Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holy Week and Pascha in a Greek Mountain Village

This Holy Week, I was sent again to the parish of St. Paraskevi in Zagora (where I was also for Christmas and Theophany). Above is a photo of the back of the temple, which dates to about 1830, and the view onto the Aegean Sea.

On Palm Sunday, we had a good turnout of about 300 people. They have an interesting tradition in this parish of having the couples who have been married in the previous year sponsor the bay leaves, and the priest hands them special sets of bay leaves, that are joined together by a ribbon much like their weddings crowns, at the end of the service. This was the first time I'd heard of this tradition, and--like many such traditions--it may be limited to one area or even one parish.
Below you can see the west side of the temple. On the corner, you can see (close-up above), particular stones that were set into the corner of temples from this time period. Above and below, they are of warrior saints mounted on horses (such as St. George), and in the middle I was told it was a representation of God (?!) Who is everywhere present and sees all things.
The parish rented me a room in one of the many bed & breakfast places in this popular tourist area. Above you can see the view from my room.
Here's a shot I took while walking around the parish.
Above is a shot of the south side of the temple, taken from the courtyard where we gathered to proclaim "Christ is risen!" at midnight.
Above, another shot of the entrance to the temple, this time from above, where the street is. This temple is quite typical of the Ottoman period. Access to the entrance was purposely narrow to prevent Turkish troops from swarming in. There were also doors on the north and south sides, but they were heavily fortified in case of trouble. On the outside, the temple did not possess distinctive features such as a dome, cross, etc., in order to avoid attracting unwanted attention.
Above, a shot of the north side of the temple, again from above. On the left, you can see the parish center, where catechism and talks are held. Just beyond the trees on the left is the priest's house. These buildings are again typical features of the churches of that time.
Above, a side chapel to St. Panteleimon, added at some later time (I think around 1950) to the south side of the temple. Inside the temple, there are two side chapels, as is normal. Then, on the outside, two side chapels were added later, making a total of five altars in this one temple.
Above, the entrance from the south side, with an icon of St. Paraskevi above it.
Along the north side of the temple. In the right in the distance you can see the other outside side chapel, dedicated to St. Matrona. The parish center, which is in some disrepair due to the lack of a permanent priest there, is to the left.
One of the many interesting things I noted during my visit this time in the village is that I actually saw the practice of children making a metanoia or prostration (i.e., bowing) and kissing the hand of their parents, as is the custom for priests. I was told that this old tradition was still kept rather widely in this village, which--perhaps due to its rather remote location--has not yet been totally Americanized like much of the rest of the world. This custom is a sign of respect and submission (in love) to the authority of another, i.e. a way of signaling the social order. Since this idea is so foreign and abhorrent to the American/Western European/"Hollywood" culture now invading Greece, it is now becoming extinct--as, I fear, is much of traditional Greek, Orthodox culture in the name of globalization.
On a more positive and hopeful note, I also wanted to relate the story of the Holy Light from Jerusalem. When the Patriarch of Jerusalem emerges from Christ's Holy Sepulchre with the Holy Light, it is taken immediately to the airport, where waiting planes fly it to Greece (and elsewhere, I'm sure). Since Zagora is such a remote mountain area, many times the Holy Light does not make it there by midnight. We thus had taken the Holy Light from a church in Volos, where the priests there had labored to keep it continuously alight since last year.
But, around 11:40 PM on the night of Great Saturday, I heard someone calling me "Father, father." I turned around the mayor of Zagora was standing there with the Holy Light. He had arranged to go down to the airport in Volos and await the Holy Light, and then he rushed back to Zagora as quickly as possible to bring the Light to village's four parishes.
The custom in this village (and, I imagine, many other villages), is that when the priest calls for the people to come receive the Light, he actually just sticks his arm over the old heavy wooden doors of the Beautiful Gate, rather than opening them completely. This, I quickly gathered, is to protect him from the onslaught of the faithful, eager to take the Holy Light.
For more photos, click here.