Saturday, 14 April 2012


“The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.” - James Allen
After a difficult week, what better than some Bach to revive the spirit and rest the body? Here is the second movement, 2nd movement, Largo Ma Non Tanto, of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor (BWV 1043). The Concerto for Two Violins in D minor is perhaps one of the most famous works by J. S. Bach and considered among the best examples of the work of the late Baroque period. Bach wrote it in Leipzig sometime between 1730 and 1731, most likely for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, of which he was the director. It also exists in an arrangement for two harpsichords, transposed into C minor (BWV 1062). In addition to the two soloists, the concerto is scored for strings and basso continuo.

Thursday, 12 April 2012


“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha

Today is the Orthodox Good Friday and the liturgy is dedicated to the climax of Christ’s passion, death and burial. The liturgy follows the gospels as they describe Jesus’ capture, trial, Pilate’s judgment, the crucifixion, and Christ’s six hours of agony on the cross. Jesus died at 3:00 pm and Joseph of Arimathaea obtained special permission from Pilate to bury the Lord on Friday afternoon as funerals and burials were forbidden on the Sabbath. The body of Jesus was wrapped in a winding sheet and he was buried in a tomb that was carved out of living rock. The opening of the tomb was covered with a heavy tombstone.

The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates a requiem mass for Christ on this day, re-enacting Jesus’ deposition from the cross, His preparation for burial and placement on a bier to be buried in the tomb. Some of the most dramatic, moving and heart-rendingly sweet chants are sung in church on this day.

The Epitaphios (Greek: Ἐπιτάφιος, epitáphios, or Ἐπιτάφιον, epitáphion) is an icon, today most often found as a large cloth, embroidered and often richly adorned, which is used during the liturgies of Good Friday and Holy Saturday in the Eastern Orthodox Churches and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite. It also exists in painted or mosaic form, on wall or panel. The Epitaphios is also a common short form of the Epitáphios Thrēnos, the “Lamentation upon the Grave” in Greek, which is the main part of the service of the Matins of Holy Saturday, served in Good Friday evening.

In Greek churches, an elaborately carved canopy, called a “kouvouklion”, stands over the Epitaphios. This bier or catafalque represents the Tomb of Christ, and is made of wood. On Good Friday morning, the bier is decorated with spring flowers, mostly white, red, and purple, until it is covered by the flowers in its entirety. The Tomb is often sprinkled with flower petals and rosewater, decorated with candles, and ceremonially censed as a mark of respect. The bells of the church are tolled mournfully, and in traditionally Orthodox countries, flags are lowered to half-mast. Then the priest and faithful adore the Epitaphios as the choir chants hymns.

The faithful continue to visit the tomb and venerate the Epitaphios throughout the afternoon and evening, until Matins—which is usually served in the evening during Holy Week, so that the largest number of people can attend. The form which the veneration of the epitaphios takes will vary between ethnic traditions. Some will make three prostrations, then kiss the image of Christ on the Epitaphios and the Gospel Book, and then make three more prostrations. Sometimes, the faithful will crawl under the table on which the Epitaphios has been placed, as though entering into death with Christ. Others may simply light a candle and/or say a short prayer with bowed head.

In the evening, the Kouvouklion carrying the Epitaphion is carried in procession along the neighbourhood streets by the chanting priest and deacons, while the faithful follow it with lit candles. In many towns where more than one parish exists, the processions often converge to a central square, where they temporarily stop and a common Triságion psalm is sung before they resume their routes. On the island of Hydra, the Epitaphios from the Kamíni parish is brought into the sea until the bier bearers are waist-high in the water, as a special blessing for those who have perished at sea. In larger towns the procession is led by a local marching band playing funeral marches; in some cities the Epitaphios is escorted by military detachments, their arms in the mourning (muzzle towards the ground) position.

At the end of the procession, the Epitaphios is brought back to the church. Sometimes, after the clergy carry the Epitaphios in, they will stop just inside the entrance to the church, and hold the Epitaphios above the door, so that all who enter the church will pass under it (symbolically entering into the grave with Christ) and then kiss the Gospel Book. The flowers that decorated the Kouvouklion will be distributed to the faithful who will place them near the holy icons.

Fasting on Good Friday in the Orthodox tradition is the strictest on this day, with all meat and dairy products forbidden as they are in Lent, but also on Good Friday, even the consumption of oil of any kind is prohibited. The faithful may eat bread, vegetables, nuts and fruit, but they also traditionally must consume a little vinegar in memory of the vinegar Christ was made to drink on the cross, instead of the water he thirsted for. No work at all should be done on this day, but especially so handling of iron tools is expressly forbidden as their use may be seen to be a re-enactment of Christ’s crucifixion.

On Good Friday it is also customary for people to visit cemeteries and take flowers to their relatives and friends’ graves, light a lamp or candle on the graveside and cense the air with burning aromatic resins.

The Encomia of Good Friday are chants where Christ’s death is reflected upon by the psalmist and the faithful are encouraged to take heed of Christ’s sacrifice. They are quite moving and beautiful in their lyrics and the music is some of the saddest in the Church’s hymnology. Here is Petros Gaitanos singing three of these encomia: ‘I Zoi en Tafo” (Life is in the Grave); “Axion Esti” (It is Truly Meet) and “Ai Geneai Pasai” (All of the Generations).

This post is part of the Spiritual Sunday meme hosted by Charlotte.


“Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” - Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

It is Holy Thursday for the Orthodox faithful today, and while this is day packed with solemn religious rites, there is also a happy note that anticipates the joy of Easter on Sunday. Traditionally, on this day eggs are dyed red and all the Easter baking is done. Ever since I can remember, this was done in our household and also the house of my grandparents. I loved observing my mother preparing the eggs for dying and I used to be a little disappointed as they were always dyed red and not multicoloured as occurred in a few other households. My mother always used to answer that Easter was a religious and traditional holiday and not a carnival. She then explained why eggs should be dyed red:

After Christ was resurrected from the dead, He met a woman carrying a basket of eggs, which were covered with a napkin. She greeted Him but did not recognise Him. He did, and told her who He was. She looked at Him in disbelief and protested that this could not be as He was dead and buried. He smiled at her and told her that it was true. She then exclaimed that if it were true, let all the eggs in her basket turn red. Christ blessed the basket and told the woman to uncover it. She gasped when she saw that all her eggs had turned a brilliant dark red colour. She then bowed down before him and said, “Truly you are risen from the dead, my Lord!”.

I have now come to the view that Easter eggs are not really “right” unless they are dyed red and only red… That is how traditions are passed from generation to generation, I guess. In terms of multicoloured and highly decorated eggs, they are beautiful and certainly contribute to the festivity of the occasion at Easter, but they more like objets d' art than true Easter eggs. Red eggs have been used in rituals and celebration from ancient times in China and Egypt, red being a colour associated with blood and life. Christians adopted this tradition very early on in the Christian era, the egg being a symbol of the resurrection and red the colour of life and happiness.

In the olden days before the advent of artificial dyestuffs, all eggs were coloured with naturally derived dyes: Beetroot, poppies, cochineal, madder root, etc. Nowadays, synthetic dyes can provide a rainbow of colours for egg decoration, but also of course the most brilliant, deep carmine for a truly stunning red egg display on the Easter table. In some parts of Greece, the first egg that is dyed has particular significance and is called the “Virgin Mary's Egg”. It is kept next to the holy icons for a year, until the next Easter. This egg was often used in various rituals during the year, including the dissolution of spells and dispersion of evil, as well as guarding against the “evil eye”. When the new Virgin Mary's Egg was placed next to the icons, the previous year's egg was buried in the fields to ensure good crops.

The other things that are prepared today are the “koulourakia” (Easter cookies) and the “tsoureki” (a sweet, rich and fragrant egg and butter-enriched bread with a wonderful soft texture). In the past, the success of a cook was judged on their ability to bake these Easter goodies, and even nowadays it is difficult to bake these traditional Easter delicacies well. The egg loaf is decorated with a red egg in its middle and this tradition dates back to the Byzantine era, hundreds of years ago.

Here is a recipe for Greek Easter cookies:

Greek Easter Cookies - Koulourakia
2 cups sugar
4 eggs (+1 for glazing)
250 grams butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
zest of an orange
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 kg self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

  • Beat the butter and sugar until they become pale and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs, one by one while continuing to beat the mixture.
  • Add the zest and vanilla essence.
  • Continuing to beat the mixture, add the milk and orange juice little by little until they are incorporated.
  • In another bowl, mix half the flour with the soda and salt. Add the liquids mixture while stirring to incorporate it.
  • Add the remaining flour until the dough becomes soft, but doesn't stick to the fingers.
  • Let the dough rest for 15 minutes in a cool place.
  • Shape the cookies into the traditional shapes (plaits and rondels).
  • Brush the top of the cookies with beaten egg to glaze.
  • Bake for 10-20 minutes in pre-warmed oven at 180˚C.

Happy Greek Easter!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


“What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with Judas Iscariot for thirty pieces of silver.” - St Matthew, 26.15
For the Greek Orthodox faithful today is the Great and Holy Wednesday before Easter on Sunday this week. In church the liturgy includes the reading of the gospel by Matthew that relates the woman’s anointing Jesus’ hair with myrrh. The disciples castigated the woman for her waste of good money with this lavish act, saying the money would have been better spent on the poor. Jesus reprimanded them in return saying that they could help the poor on many an occasion thereafter, but he was to die soon and he had been anointed with myrrh in preparation for this. This seems to have prompted Judas to leave and betray Jesus to the high priests for thirty pieces of silver.

In the afternoon of Holy Wednesday, the liturgy includes the ceremony of the Sacrament of the Great Unction. During its celebration, seven gospel extracts are read and seven blessings are uttered, a candle lit for each gospel extract chanted. The congregation often follow suit and light candles, following the priest’s lead. The fragrant chrism oil used in memory of Christ’s anointment with myrrh, is blessed by the priest and the faithful attending the ceremony are anointed on the forehead, the chin and the cheeks in the shape of a cross, as well as having their palms anointed.

The sacrament of the Great Unction can also be performed outside the church if a member of the congregation requests this of the priest. Extreme Unction may be performed on moribund people. The blessed unctional oil is considered therapeutic and many a householder may keep some of this blessed oil near their devotional icons to be used for anointment if a member of the household should become sick.

In some parts of Greece, housewives take a basin full of flour to church and during the liturgy put three lit wax candles in the flour. This flour is then used to make Easter cookies the following day.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” - George Eliot
It was a typical Autumn day today with low temperatures, gray skies and cold temperatures. Although, no doubt we will get some warm weather returning, Summer has well and truly departed and Winter is just around the corner. The evenings approach with ever-increasing rapidity and the nights are getting longer, with mornings taking their time to shake off their sleep. It’s a cold evening tonight and the winter bed coverings will be welcome. The best thing to do is sit back and enjoy the joys of the season. Hot soups, open fires, roasting chestnuts, new season apples, ripe grapes, honeyed figs, tasty mushrooms, golden pumpkins and the promise of ripening citrus on the trees.

Autumn’s rich bounty:
Figs, grapes, nuts and a warm fire;
Sweet wine to warm hearts.

Sunday, 8 April 2012


“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” - Charles Dickens

We watched a BBC miniseries at the weekend, which in its four episodes did justice to the Charles Dickens novel it was based on. It was the 1998 production of “Our Mutual Friend" directed by Julian Farino, with an excellent screenplay by Sandy Welch. The British do period dramas very well and this was a fine example of this genre produced by the very experienced and pernickety BBC. It starred Paul McGann, Keeley Hawes, Steven Mackintosh, Anna Friel and Peter Vaughan, supported by a host of other able and well-selected supporting actors.

Dickens was a literary giant of 19th century England and his novels can be trusted upon to supply lots of drama, romance, excitement, thrilling vicissitudes of fortune and of course quite a bit of moralising as Dickens was a firm advocate of social justice and was active in bettering the lot of the poor and desperate citizens of the lowermost classes. Although he is not as popular today as he was in the past (compare his declining popularity with the rising star of Jane Austen, for example), his novels have always provided me with a very enjoyable read and his pages are full of interesting characters, humour and drama, vivid descriptions and many a twist and turn of plot.

The plot of this novel revolves around the contrasting fates and fortunes of London’s very poor underclass of “watermen” who make their living in London’s waterways (not always legally!) and the upper class of London’s “high society” of the rich and famous. The gossips of high society begin to tattle when a young man called John Harmon is found dead in the River Thames. He was the heir of a very rich dustman who had made his fortune on London’s dustheaps. To inherit his riches depended on Harmon marrying someone he had never met, Bella Wilfer, a woman of humble origins but very beautiful and extremely mercenary upon her own admission. Following Harmon’s death, the fortune passes into the hands of the working-class Boffins, who as nouveau riche take into their new home both Bella Wilfer and a mysterious secretary known as John Rokesmith. Meanwhile, Lizzie Hexam, the beautiful and virtuous daughter of the boatman suspected of Harmon’s murder, is pursued by two suitors: The obsessive and self-righteous schoolmaster Bradley Headstone and the scampish and lethargic aristocrat Eugene Wrayburn. Many other interesting characters add to the tale with rich subplots and as Dickens weaves his story, there are some surprises, and of course a happy end where everyone get exactly what they deserve.

This is a wonderful adaptation of this Dickens novel, which is powerful and full of the rage he expresses in documenting social injustice. He makes a comment on class barriers and the innate “worth” of people that is clearly independent of class. He spins a tale about love, both unrequited and fulfilled. The story has as its backdrop London’s waterways and dustheaps where the poor scratch out a living, contrasting strongly with the vacuous pastimes of high society and its snobbish members who mostly are ignorant of the lower class or when confronted by them are not loth to express their disgust and contempt. The screen is filled with great scenes and haunting images. The casting is exceptional, as one would expect from any good BBC adaptation. Stephen Mackintosh brings complexity and sensitivity to his John Rokesmith; Paul McGann has great fun delivering the best lines; while the two heroines (Keeley Hawes as Lizzie Hexham and Anna Friel as Bella Wilfer) are contrasted well and their characters show a satisfying development as the story unwinds. The murky hovels by the riverside full of dirty, dispirited and wayward people are contrasted beautifully with the glittering, luxurious and extremely sensual world of high society where fashion, money, connections and class are all that matters.

We would recommend this mini series wholeheartedly as it is an excellent adaptation of the novel, has high production values, is well acted and directed and looks very authentic.


“All outward forms of religion are almost useless, and are the causes of endless strife. Believe there is a great power silently working all things for good, behave yourself and never mind the rest.” - Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter (July 28, 1866 - December 22, 1943) was an English children’s book author and illustrator. Her most famous character is Peter Rabbit. From an early age, Potter was a writer. From the age of fifteen until she was past thirty, she recorded her everyday life in journals, using her own secret code-writing. Potter wrote 23 books. These were published in a small format, easy for a child to hold and read. Her writing efforts abated around 1920 due to poor eyesight, though her last major work, “The Tale of Little Pig Robinson”, was published in 1930.

The basis of her many projects and stories were the small animals that she smuggled into the house or observed during family holidays in Scotland and the Lake District. In addition to her fictional writing, Potter was one of the first to suggest that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae. Unfortunately, her one attempt to publish her findings was thwarted. Her uncle had to read her paper at the scientific society because they did not admit females. At the time the only way to record microscopic images was by painting them, and her pictures of fungi were widely admired in the scientific community.

A Happy Easter to all celebrating it today!