Byzantine Easter in Olympos

Olympos is a rather secluded place in Karpathos island where traditions are fading in a very small pace. They consider themselves descendants of the Byzantine empire and is one of the few places in the world where a visitor can experience Byzantine traditions.
Photography / Text: George Tatakis

As a photographer interested in the Greek culture and traditions, I had a strong interest to photograph the Easter in Olympos. This is a rather secluded place in Karpathos island where traditions are fading in a very small pace. They consider themselves descendants of the Byzantine empire and is one of the few places in the world where a visitor can experience Byzantine traditions. 

I wanted to experience in depth the customs of Olympos and get to know the people living there. That was the reason I traveled to the island early, when the village was still empty. I had found a place to stay in Diafani village. This is a nearby village that serves as a port. In the old days, people from Olympos who had affairs with the sea, would stay in this place and after sometime houses started to appear and a village was formed. Today, Diafani is the second port of the island. 

Olympos is probably the most beautiful place on the island. A village of beautiful architecture, built on a hilltop, between two mountains. You can get lost around the narrow alleys and enjoy a travel back in time. 

The first few days of the Holy Week are devoted to preparations for the Easter, that is mostly baking. Around Olympos village, many wood ovens are built by the community. These ovens can be used by anyone, as long as they use their own wood and keep the place clean and tidy. There are traditional recipes for the bread and cakes being cooked around these days. 

Notable events regarding Easter start to occur on Wednesday, after Tuesday night's Hymn to Kassiani. On Wednesday, the priest will give a wish to each one visiting the church, so they are ready to receive the Holy Communion the day after. Still, this is not a busy day at the church and only a few people come for the wish, since they can receive it on the next day, just before the Communion. 

Spending time in the village was very nice and all the people I met were very hospitable. I learned a lot about the community by having small talk with most of the inhabitants and made nice friends. The lady in the next picture is Kalliopi, who owns the local bakery and makes really nice traditional pies and bread in her wood oven. She offered coffee many times during the stay and I even had the chance to visit her place that keeps the traditional style of Olympos. 

On Thursday, after the flock has received the Communion, the litany of the Christ on cross takes place. The church starts to get more busy and the next days, until Easter Tuesday will be the busiest. Papa-Yannis is the local priest. A very kind man with a great posture and style. He is very funny, you can see him most of the afternoons sitting on a chair in the central square, talking with his fellow Olympians and even making shocking jokes!

Next day is Good Friday and the day of the Epitaph. The Epitaph is a wooden tomb of the Christ that is decorated with flowers by the village women in the morning. Most of them wear the traditional clothes of the place. The women living in the village have no other clothes and refer to our clothing as "European". A big difference about the Epitaph of Olympos, compared to the rest of the Greece, is that pictures of the recently deceased are pasted on the Epitaph and their relatives mourn for them during the pilgrimage that takes place later. 

At night, the Litany of the Epitaph takes place around the streets of Olympos. This is a very interesting event as the streets are beautiful and you can see people holding candles and following the Epitaph, chanting the beautiful Hymns of the Good Friday. 

Saturday is the day that everyone prepares the Easter goat. The goats are slain in the morning and prepared by the women of the village. They fill the goats with rice and seal them inside the wood ovens. There, the goat will stay and slow cooked overnight. They will take it out just before Sunday's lunch. During the night, everyone will go to the church for the Resurrection Mass. At midnight, papa-Yannis will announce the Resurrection. This part is also different than in other places, because the announcement is made at the women's place inside the church, as opposed to the church's yard. 

Women stand in a different part of the temple than that of men. They also have a different side entrance.

On Sunday, it is the Easter. A second Resurrection takes place at noon, which is also something different than other places. For people of Olympos, this second Mass is the most important. The girls of the village wear their traditional dresses and stand in formation outside the church. Necklaces full of golden coins hang from their necks. After the Mass finishes, everyone takes place in the queue, to have some of the blessed bread and Greek doughnuts (Loukoumades) with honey and cinnamon. There is also some Ouzo (Greek alcoholic drink with anise flavor, similar to Italian Sambuca). More firecrackers go off!

The Easter table is prepared and the goat get out of the oven! Until next year... 

Thank you note:

  • Archipelagos luxury suites, Olympos
  • Glaros rooms, Diafani
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Byzantine Easter in Olympos

Olympos, South Aegean, Greece

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Epar.Od. Olimpou-Diafaniou Olimpos
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