Easter PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 11 October 2006 22:13

Of all dance occasions throughout the year the dance at Eastertide is outstanding both for its formality and religious character. It is the culmination of a week of frequent church attendance and strict fasting, which explains the restrained sobriety of the participants, especially when dancing in the church forecourt after the liturgy for matins on Easter Sunday. The Resurrection was, in many places, the only Christian celebration permitted under Ottoman rule and was thus the focus of all those traits which united the Greek nation. Since the weather was usually fine, conditions were ideal for a prolonged outdoor feast.

The main feature of the dance at Easter is the institution of the protokathedría, that is the privilege accorded to the priest and village elders of dancing first. Indeed, in some villages the priests and cantors danced inside the church, while the attendants strew palm fronds. There are other instances where the priest led the congregation dancing out of the church at midnight as he intoned Christós Anésti (Christ is Risen). After the "Second Resurrection" on Sunday morning the faithful thronged the church forecourt, embraced and greeted each other and then began dancing. In some regions only the older men led by the priest danced. In others, the men in order of descending age, married and unmarried, danced. The women would either dance later or form their own circle.

These dances are always accompanied by special Paschal songs, slow and sedate, sometimes narrative, sometimes dirges. Since it is the priest who leads the dance it is he who sets the mood, singing the song he considers appropriate. For on this day, the most joyous of all holy days, the proscription on priests dancing is waived and many of the songs are variations of ecclesiastical hymns. At Easter the villagers sing throughout the day, exhausting their entire repertoire.

The first dances are slow, syrtoí, usually with the sta tría step, sometimes danced in a circle enclosing the church. Indeed those years of war or emigration, when the absence of many villagers meant that they could not encircle the church, are remembered with regret. The old men are not long in withdrawing from the dance and the young waste no time in proceeding to gayer, livelier songs as the dance shifts to another venue. The musicians strike up and the merry-making begins in earnest. In addition to the usual village dances, ones performed only at Easter were and are still danced.

The Easter dances in Constantinople are of particular interest since they were the occasion for the official appearance of the city's various guilds: the furriers, butchers, other Greek artisans and traders. After attending mass their members proceeded in ranks to the Patriarchate where they kissed the hand of the patriarch. On their descent they began dancing, each guild its own dance.
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