What is the true meaning of Easter?
Is it the imposing sadness that stems from the moody weather and revival of the Holy Passions and Crucifixion, or is it the captivating feeling that the celebration of the resurrection and Easter trimmings exude?
Easter or Pascha, is about the love. It is about setting dates and differences aside, endorsing the faith and triumph.
Whether it is the Hebrew Passover to a land of salvation or freedom or the Risen Christ with a week’s difference, love is all this holiday comes down to.
The Biblical sequence of events discloses innumerable symbolisms that serve a common aim, to bring us all together spiritually and physically in one ‘holy communion.’
Being Greek and having spent most of my life in Greece, means that these days strike one sensitive chord after the other, as every tradition triggers a flood of memories.
This is the first Easter I spend away from my family, away from the ‘mandatory’ visits to the church, away from my need to constantly declare my non-existent desire to delve into the ‘Easter mood’.
Yet, here I am, writing this piece a few hours before I voluntarily become part of a tradition I was until recently running away from.
When the wanderlust gene clashes with the way you’ve come to identify yourself, it is highly likely that you will eventually start appreciating where people around you ‘are coming from’.
While throughout my years in Greece I was struggling to fathom the expats’ mania with their homeland, I keep finding myself stepping into the same path.
Apparently, I’m not the only one harking back.
Apart from the second and third generation Greeks in Australia, doing their best to preserve and promote their cultural heritage, there is the increasingly rising number of newcomers.
Greeks that have some kind of connection to Australia, and as a result of the country’s shattered economy, decided to leave everything behind and start over, in the Lucky Land.
Even if originally their intention was to shine away from ‘all-things-Greek’, the Greek- Australian community has its way to create an all-inclusive society to celebrate the highlight of the religious calendar.
Greek Australians are more ‘devoted’ in the way they celebrate Easter in the customary ways.
In the days leading up to Easter Sunday, the parishioners recreate the Holy Passions, for the celebrations to culminate on Easter Sunday.
As tradition demands, families gather to commemorate the series of events that enclose the essence of Christianity.
The Greek community starts preparing for ‘the feast of feasts’, buying the essentials for the arresting Easter table.
Eggs, dye, coal, candles, Easter bread, chocolates, wine and heaps of meat, inundating the local deli shops and Greek shopping precincts.
Kids longingly await to see their lambades and receive presents from their godparents.
Who can imagine going through 40 days of fasting, only to keep fasting on the day of the Resurrection?
The statistics come as a surprise. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese with the help of 40 volunteers, has found 300 families in need, who wouldn’t have been able to celebrate Easter if they hadn’t received the ‘Food Parcel’.
On Holy Thursday, the day the church service commemorates the Last Supper and Christ’s final hours before the Crucifixion, red Easter eggs are traditionally dyed.
The Archdiocese, established the ‘Food Parcel’ 15 years ago, to ensure its parishioners and families facing financial difficulties, could still celebrate Easter.
“This year, the number of families in need in our community has grown. Needs constantly change, including names,” Edmond Kaderoglou tells Neos Kosmos.
“Some of the people we catered for last year are in hospital, others have left or died.”
“Let us not forget the staggering numbers of newcomers, arriving here with nothing but a suitcase, alone, or with families to support, having connections,” he adds.
Most of the times, the Archdiocese finds out about them from other members of the community, as they are usually too embarrassed to admit the severity of their predicament.
“It is extremely moving how the Greek Australian community has managed to create its own support network,” Kediroglou muses while a woman who wishes her name to remain undisclosed, opens her own 50kg ‘Food Parcel’ in front of Vivienne Morris, a fellow journalist for Neos Kosmos.
“It feels like a nightmare and a blessing at the same time,” she tells.
“I left Greece, so that I wouldn’t have to become one of those people who wait in-line outside churches and municipalities to receive food, and here I am.”
“It has my name on it, which made me feel reluctant and even a bit embarrassed at first, but then I was overwhelmed by a feeling of love and gratitude.
“Plus, it was done in a very a discreet way,” she adds.
Most newcomers have chosen the suburb of Oakleigh as have many other Greek immigrants before them.
The municipality of Monash is the home of a large Greek Australian population, therefore its Mayor, Paul Klisaris along with Labor MP Steve Dimopoulos, have decided to organise a Greek Easter feast.
The Eaton Mall area, will be busting with live music and dance groups as hundreds of lambs on the spit and traditional Greek Easter dishes will be on display.
The fests is expected to gather thousands of people, in an attempt to override alienation and loneliness, connecting the newcomers with the second and third generation Greek community members.
“There are many young people who have returned to Australia from Greece, young men and women, even families, who feel isolated,” said mayor Paul Klisaris.
Greek Ambassador Haris Dafaranos, Victorian MP Steve Dimopoulos and federal MPs Anna Burke and Claire O ‘Neal, will also attend the Greek Easter Mayoral Event which will take place from 12.00 pm to 4.00 pm on Easter Day.
Pascha, though, shouldn’t be seen as a yearly commemoration, an anniversary. Every Sunday resembles the Easter Sunday. Every week is a struggle, as is life.
In the wise words of Archbishop Stylianos, “Pascha, is not time, but our manner of living, which is Christ Himself.”
“The manner is the possibility of freedom for the human person, which is guaranteed by God. To be a ‘child by adoption’ amidst increasing apostasy, to be a ‘light in the darkness’, ‘life in the tomb’, ‘broadened in sorrows’ is another order of things that this world does not understand, nor is it taught by time. This order of things was shown by Christ through His Passion and Resurrection, having become ‘the firstborn of all creation’.”
To conclude, I cannot but use these fine examples of love and unity within our community, to stress the importance of acceptance in the all-inclusive multicultural home Australia is.
We are all immigrants in this beautiful and welcoming country. Whether we came here a few generations ago or recently, we too had to be accepted.
We fast and pray and honour the struggles of our ancestors. We preach the words of God, yet, a vast majority of Australia’s population, is devoid of empathy.
The endless sacrifice, the ceaseless presence of God, the love, the acceptance, sometimes appear to lose their meaning in the manner of our existence, as not everyone is granted a happy ending to their journey.
Still, not everyone is accepted in our society.
Pascha is Christ Himself. This Christ we ‘receive’ during the mystery of the Holy Communion after the resurrection, and every following Sunday.
We accept the ‘essence’ of Christ, to become part of his Kingdom, all equal, all as one in a timeless ‘Holy Communion’ that knows no colour, no gender, no past.
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus told the repentant sinner next to him on the cross.
He was the first to enter his Kingdom.