Easter in Crete

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Easter in Milatos Big Friday (Good Friday) Tonight Christ has died again as He did 2005 years before. The church is lit and the bier rests, covered in small white flowers, unlike the ignominious crown of thorns, waiting to be carried through the tiny village streets. The faithful and the not so faithful stand outside the church, the former in prayer, the latter maybe hoping for some benevolent spin-off from the atmosphere emanating from the events within. Candles flicker safe in a tray of sand and more are lit as each new worshipper enters.

Why? In prayer for a loved one? A gesture of thanks for a new birth? Who knows. The candle I light and place in the tray of remembrance with all the others, is for B.... If God is looking down then he'll get better. If not I can only pray he dies without pain The prayers abruptly cease and, at the four corners of the bier, new and larger candles are lit. Not even the most devout unbeliever could but help be moved by the enfolding ritual.

From the church the procession begins. Led by lanterns and followed by candle-lit symbols of the sun, the bier emerges, the priest behind. For a moment, no more, there is absolute silence. No bombs explode, no tiny child cries. It seems that for this brief time there is an acknowledgement that on this day Christ died. That something momentous and mysterious; something beyond our ordinary grubby days, has happened. We must wait another day before, at midnight tomorrow night, we celebrate Him rising once again. The bombs erupt and echo round the village once more. The young men posture, being 'brave' in their apparent indifference to the potential danger. Young girls squeal and pretend to be afraid, behaviours which are as much a part of the ritual as the slow procession through the village streets before the bier is returned to the church to rest in silence. In deference to the young and, one suspects, the tourists, Friday evening continues with loud music and the occasional brilliantly coloured firework, scintillating against the backdrop of the star-hung sky. Whilst in Iraq, or the aids-rife villages of Africa, it may seem as if the ultimate sacrifice of one young man, 2000 years ago, is of no greater significance than that of the latest suicide bomber. There have been so many sacrifices. Down by the small port, a faint breeze disturbs the pond-still surface of the ink-black sea. We will wait through Saturday, behaving as if it is just another ordinary day, but in truth we are aware of an air of suppressed excitement in the village, especially amongst the children. We wait for midnight, for that one brief moment when everyone is drawn together in the common recognition of Christ risen and the common belief of a brighter, cleaner future - however each of us as individuals perceive that new dawning day to be.

Easter Saturday/Sunday Saturday dawns overcast, a stark contrast to the baking sunshine of the preceding days. Taking morning coffee on the balcony, the world beyond the petty cares of men continues as usual. A small bird sings; the sparrows who have nested in the awning struts continue feeding the rapacious appetites of their young; a dog barks and a cockerel crows - so often associated with the denial of Peter. There are faint voices, the men working on the building up the hill, the man in his garden next door but unusually subdued. A cat prowls silently amongst the young vines. The one road in and out of the village is deserted. Not today the sound of delivery trucks, the small vans selling oranges or the noisy motor-bikes. We take the car to the next village of Sissi. You could be forgiven for not knowing that something significant was about to happen - though according to the sign outside one small taverna - it was going to happen 'only here!' The bars are quiet The few visitors drink expresso coffee, a German couple count out their last few cents to meet their bill of six euros and the occasional Greek family gather, welcoming friends who have returned for the holiday. The bar owner is, as ever, friendly, aware that we are English but understanding our still developing Greek. The Metaxas are large and the ouzos larger still. We leave with mutual good wishes - 'Calo Pascal' (Happy Easter). As we pass through Epano Sissi on our way back to Milatos, I notice that the elderly man whom we have seen each day sitting outside his house, has changed his fringed white head dress for a black one.

Saturday evening and the air of almost impatient waiting becomes more palpable. Bombs explode in the streets and by 11.30 the church is full. Tonight I light candles for both our mums - not that I believe they need my prayers. T feel sure that they are watching us. I can only hope they are smiling as they do so! The clocks tick round to midnight We know from other Easters in Greece that as the church doors are thrown open, there will be an outpouring of goodwill that you can almost taste and touch. If only we could spread this across the world - this one moment when every single person could stop and ask 'Why the slaughter?' 'Why the carnage?' 'In whose name?' 'Is this the best that we can be?' It's suddenly midnight. The lights in the church are darkened and the faintest glow from a solitary candle is the only light to be seen. The light is passed from candle to candle and what was a flicker becomes a flood of light, bursting across the church, down the steps and into the square. In moments there is light everywhere. 'Christos aneste!' (Christ is risen) the priest intones as he steps outside. And everywhere, with every person, regardless of creed or colour, nationality, friend or family, visitor or resident, the greeting is repeated. Christ has indeed risen again in this small Greek village. A huge bonfire leaps into flame as more bombs explode. An image of Judas is burned Shoals of coloured fireworks flash and splinter in the night sky. We walk back down to the port and sing the words of Norah Jones 'Come away with me.' The clouds of early in the day have gone and the inverted black umbrella of the sky is splashed with sparks of white. It seems immense but close and warm.

At the local bar the table is laid - not for twelve but only eleven, for someone is missing from the feast. We have the traditional Easter lamb soup, lamb chops, fresh bread and 'fight' with the red eggs, (A game like conkers but without the PC influence). I feel immensely grateful to these people - just ordinary people like you and me - who still have the capacity to open their hearts and their families to us as foreigners. Who still have the desire to share the highlights of their lives, the good things which their work has earned, with whomever happens to be around.

Sunday morning has arrived too quickly. It's 3.30 and time we went to bed. There is an urge to linger, to try to make the magic of this evening stretch another minute, another hour. But Richard is tired and the wine is catching up with me. Christos aneste (Christ has risen.) Aneste ine. Indeed He has Lin Bulloch Milatos Easter 2005


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