A Village Easter: Memories of Childhood
A Story from The Boundless Garden: Selected Short Stories, Volume I
by Alexandros Papadiamandis
Uncle Milios never spoke a truer word, when he
said the good Christians living outside the town might end up having to celebrate
Easter that year without a liturgy. In fact no prophecy was ever closer to fulfilment,
for it almost came true twice but happily God made the authorities see the light,
and in the end the poor villagers, local shepherd-farmers, were judged worthy to
hear the Word of God and eat the festive eggs.
The cause of all this was
the busy little coaster that (supposedly) linked those unhappy islands to the inhospitable
shore opposite, and which twice a year, when the season changed in spring or autumn,
would almost invariably sink, and as often as not take the whole crew down with
it. They would then put the post of captain up for auction, and each time some poor
wretch, undaunted by the fate of his predecessor, was found to undertake this most
perilous task. And on this occasion, at the end of March, as winter was taking its
leave, the coaster had gone down again.
The parish priest, Father
Vangelis, who was also the abbot (and only monk) of the small monastic establishment
of St Athanasios, had been appointed by the bishop to take charge of the villages
on the opposite shore. Though already an old man, he would take the boat across
four times a year, during each of the main fasts,* to hear the confessions of his unfortunate parishioners
the 'hill-people' or 'mountain-scarecrows' as they were called and give them
some spiritual instruction, before he hastened back to his monastery (if it was
during Lent) to celebrate Easter there. But that year, as we have said, the coaster
had sunk, the islands were cut off for several days, and Father Vangelis was reluctantly
obliged to stay and celebrate Easter on the far shore of the billowing, storm-tossed
sea. It seemed as though his little flock in Kalivia, whose homes clustered around
the monastery of St Athanasios, would end up not having any liturgy at all.
Some of them thought they
should take their wives and children down into the town, to hear the Resurrection
proclaimed and attend the liturgy there, but Uncle Milios, the village elder of
Kalivia, wished to celebrate Easter the way he always had; Sevenmonth (so called
because he'd been born premature) didn't want his wife being stared at by the townspeople;
and Uncle Anagnostis, an old villager who knew the Easter service by heart, but
couldn't actually read a word of it , longed to chant Receive the body of Christ
himself. All three insisted (and many agreed) that at all costs they must get one
of the priests in town to come up to Kalivia and celebrate the liturgy for them
Everyone felt the best choice
would be Father Kyriakos: he wasn't of a particularly good family (he was even related
to one or two of the villagers himself) and he didn't look down on them. He was
even said to have some Albanian blood in him. He certainly wasn't stand-offish
in fact it was rumoured here and there that the priest had a habit of 'finishing
off the husband's procreation duties' with his female parishioners. But that was
just the idle talk of mischief-makers and grudge-bearers, and only fools paid any
attention to it. Like most of the true clergymen of the Greek Church (with one or
two exceptions), the priest was by and large of blameless character.
Though this is true, the
fact remains that married priests are usually out of pocket and out of luck, and,
being forever burdened by the need to feed their offspring, they can appear to be
grasping individuals, who don't even trust their own colleagues fully. This was
the case with Father Kyriakos, who was perfectly willing to go and celebrate Easter
for the villagers, as he had a generous heart and would have liked them to enjoy
Easter and the arrival of spring along with everyone else, but he had his suspicions
about the other parish priest, and was reluctant to leave him in charge of the parish,
especially on that day. Father Theodore, however, the other priest, who was known
as 'the Whirlwind', urged him to go, saying it would be a pity to lose the income
from Kalivia, and suggesting that they share the receipts from the parish and the
village equally between them.
This did not reassure Father
Kyriakos at all: in fact it made him even more suspicious. However, as he had already
more or less made up his mind to go to Kalivia when he asked his colleague for his
opinion, he told his son Zachos who pulled a face and grumbled to stay in the
church sanctuary as a spy, collect his half of the offerings and the priest's fee,
and only come and join him in Kalivia at sunrise, when the liturgy had ended.
* * *
It was four hours before
dawn, and the Evening Star was already high in the night sky. Uncle Anagnostis woke
the priest, and before they entered the little church of St Demetrius he improvized
a bell out of a solid piece of walnut wood and a stick, and walked through the village,
banging noisily to wake the sleeping inhabitants.
One after another the villagers
arrived, accompanied by their wives. All were dressed in their best clothes.
The priest gave the blessing.
Uncle Anagnostis began to
recite from memory, beginning with the preliminary prayer and the canon, On the Wave
of the Sea.
Father Kyriakos appeared
at the sanctuary doors, chanting Come, receive the Light.*
When they had all lit their
candles, they filed out into the open air to hear the Resurrection gospel. A sweet,
contemplative Resurrection, amid the blossoming trees, the fragrant bushes swaying
in a gentle breeze, and the white flowers of the wild clematis, 'neige odorante
du printemps'. 
They sang Christ is risen,
and all went back into the church. Men, women and children: no more than seventy
souls, all told.
Uncle Anagnostis began to
chant the Easter canon, and the priest himself (as there was no one else to do so)
gave the responses from the sanctuary. He was about to come out and say the preparatory
prayer, kiss the icons and begin the liturgy, when a rather tall twelve-year-old
boy, flushed and panting, followed by two other boys of about the same age, suddenly
walked, or rather burst, into the church. It was Zachos, Father Kyriakos's son.
He rushed into the sanctuary, gasping for breath, and began addressing the priest.
Though the congregation could hear his voice, they couldn't make out a single word
This is what he was saying:
'Papa, Papa!' (the children of priests
also usually address their father as Papa). 'Papa, Papa!....Father Whirlwind....by
the back door....the oblations....from the sanctuary...his mother-in-law...and his wife....carrying....by
the back door...the oblations....I saw them....by the back door....the oblations...from the
sanctuary....and his mother-in-law...and his wife...'
Father Kyriakos was the only
person who could have made any sense of his breathless son's disjointed words. He
understood from them that Father Theodore, the Whirlwind, the other parish priest,
was stealing the collection and passing it out to his wife and mother-in-law through
the back door leading from the sanctuary.
Perhaps things were not exactly
as Zachos suggested. Like all young boys, he loved the countryside and he loved
having fun, and he had found it very difficult to obey his father's orders and stay
behind in the town. He would have jumped at any excuse to get away and set off on
a nocturnal jaunt to Kalivia, especially as he hadn't had any difficulty finding
some friends to come along with him.
But Father Kyriakos did not
stop to think. He went red and flew into a rage. In a word, he sinned. Rather than
giving his son a good box around the ears and calmly proceeding with his duty, he
immediately stripped off his stole, removed his surplice and strode down the nave
and out of the church averting his eyes from his wife's face as she stared at
him in alarm.
Uncle Milios, however, had
an idea about what might have provoked this behaviour, and went out after him. A
short distance from the church, between three trees and two stretches of fencing,
the following conversation took place:
'Papa, Papa, where are you going?'
'Don't worry I'll be back straightaway.'
He didn't know what to say.
The fact is that he had resolved to go back down to the town and confront the other
priest about the theft. He honestly believed he had enough time to get back and
celebrate the liturgy before the sun rose.
'Where are you going?' insisted Uncle Milios.
'Get Anagnostis to read the Acts of the
Apostles. I'll be right back.'
He had forgotten that Uncle
Anagnostis couldn't read anything, unless he already knew it by heart.
'After all, I'm leaving my wife here!' he
added, unable to think of anything else to say. 'I'm leaving my wife here with you!'
And with these words he was
Uncle Milios walked gloomily back into the church.
'I knew it,' he muttered to himself.
* * *
In the church great astonishment
held sway. The villagers stared at each other in bewilderment. Some were whispering.
The women were asking the priest's wife to tell them what was going on but she
was even more at a loss than they were.
Meanwhile, the priest ran
and ran. The cold night air cooled his brow a little.
'And how am I supposed to
feed all these children? Eight of them, God forgive me: the wife makes nine, and
me ten! They'll rob you as soon as look at you!...'
Five hundred paces from the
church the path began to descend, and led down into a lovely valley. There was a
watermill standing on the slope, by the side of the road. As the priest listened
to the gentle murmuring of the stream and felt the cool breeze against his face,
the fact that he was going to celebrate the liturgy (let alone how or where he was
going to celebrate it) was swept completely from his mind, and he stooped down to
drink. But his lips had not yet touched the surface of the water, when he suddenly
remembered, and realized what he was doing.
'I have to celebrate the
liturgy,' he exclaimed, 'and I'm drinking water...?' 
And he didn't drink.
Then he pulled himself together.
'What am I doing?' he said,
'Where am I going?'
He made the sign of the cross.
'I have sinned, Lord. I have
sinned! Do not hold me to account!'
He resumed: 'If he is a thief,
it is for the Lord to...forgive him...him and me. I must do my duty.'
He felt a tear run down his
'Oh Lord,' he exclaimed with
all his heart, 'I have sinned, I have sinned! You gave yourself up for our sins,
and in return we crucify you daily!'
He turned around and hurried
back up towards the church to continue the service.
And I was actually going
to drink water! I am not fit to celebrate! But what can I do? I can't take communion!
I shall say the office without taking communion I am not worthy! "Behold the first
fruits of the vine!"  I am not worthy!'
He re-entered the church,
and the villagers greeted his return with joy.
He celebrated the divine
mystery and administered the Holy Communion to the faithful, taking care that every
last drop from the chalice passed through their lips. Himself, he abstained, vowing
to tell all to his confessor and ready to accept whatever penance he might impose.
* * *
Around noon, after the service of the Second Resurrection,* the
villagers laid out the feast under the plane trees by the cooling spring. For a
carpet they had the grass and the meadow flowers and for a table they used ferns
and rushes. The cool breeze rustled in the trees, while Sevenmonth responded with
sweet sounds from his lyre. The lovely Xanthe, his wife, sat between her mother
Melachro and Aunt Kratira, her mother-in-law, taking care to keep her cheeks partially
covered with her headscarf and staring pointedly at the trunk of the great plane
tree so that the men would not look at her and arouse her husband's jealousy.
Her sister, Atho, fifteen
years old and still unmarried, without a care in the world and no less of a beauty
herself, kept teasing her, saying: 'Silly girl, what did you see in him? I wouldn't
have him if you offered me the heavens and the stars...I'd rather be a nun!'
It was true that Sevenmonth
was not much to look at in terms of appearance or size, but he made up for these
shortcomings with agility of body and mind, and a cheerful and good-natured disposition.
Father Kyriakos presided
over the feast. His wife sat opposite him, an irreproachable dark-haired woman,
stocky and round-faced, who once a year, almost without fail, would innocently hatch
out another little priest-child without bothering with all those herbs (whether
for getting a child or for preventing one) that fill the minds of other women.
To the right of the priest
sat Uncle Milios, the village elder, and devoted servant of his little community.
He knew better than anyone how the lamb should be roasted, carving it carefully
so that everyone got his share, and proposing toasts as he tucked into his food.
His toasts were unrivalled. After the priest had made a short formal toast of his
own, Uncle Milios, clutching an enormous seven-oka cask, stood up and began to greet
the company one by one:
Christ is risen! Truly the Lord is risen! He lives and reigns throughout the ages!'
After this preamble, he got
down to business:
'Health to us all! Good health!
Prosperity! Good cheer! Papa! May your vocation bring you joy!' And to the
priest's wife: 'May your husband and all your little ones bring you joy! Cousin
Theodore! Long life and happiness! Godfather Panayiotis! Just as you baptized us
with oil, may you also crown us with wedding wreaths of vine.* Kratira, my
in-law! May God grant you a fine husband for your daughter! George, my nephew!
May you make an honourable marriage, and may we rejoice on your wedding-day! Aunt
Kyparissou! May your son marry a good woman, and gladden your heart! Raise your
glasses! Cheers! Here's to us all! Your health! Cousin Xanthe! May good omens accompany
the birth of your child! Your health! Here's to us all! May life be good to us,
now and always!'
And the amount he drank depended
on whom he was toasting.
Little Sevenmonth also wanted
to propose a toast, but a more tender one. He hoped to touch his wife's heart and
make her answer him:
'Drink up, and pass the cup!'
'What, with wine?'
'I drink to you, O darling
When he had drunk, he passed
the cask to his lovely Xanthe, and she moistened her lips.
Then they began to sing.
First of all Christ is risen, followed by popular songs. When Uncle Milios
tried to sing Christ is risen, it either became a slow Anatolian lament,
or else a heroic ballad, but the most original singer of all was Uncle Kitsos, an
aged gendarme from Northern Epirus an old regular, who had been left stranded
on the island since King Otho's reign.  He wasn't even sure whether his
name was still in the official register at times he received his pay, and at other
times he didn't. He wore an open-sleeved tunic, short knee breeches and greaves
around his shins. The mayor (there was also a mayor, alas!) had sent him to Kalivia
for Easter, supposedly to maintain law and order, although there wasn't actually
any need for it to be maintained. The truth is that he had sent him off to enjoy
himself with the good-hearted country people, whose company Uncle Kitsos liked,
even though he would call them 'poor wretches' or 'tinkers'. It is also true that
if he had stayed in the town, the mayor would have been under an obligation to entertain
him, for Uncle Kitsos had been spoilt by the previous mayors and treated to cakes
and eggs at Easter. What customs...!
After kissing the cask three
or four times, Uncle Kitsos began to chant Christ is risen after his own
fashion, as follows:
Crisis lads, Crisis risen
from the dead by death
chomping down death
and to those, those in the tombs
life most blessed!*
And yet, despite its singularity,
no one ever sang a sacred song with more Christian feeling and enthusiasm, with
the possible exception of that worthy old Cretan, long-famed in Athens, who sang
the Dumb are the lips of the impious* with his own interpolation: 'Dumb are the
lips of the impious and profane, the scoundrels!, at your revered image....'
Ah, the true Orthodox Greeks!
* * *
As the shadows lengthened, the men began to dance
the klephtiko (the women waited till Monday and Tuesday before dancing the
syrtos and the kamara),* and Father Kyriakos, his wife, and young Zachos,
whom his father had let off in view of the special day (he had decided that his
son was actually to blame for all the confusion), took leave of the company and
went back down to the town.
Father Kyriakos gave
his fellow priest his full share of the collection from Kalivia, and did not even
bother to raise the subject of the supposed theft. As it was, Father Theodore himself
told him that his share of the parish receipts was in his own (Father Theodore's)
house. He had thought it best, he said, to take both shares out through the back
door of the sanctuary, so as to keep them from the eyes of gossips with nothing
better to think about, who might otherwise kick up a fuss about all the money priests
receive. 'On the rare day,' he said, 'that we actually get something in the collection
box, everyone has plenty to say about it but they never stop to consider all the
weeks and months that go by without harvest!'
So that was why Zachos
had got it wrong.
Translated by Andrew Watson
Footnotes and Endnotes
Note: "Textual references, words requiring a short explanation for the understanding of the text and points
raised by Papadiamandis himself are given as footnotes. Longer exegetical remarks on terms, events,
traditions, etc., are given in the Endnotes and are indicated by an asterisk. In some instances these
notes are quite extensive and have been written for the purpose of providing a key for decoding
a cryptic narrative in the absence of which certain aspects of a story may be obtuse." (Editorial Note, p. xxvi)
- 'fragant snow of spring' : V. Hugo, Les Orientales, xxxiii, 10.
- All communicants, including the celebrant, refrain from both food and drink prior to communion.
- John of Damascus, Canon on the Sunday of Easter, ode 8, troparion 1.
- Otho of Bavaria was appointed as the first king of independent Greece by the European powers after the Greek War of Independence. He reigned from 1832 to 1862.
Endnotes, in the order they appear in the text:
* There are four fasting periods during
the liturgical year: Advent, preceding Christmas, which lasts forty days; Great
Lent, preceding Easter, which lasts six weeks; the Fast of the Holy Apostles, beginning
on the moveable feast of All Saints and ending on 29 June; and the Fast of the Dormition
of the Holy Theotokos, from 1 to 15 August. These fasts reflect the ascetical practises
of the Orthodox Church implying a restraint from the utilitarian exploitation of
the natural world and its God-given resources through abstention, on the material
level, from animal foods meat, eggs
and dairy products and also from fish, wine and oil on certain other days, coupled
with spiritual preparation and contemplation, prayer and confession of sins.
* At about 11
pm on the eve of Easter Sunday the faithful congregate at the church for the celebration
of the resurrectional service which commences with the
Pannychis (vigil) beginning with the chanting of the canon 'On the Waves
of the Sea', following which the church is darkened and silence reigns. Then the
Royal Doors are opened and the priest emerges clad in white robes and holding in
his left hand the Gospel and in his right the lit Paschal candle, chanting the words,
'Come, and receive the Light from the inextinguishable Light, and glorify Christ
who has risen from the dead.' The faithful rush to light their candles from the
light offered by the priest, then all file outside, following the priest, for the
reading of the Resurrection Gospel and the continuation of Mattins.
* On Easter
Sunday, the Vespers of the Second Resurrection, so called because the Resurrection
gospel is read, for the second time, in several languages to reflect its universal
message, is celebrated. It is also know as the Vespers of Love because the kiss
of love is exchanged between bretheren amidst joyous exclamations of 'Christ is
risen!' It is sung earlier than a normal vesperal service, around noon, to allow
the Easter day festivities to continue uninterrupted. This service is especially
attended by children wearing bright garments and holding their decorated Easter
* It is the
Godfather, or Godmother, who represents the Church and brings the child within its
fold, which includes the reality of the natural world, epitomized by his offerings
of oil (the 'oil of gladness'), with which he annoints the child during the sacrament
of baptism, the cross, the pristine white clothes in which the child will be dressed
after the sacrament, and the offerings of bread and wine for the subsequent liturgy
when the child will receive its first communion. Traditionally the Godfather will
also be the best man (koubaros) at his
Godchild's wedding when he will crown the couple with wreathes. In ancient Greece
the victors of athletic competitions received crowns of victory, wreathes made of
olive branches; in a Christian context the martyrs, athletes fighting for the faith,
received their crowns of martyrdom from God. The crowns received by the married
couple are made from vine trendrils, reminding of the blood of Christ, an understanding
reinforced by the fact they receive the cup of salvation, a cup of wine, immediately
after their crowning.
* The correct rendering of the troparion is:
Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and upon those in the tombs
* A hymn sung in the Supplication to the Theotokos; the full troparion is:
Dumb are the lips of the impious
who are not venerating your holy icon, the Hodegetria,
the one painted by the Apostle,
Luke the most venerable.
* The 'klephtiko' dance takes its name from the 'klephts', or robbers, the legendary marauding bands
of resistance fighters who circulated during the Ottoman period, living in the mountains
and plundering village communities who collaborated with the Turks. The 'syrto'
and the 'kamara' are traditional cyclical dances that commemorate events which have
marked the life of the community. The week following Easter Sunday, called 'Diakainisimos'
'Renewal or Bright Week', a festive week marking the eighth day of the new Creation, the new life that Christ
brought into the fallen world by His Resurrection, is celebrated with daily liturgies
in the chapels strewn throughout the countryside followed by communal feasting,
singing and dancing.
From the The Boundless Garden: Selected Short Stories, Volume I, by Alexandros Papadiamandis
(Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey (Publisher), 2007), pp. 21-30. This book is distributed in North America
by Uncut Mountain Supply. Posted March 22, 2008 with the permission of the publisher. Look
for an important forthcoming book on Papadiamantis from the publisher who
brought you Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit.