I can’t speak for the Church here, but for the most part it looks like they took their precautions. Not many people attended mass, and they did appear to actually be wiping the spoons (with at least a cloth, not sure if there was alcohol on that cloth). I was at home watching it on live feed. Which saddens me a little bit, as it is my favorite holiday in Georgia and at Church.
Orthodox Easter is celebrated at a different date than Western (Roman) Easter. I’ve mentioned the Christmas date controversy before – a pope had fixed the calendar and the Orthodox refused to fix it because pope. But after they realized ole Papa Gregory was right and that Christmas was, in fact, drifting off into the summer, they fixed their liturgical calendar and now the Orthodox Christmas is on January 7th (which is December 25 of the old calendar).
Trinity (Sameba) Cathedral at night
Easter on the other hand, is a bit different. By definition, Easter should be on the Jewish Passover, since the Last Supper was the Passover meal. The Orthodox have stayed true to this. The Catholics however, being clever with their calendars and all, invented some strange formulation that has to do with the square roots of the distance between Mars and Venus at the equinox of Alpha Centauri. Or something like that, It’s always a bit confusing. Sometimes these dates line up, other times not, but all that to say Easter is not determined by the regular Christian calendars, hence the dates making a bit of a temporal dance across the years.
Easter in a Georgian village
My favorite thing is to have Easter in a village. I’ll tell you a bit about that for normal years.
Normally, festivities would begin on Good Friday (not really sure the proper Orthodox term). Religious people are fasting during this time and don’t break fast until Saturday night after church. So if you’re not a girl, then you’ve probably started feasting and drinking and partying by this time, especially in Samegrelo, the big region in the West.
a village house
I’m often confused by this. Because I’ll ask, “When do we eat?”
“It is a time of fasting, Saint,” they reply.
“Yeah, but I see some guys outside barbecuing pork and drinking beer,” I say.
“It is a time of fasting,” they reply.
Preparations under way - technically not Easter, but no real difference
And then before I know it, there’s about twenty people over getting drunk. Heck if I know what Georgian fasting is, except that it involves "fasting cake" and "fasting ice cream" – it never makes clear sense to me.
Now, technically, you should hold off until after the midnight mass on Saturday night. Most people break down though, especially those who live in Tbilisi or elsewhere and haven’t seen their childhood friends in forever. Those guys are already 6 days into a 4-day bender.
The church is not far from my family’s house. We walk down at about thirty minutes till. Then there’s a lot of standing around. People chatting, getting reacquainted with people they haven’t seen in years or days or hours. Then finally some commotion, something like a church service begins. At this point I’m usually pretty toasted, so I’m hazy on the details. But some beautiful singing starts up. And then people start pulling out candles and soon I’ve got hot wax dripping all over my hands and shoes.
The Holy Fire has arrived. Here’s the big event.
The Holy Fire
Every year for Easter, the Orthodox have a big meetup in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where they disappear into the chapel above the Empty Tomb. They emerge from the chapel with the fire. They light the flames of everybody present – representatives of different churches from around the world. Those representatives then take the Fire and go back to their home country, where it’s then distributed to each individual parish across the land. What a beautiful tradition! You are literally sharing in the same flame as people around the world. Now that is a Communion if ever there was one.
Holy Fire in hand, we shuffle out of the church. The nice churchy church that stands now was built recently. There is an older one on the other side of the center of the village. It was a house converted into a church used during the Soviet Union. So everyone takes their bit of Fire and walks in procession down to the old church, walks around it, eats some sunflower seeds, has a chat, some songs are sung, back to the first church, and then more singing. At this point, usually around 2 or 3 in the morning, we go home. Others stay as late as 5 or 6 even.
Next to Sioni, Tbilisi Old Town
It’s not over!
Now random neighbors start to arrive through the remainder of the night. In fact, they’ve been doing so while we’re gone at church, so every family has to leave some grandfolks or someone behind at the house during mass to host any guests that might pop in.
When you can’t stay awake anymore, you pass out.
Wake up. Easter’s here! The real feasting and drinking begins. If the pig hasn’t been killed yet, it’s killed now, along with a variety of other animals. You will wake to a slaughter. Fresh wine barrels are tapped, the food is set, neighbors start streaming in. Alternatively, we also disappear to other neighbors’ houses to eat their food and make a bit of a culinary round robin around the village. Last one to keep their sobriety loses.
Mornings in the village
Another game: They die hard-boiled eggs red for Easter, rather than getting too crafty with the colors. In the ancient days, once everyone converted to Christianity, they claimed that the eggs they had been dying for whatever pagan goddess all along actually represented the blood of Christ. True story. And because of that, they pock each other’s eggs upon arrival. Old Georgian tricksters will have made special wooden eggs, and they go around town defeating all the children, laughing as they leave behind a trail of broken eggshells and tears.
Sometime during the day, there's a visit to the graveyards of the different family members. Wine is brought. They pour one glass of wine and place it for the deceased. Everyone there drinks one. People visit the graves of friends as well. Repeat. In Eastern Georgia, they often have full feasts at the cemetery as well.
That’s the normal times. These aren’t normal times.
Now we sit in the apartment. Instead of Communion wine, I’m drinking some cheap scotch.
C’est la vie.
People made much ado about the Church going on with Easeter. But Carrefour, the grocery store around the corner, leaves me in much more existential terror.
People are lined up to the street. “Socially distancing” while in line. But with lots of people and still, indoor air… does the virus care that much? You have to wait about 30 minutes to get into the store, and then the store is overcrowded. It’s complete nutso inside. People bumping each other, attendants stocking, kids playing rugby. A mess.
Not the end of the line
And an unnecessary one. The state instituted a curfew. Why? They want people in shops for only certain hours. That means that everyone must crowd in at once, rather than spreading the distribution across the day. I say open the shops for 24 hours, so that people can thin out. Don’t come all at once! Come when people aren’t coming. That makes sense, not the mess that they’re enforcing now.
Whatever. When I saw the line to the street, I immediately called the wife. “Can you do without bread?”
“I’ll try making some.”
She made some. And it was good.
Happy Easter folks.