August has started. And one of the biggest holidays of the year is approaching; Maria-day. Or as it is correctly called Mary’s Ascension Day. Little to compare with Christ’s Ascension Day. However, it is Mary (as the name also more than suggests) who rises to heaven. It is Greece’s second largest festival, surpassed only by Easter.
August is the hottest month in Greece. Especially the first half of the month is very hot. The last week of August, however, gets pretty cool again. Especially in the evening.
But because August is hot this is where the Greeks have their main holiday (In Denmark we called it “Industri-ferien”). That is why there are many Greeks vacationing right now. Especially those coming from the larger cities and from the mainland. The Greeks, who work in the tourism industry, are definitely not free in August, for many of the hotels are full of Greeks that come for the cooler climates than the big cities. Athens, like many other major cities, is not a fun place to stay in 40 – 45 degree heat.
The fact that many people have a vacation at the same time as the second biggest holiday is smart enough. Mary’s Day itself falls on August 15. But already in the days before worshippers pilgrimage to the churches of Mary. The night between the 15th and the 16th there is then the midnight mass.
The festivities can last until August 22, but it varies from region to region. In Lesbos it was a much bigger event than I have experienced in other parts of Greece. But of course there I was also living in a small village with a Maria-church in the middle of it.
Notice how Mary is wrapped in red, where the little Jesus child is in blue clothes. Mary’s skin also has a bluish shade. It is typical of the Orthodox Church. The red color is divine and the blue is the symbol of man. Mary is human but touched by something divine. Jesus, on the other hand, is divine, but as he lives among humans, he is wearing the blue color.
The fact that Mary is human is something that has actually had a great impact on Christianity. For originally there was ONE Christian church; The Catholic. The Orthodox Church is then an outbreak of the Catholic. For in the 9th century, leading people in the church were very much in disagreement as to whether Mary is divine in her own right. This, plus many other things, caused the Patriarch to break with the Pope. So today you have the Catholic Church in the western part of the world and the Orthodox in the East. In Russia, most Christians are Orthodox. Also in the Arab part of the world the most Christians are Orthodox.
Of course, the fact that the two churches once belonged together also means that there are a lot of similarities. And that’s why many when they first come to a Greek church mistakenly believe it to be Catholic.
Some of the things that are going on, which you do not see in the Protestant church, for example, are the many icons. The icons are a kind of Bible, like picture book. The very word icon (ikona) means picture in Greek.
That way everyone could understand the word of God (the Bible). In fact, the word Bible is also Greek. it means book. And the Bible is the book of all other books.