8-16 April, 2017
Euphrosini had the blessing to spend Lazarus Saturday (the Saturday before Holy Week) through Holy Tuesday at Ormylia (Annunciation Monastery). While there, she helped the sisters dye six-thousand Pascha eggs. They begin collecting the eggs from their own hens starting in December (apparently eggs can last for months without refrigeration as long as they’re unwashed). About half the eggs go to Simonopetra Monastery on Mount Athos.
I spent my time between Aheiropiitos and St. Charalambos and chanted for nearly all of the services. It’s amazing how many people turn up for all of the Holy Week services, even the morning liturgies. We’d expected packed churches for Palm Sunday, and Pascha, but not for every single service in between! But I guess that makes sense with a population that’s 97% Orthodox.
For the Holy Friday Lamentation service, held on Thursday evening, we attended St. Charalambos, a dependency of Simonopetra Monastery on Mt. Athos. Their chanting is in the same tradition and spirit as Simonopetra and was particularly powerful for this service.
After an exhilarating two hours, we began the procession with the epitaphion (bier) of Christ. At first we thought we’d just process around the church. But then we went through the gates. And then we continued onto Egnatia, Thessaloniki’s main street! Despite the cars zooming passed us, our voices thundered in a way we’d never experienced in an outdoor procession as every member joined in the chanting. As we circled back to the church, we ran into another parish in procession. And so we stopped, our priests greeted one another with the kiss of peace, and we prayed an litany together before parting ways.
We accepted an invitation from the nuns to celebrate Pascha at Ormylia, packed six of us into Anastasia’s car, and headed out for the monastery at midnight. Most of the churches in the city were already well into the Pascha service; the streets were full of candle-bearing people on their way home and we saw fireworks from the highway. The nuns don’t start the service until 1am.
We brought our friends from back home, the Callihans, and their British friend Sam to the monastery. It was Sam’s first Pascha and the Callihan’s first experience at a monastery. Under swinging chandeliers and immersed in the nun’s angelic chanting, ringing bells, and pounding talandrons, we received the light, and celebrated the Resurrection of Christ with joy, finishing the liturgy at around 5:30. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in the church during services, so you’ll have to use your imagination.
We then went directly to the monastery’s dining hall where we broke the fast together with a delicious feast of all things fish, dairy (homemade from the monastery), and eggs.
This is where we learned that σουπιά (soupia) means cuttlefish, and cuttlefish is in fact a type of fish. Our friend Ryan is highly allergic to fish and, after the long service, we sat down in front of plates of whole fish, which he of course can’t eat without dying. Next to the plate was a bowl of soup. I asked a nun what was in it, and she said soupia. I asked her if that was fish, “because my friend is very allergic to fish” and she said “No, it’s soupia”. So asked her if it was thalassina (seafood), and she said “yes”. Ryan wasn’t sold, so I asked another nun. And the conversation went the same. After taking a small spoonful of the soup, his throat started itching, and he set the bowl aside. So I gave him my kadaifi, a cheese and wheat dessert, to make up for it.
Meanwhile, all of the young ladies lined up to crack their red eggs with the gerondissa, including Euphrosini and our friend who was with us. The sun was rising as we drove home and we all collapsed in our beds at around 7:30.