Tomorrow, May 2nd, is Eastern Orthodox Easter. My mother’s family weren’t Greek, but, like many people in Alexandria, they were Greek Orthodox, a form of Christianity that goes back to the middle of the first century in Egypt.
I know next to nothing about the Coptic religion, even though there are many more Copts in Egypt, but I can tell you a bit about Orthodox Easter. It’s a huge festival, one which Nadia in The Girls from Alexandria knew well. As usual, impeccable behaviour was expected of 8-year old girls.
Easter Sunday, 1954
The Greek Orthodox clergy were always invited. The whole tribe had invaded our sitting room, with their long black robes, white beards, and massive crosses. To top it off, they wore ridiculous headdresses that I wasn’t supposed to stare at, even when my big sister Simone whispered that one of them looked like Rasputin, whoever that was.
Lunch was in the formal dining room. It had a mirror-topped table that reflected the vaulted ceiling so it looked like a tomb. Worse, on the wall in front of me hung a painting of a pile of fruit with a dead rabbit lying beside it. A photographer took pictures for the newspaper. My sister Simone and I had to put on a camera face for ages, even though I was ravenous and Simone’s tummy rumbled. Little girls should be seen and not heard. Ever, really. They were meant to stay in their place. A preparation for life as a woman, I could see that.
Thus we stood still where we were told in our smocked dresses and frilly socks. I looked away from the rabbit.
Everyone had to kiss the Patriarch’s ring, including Mother, whose hand was normally kissed by other people. Simone got introduced to the Patriarch before me. The holy man’s beard had twitched as he rested his hand on her head. But, when presented with his ring, Simone refused point blank to put her lips anywhere near his fingers and ran out of the room. I would have followed her, had I been as brave.
Easter depends on the calendar, and, while most countries use the Gregorian calendar, Eastern Christianity still uses the Julian calendar which makes Easter fall later. Since 1752, therefore, Eastern Orthodox Easter has rarely coincided with what most of you think of as the regular Easter.
My family tend to call Orthodox Easter ‘the real Easter’ but, in the interests of fairness and chocolate, they now usually celebrate on both dates. CHRISTOS ANESTI. Twice!
The Girls from Alexandria (published by Agora Books) is out as an ebook, audio book, and paperback.