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Easter in Greek painting 2

Holy Friday is a day of mourning for the death of Jesus Christ. According to the orthodox ritual the “Epitaphios” is prepared at each church.

The Epitaphios is an icon consisting of an embroidered cloth that depicts the dead body of Christ and is placed on a wooden Tomb decorated with fragrant flowers of the season. At the end of the liturgy everybody goes to venerate the Epitaphios, which is then carried in procession.

The above painting of Theodoros Rallis shows a church during the relative preparations with three girls working together to decorate the Tomb of the Epitaphios, while another girl is carrying in a basket the flowers used for this purpose.

The custom of decorating the Epitaphios wants the young women – mainly – of each parish to spend the night before decorating the wood carved Tomb with all kinds of spring flowers.

Flowers are usually collected in the morning of Holy Thursday from the gardens and the yards of the houses in the villages. (Yet in today’s cities this “job” is mainly done by professional florists, making the tradition gradually vanish)

The colors of the flowers reveal symbolisms: red symbolizes the blood of Christ, purple the mourning for his death and white his purity.

The work of decorating the tomb of Christ is considered very important and a blessing for those who participate in it.

Therefore we can see that the girls depicted in the observed painting, have spread the flowers on the floor, choosing them one by one, with the due respect to the greatness of Christ.

The flowers that the painter has chosen are mostly roses of all the above mentioned symbolic colors, but in reality various flowers are used, such as lilacs, hyacinths, anemones, daisies, multicolored wild field flowers, lilies, roses, lemon blossoms and violets.

The depiction is complemented by two priests discussing on the background, some oriental religious icons and a big holder with a lit candle. Worth mentioning are the carved details on the tomb, as well as the candle holder and the church’s column.

The artist himself considered the painting so important that he chose to exhibit it at the Paris Salon in 1893.

Flowers of the Epitaphios by Nikiforos Lytras (1901)

The painting Flowers of the Epitaphios was created in 1901 by Nikiforos Lytras and is one of the last works of the painter before he died.

It presents a woman standing outside a church entrance during the Liturgy of the Holy Friday, offering to the people that arrive flowers to place on the Epitaphios.

The painter, aiming to create a melancholic atmosphere, that obviously complies with the mourning sentiment of the day, has chosen mostly dark colors that indeed dominate in the painting. The woman is dressed in shades of black, and her face is pale, resembling almost the color of the wax, while her expression demonstrates grief and sorrow.

This way, Lytras manages to pronounce the strong religiosity of the moment and the death messages of the Holy Friday, and creates a depiction that conveys as a whole an intense theatricality.

“Resurrection” (Anastasi), by Argyros Oumvertos (1932)

The painting “Resurrection” by Argyros Oumvertos was created by the painter in the year of 1932.

The depicted scene unfolds during the night of the Holy Saturday, when the Resurrection of Christ takes place and thus it is considered a night of celebration, since the hope for eternal life is established.

The Divine Liturgy dedicated to the Resurrection begins around 11:00 pm with the chanting of the Midnight Office. Afterwards, all of the lights in the church are extinguished and everyone remains in silence. Then, the priest lights a single candle from the Eternal Flame on the altar, which, according to the Orthodox belief is never extinguished. The light is spread from person to person until everyone holds a lit candle.

In the observed painting we witness this very moment. In the foreground we can see two women in traditional costumes, leaving the courtyard of the church with their candles lit. One of them is trying to protect her candle from going out. Their faces as well as the whole scene are illuminated by the glowing “heavenly” light, already burning on everyone’s candles, creating a mystical atmosphere, yet joyful at the time. The church in the background is also illuminated.

Τhe evening is not at all cold, as we can understand by people’s light clothing. On the contrary, it must be warm and sweet. We can almost feel the air loaded with the odors of spring and the smell of the wax melting on everyone’s hand, while their candle light is burning, warming their hearts.

I am sure that if you were there you would definitely listen to the people wishing to one another “Christ has risen” (“Christos Anesti”) and responding “He truly has” (“Alithos Anesti”), as we Greeks do, and all together singing

Christ is risen from the dead,
by death trampling death,
and to those in the tombs
granting life!”

Behold the Bridegroom Arriving, by Nikolaos Gyzis (1899-1900)


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