Rhodes is a wonderful place. My then girlfriend and I visited in Easter 1999 and had an amazing time. This even culminated in us getting engaged!
We flew to the island from Athens, but unfortunately the hotel that I had booked did not cut the mustard with the future Mrs Wilbur and although we had pre-paid one night’s non-refundable accommodation, it was abundantly clear that we would not be spending any nights there!
The nearby Hotel Sydney situated in the Old Town came to the rescue and it was there that we stayed for the whole week.
The historic walled Old Town with its crusader castle, narrow stone alleyways and cobbled streets all framed by the type of blue for which Greece is famous were wonderful, as was the iconic Acropolis of Lindos and the boat trip out to the colourful island of Symi.
The real highlights though were the Easter celebrations. This was my first experience of the Greek version of the festival, which has far greater significance in the country than Christmas does.
Rhodes Cathedral and all the churches were standing room only from Holy Thursday right up to Easter Sunday as psalms were read, vespers sung and prayers recited. On the Thursday night women stayed up until the early hours decorating the ‘Epitaph of Christ’ with fresh flowers.
On Good Friday the Epitaph was then paraded around the streets led by the priest and followed by the whole congregation.
Saturday night was special also. Thousands of people held candles lit by the Holy Light that had been carried from the centre of the Greek Orthodox Church in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in preparation for the midnight bells symbolising that Christ had risen.
Fireworks then exploded from every corner and people hugged each other whilst recanting, “Xristos Anesti” (Christ Has Risen), to which other people responded with, “Alithos” (Indeed He Has).
It was then time for an early morning banquet for the many who had exercised food restraint during Lent. Soup with intestines (yelp!), roast lamb with tzatziki and hard-boiled eggs dyed red symbolising Christ’s blood and re-birth.
Easter Sunday saw more revelry with whole lambs roasted on the spit as large families and hundreds of tourists enjoyed the festivities augmented by live Greek music.
If you ever get the chance to experience an authentic Greek Easter in Greece I would thoroughly recommend it. Failing that get along to one of the Orthodox churches in England such as the Greek Cathedral of St Sophia in London’s Bayswater, as they too practice the traditional Easter rituals.
There is even still time this year as the Orthodox Easter Sunday takes place on the 1st May.
Back to Rhodes, Rania happily said yes when I popped the question and my brilliant week was topped off in the best way possible, at least until such time as I had to return to England and leave my future bride in her country.
Rhodes will forever have a special place in my heart.