Gathering over meal important in western, Greek Orthodox faiths



alex tejada/for metro toronto


Easter is not just about a certain rabbit hiding chocolate eggs.


Easter is not just about a certain rabbit hiding chocolate eggs for children. It is a holiday that encompasses two faiths. The western (Catholic and Protestant) and Greek Orthodox churches normally celebrate Easter in different ways and at different dates; however, this year, the two celebrations occur on the same day: April 8.

Most Orthodox people fast before Easter, a time called Lent, and are not allowed to eat foods such as meat, butter and milk for 40 days.

This culminates into the Holy Week where the actual celebration of Easter starts on Good Friday where they go to church to “celebrate events of betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion?of Christ,” says Father?Peter Avgeropoulos,?a priest at the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, a Greek Orthodox cathedral in Toronto.

There, they take down the icon of Christ off the cross and wrap the body in a shroud, put it in a casket and decorate it with flowers, which symbolizes Christ’s tomb.

On Saturday night, they wait until midnight, when the priest announces the resurrection of Christ. The church is basked in red light and it is customary for families to take home a lit candle, called the Holy Flame.

At home, the fast is broken with food and on Sunday, families get together and eat roast lamb, Easter bread and hard-boiled eggs that are dyed red, symbolizing the blood of Christ.

Before the eggs are eaten, people crack them over each other’s heads and the person who has a whole egg left at the end wins everyone’s luck.

Food is an important Easter tradition for the Orthodox. “Food is a time of family gathering,”?says Avgeropoulos. “It is an annual renewal coming closer to Christ?and coming?to terms with one’s faith through Lent and the Easter feast.”

While Orthodox and western cultures celebrate Easter differently, they both have foods in common. An Orthodox Easter menu contains foods that can be eaten by people of many faiths. Appetizers include Greek olives, sliced myzithra (cheese), fresh vegetables, tzatziki (yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip) and tyrokafteri (spicy feta cheese dip.)

The main meal could have kotopoulo lemonato sti skhara (grilled lemon chicken), patates fournou (roasted potatoes with lemon, orange and oregano), spanakotyropita (spinach pie with cheese) and of course, lamb. For dessert, have tsoureki (sweet bread) or kalitsounia kritis (sweet cheese pastry). But don’t forget the chocolate eggs!

Christians fast, abstain from meat on Good Friday

Good Friday, or the Friday before Easter, is a holy day observed by Christians in which many people must fast or abstain from eating meat.

Traditionally, this abstinence is supposed to be in remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made for people when he was crucified on the cross.

A modern tradition to replace meat is to eat fish.

It is also custom to eat hot cross buns, pictured above, on Good Friday. The pastry cross on top of the buns symbolizes and reminds Christians of the cross that Jesus was killed on.

The buns were traditionally eaten at breakfast time, hot from the oven. They were once sold by street vendors who sang songs about them.

Other foods that can be eaten on this day are Lent cakes, sweets, ricotta pie, artichokes, anchovy cakes and Easter ring bread.

However, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says that most people are supposed to go without food during the day, avoid meat and spend the day in prayer and penance by giving up things they typically enjoy.