For many Maronites (including those who cannot visit their villages), Easter is celebrated in Kormacit with some very original traditions which is rare for this day and age. The village is full of life as many people come to stay for at least a 4-5 day period to be with relatives and attend mass, which, as always, is said in traditional Aramaic.
Easter begins on Ash Monday, known to many as Green Monday, the first day of Lent. The common term for this day translated from Greek is ‘clean Monday’, referring to leaving behind sinful attitudes and to prepare to repent. During the holy mass, the priest blesses the ash with a special prayer and kneads in Holy water. At the end of the mass, they are blessed with the ash by form of a cross on their forehead being told “Remember that you come from the Earth (soil) and you will return to the Earth”. After this, the Maronites will usually go home or out into the fields and picnic with non-meat and non-dairy foods by way of beginning their 40 day fast before Easter.
Palm Sunday always falls on the Sunday before Easter. The custom is to cut branches of olive trees and take them to church to be blessed while the children parade with decorated palm leaves. This follows the traditional event stated in all four Gospels; the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in the days before his Passion.
The olive branches are blessed and are taken home to be used by women to adulate the house all year round.
After Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, which is the week leading up to the crucifixion of Christ and holds special importance to Maronites.
During the first three days of this week, the Maronites attend an evening mass which follows the steps Jesus took on his way to be crucified. This is known as the ‘Stations of the Cross’. In Kormacit, this is usually done outdoors, beginning from St Mary’s Chapel and ending up at the St George Cathedral.
On the Holy Thursday of this week, Easter preparations are intensified whilst housewives clean their houses and make traditional bread (koulouri) and traditional Easter cheese filled pastry (flaouna) and bake them in the traditional stone ovens.
Original custom with roots in the Roman Catholic Church is the reconstruction of the Last Supper on Thursday Evening. In Kormacit, twelve men are chosen to be Jesus’ disciples during the mass and the priest washes and kisses their feet. Over the last few years, some of the older men of the village have been chosen to act as the pupils of Jesus, by way of showing respect.
On Good Friday, women of the village come to Church to help clean and prepare the Epitaph (tomb) of Christ with fresh flowers. The Church is then open all day for all to visit and lay their own contribution of flowers. The church bells ring mournfully and the cries of Our Lady (Mary mother of Christ) are heard throughout the village. During mass, the priest reads about the Passion of Christ, following a Holy Procession in the streets of the village with Maronites passing under the Epitaph.
From Good Friday until midnight mass on Saturday/Easter Sunday, the church bells do not ring as a period of mourning. Meanwhile, preparations are still taking place in each household. Eggs are boiled and painted/decorated as they will be knocked on Easter Sunday. Traditionally, to paint the eggs, flowers and roots are gathered from the fields and placed in the boiling water with the eggs so that they get the colour. The youngsters of the village, under supervision of adults will gather wood and prepare in a large pile in the village football field on which they will put an imitation of Judas Iscariot and burn him in order to punish him for his betrayal of Jesus. This is known in Greek as the ‘Lambraja’.
Midnight mass takes place as 12pm midnight on Saturday night, each parishioner is given a candle to use during special holy parts of the mass when all lights are switched and the Church is lit of up with candles. A procession takes place after mass and, after paying their respects to the resurrected Christ and exchange wishes by saying “Christos Anesti” which means ‘He is risen’, go home to have traditional avgolemo (egg lemon soup) with boiled chicken.
Easter Sunday breaks the fast for Maronites and after their meal, games are played in the village square.
Christmas is celebrated in the traditional Roman Catholic way by attending mass and decorating the manger in the church.