draw a cross on the door sill with the candle’s smoke.

They also light a candle inside the house that remains lit for thirty to forty days.

They sit around the table to eat magiritsa, a soup made of lamb or beef offal.

Greece, along with the rest of the Orthodox Christian world, celebrates Easter on Sunday.

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