Easter in Kastellorizon
Kastellorizon is the Easternmost island of Greece, very near the shore of Turkey and the city of Kas. I spent two weeks during the Greek Orthodox Easter on the island and got to see the customs and meet very interesting local people.
The island has only one town on it, which serves as the main port, also known as "Megisti". It is inhabited by less than 400 people and the architecture has a strong Italian influence.
The city of Kas in Turkey is so near you could actually reach it by swimming and boats travel to and fro almost every day, especially during the summer, serving tourists or merchandise. This is a bigger city of approximately 6000 inhabitants, so people from Kastellorizo visit it often for shopping and nights out.
Kastellorizon has also a second very picturesque port, called Mandraki. I found it as I was walking along the coastline of the town. There are some taverns and cafes there but were closed during the Easter period. I am guessing some of them would be open during the summertime. In Mandraki also lies the cemetery of Kstellorizon, which makes it the Easternmost Greek cemetery.
The main church (Constantine & Helen) of the town lies at a spot called "Chorafia" which is a higher place in the town. The streets inside the town are very narrow and beautiful. Some of the houses have curved edges so they leave room for people to go through. In this church, all Liturgies and Masses will take place during Easter as there is only one priest available in town.
It is a good idea when photographing a religious event to get to know the priest. Luckily, Papayoryis (father George) kept a shack outside the church (Paragka), serving booze and local dishes to visitors. This is a traditional custom for Easter as I found out and was taking place 10-15 years ago. It originated from the people working on the ships. They used to take down the ships' sails and build tents at this place to celebrate Easter. The celebration kept for 6 days. Nowadays, only the paragka of Papayoryis is up and is not made of sails, but with scaffolding and nylon sheets.
As I had arrived quite early for Easter, the peak of Easter is between Wednesday and Easter Sunday, I was taking long strolls around the town which made me feel very calm and carefree. There were only a few people around and you thought you had the island to yourself.
The food in Kastellorizon is really great and consists mainly of fish and seafood. The taverns all served very well-cooked meals at relatively low prices. The local fishermen provide daily delicious Mediterranean fish!
On Holy Wednesday The Great Unction takes place at the church during the evening Mass. Papayoryis would give a blessing to everyone attending the Mass, by putting olive oil on their foreheads and hands.
During my time on the island, I had the chance to meet Stavros Choulis, who lives in a traditional old house by the port with an incredible view and is very hospitable and good enough to have me inside his home. He got me really drunk with Souma (a traditional spirit made of distilled grapes) and even showed me pictures of his family. His mother gave birth to 16 children.
Later he gave me a ride on his boat around the town and we had a beer at the other side of the port from his house.
The next day I found myself at another local house where they were preparing a Judah mannequin that would get burned on Easter day. The mannequin was made by a Dutch lady who is staying many years on the island and used to keep a puppet theatre back in her hometown in the Netherlands.
During the Evening Mass on Holy Thursday, the Gospels are being read and on the 5th the crucified comes out and a litany takes place inside the church. The Cross is then fixed at the centre of the church for everyone to worship.
Good Friday, as in most places around Greece, the most photogenic event takes place, the litany of the Epitaph (the tomb of Christ). The Epitaph is prepared inside the church and on Friday night, it is carried around the town and people follow along with lit candles, chanting. The Epitaph is being escorted by small children and the army force.
The litany then goes back and brings the Epitaph back to the church.
I always like spending Easter in small places with not too many people. Especially the Greek islands have very nice traditions and atmosphere during Easter. I spent Easter day with my new friend Stavros and brought to him some roast lamb from a local tavern. He kept his door open and was blowing up balloons to give away to all the children passing by.
Kastellorizon was a very nice experience and its people were very friendly and hospitable. I hope to come back one day!