Mourning in the mountains

Easter is by far the most important religious festival in the Greek Orthodox calender. Unlike western branches of Christianity, which follow the Gregorian calender, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, the Greek Orthodox church follows the Julian calender, developed by Julius Caeser way back in 46 BC. Why am I telling you this? Well because it means that our respective Easter Sundays often fall on different dates. They can also coincide, and in fact will do in 2014, but this year they were over a month apart (the result being that we got to spend Greek Easter in May, in brilliant summer weather).

In Greece, preparations for the Easter feast usually begin on Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday). Tsoureki, a brioche-type bread is prepared along with hard-boiled eggs that are traditionally died red to represent the blood of Christ. We decided to break with tradition this year by jazzing our eggs up a little bit with some metallic paint. Quite snazzy, hey?

Not so traditional Easter eggs

Easter eggs

In the evening of Holy Thursday many Greeks attend a  service at their local church, during which extracts of the Gospels are read and a symbolic reenactment of the crucifixion takes place. Given that my parents had come over to Greece for Easter, Vicky’s parents organised something special for the evening. We drove out of Athens to a convent called Moni Kleiston (info only available in Greek but the photos are good), in the nearby mountain of Parnitha. Perched on the side of a huge gorge, the convent was constructed in the 12th century and part of it is actually built into the cliff wall. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take any photos inside, but we got a couple of the gorge outside:

Moni Kleiston

Legend has it that, before the convent was founded, a Christian discovered an image of the Virgin Mary inside a cave in the rocks. There wasn’t enough space to build anything there, so they decided to construct Moni Kleiston opposite – and that’s where it stands to this day.  The cave still remains a place of worship, however, and you can walk there by going down the steep path you can see here:

Moni Kleiston looking down

The nuns use an interesting pulley system (visible in the photo below) to haul “kandili” (Greek votive candles) back and forth between the cave and the convent. It would make a rather cool zipline, don’t you think?

Moni Kleiston gorge

The service on Holy Thursday marks the beginning of the period of mourning that leads up to Easter Sunday. During the ceremony, a priest reads excerpts from the gospels narrating the events leading up to the crucifixion, and the young nuns that live in the convent chant and sing hymns. When they started chanting it really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The mountains, the darkness, the church built into the rocks and the distressed chants made it such a unique experience. Click play on the video below and you’ll get a better understanding of what I mean – it’s something I’ll remember for a long time.


  1. Chris,
    Love the snazzy eggs you made! You are a travel blogger, my friend. I am so happy you have started a digital dossier of your travels. Big hey to Vicky!

    • chris says:

      Cheers Terry – it’s all thanks to that conversation we had back in Costa Rica :). Great to hear from you – and Vicky says hi back!

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