Saturday, 21 January 2012

Celebrating New Year with the Greek and Chinese communities

Father Prodromos and Dr Labros Chatzis, President of the Hellenic Community of Ireland, at the cutting of the Vasilopita in Corfu last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Corfu last night for the cutting of the Vasilopita – a traditional Greek family ceremony that takes place after New Year’s Day but before the beginning of Great Lent.

No, not Corfu in Greece. Corfu, the new Greek restaurant in Parliament Street, close to City Hall in Dublin.

The restaurant was packed with members of the Hellenic Community – Greeks and Cypriots, and a few Irish (and even Mexican) friends too. There were so many of us there last night that Adam Kritidis and his colleagues worked hard in moving chairs and tables around so we could all sit together.

Long tables into the early hours of the morning in Corfu in Parliament Street last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Greeks traditionally eat Vasilopita, a cake in which a gold coin has been baked, on 1 January. Saint Basil, whose feast day falls on 1 January, has a Santa-like place in Greek lore. Many private or public institutions – such as societies, clubs, workplaces, companies, and so on – cut their Vasilopita at some other time between New Year’s Day and the beginning of the Great Lent, and those celebrations range from impromptu potluck gatherings to formal receptions or balls.

Traditionally, the cake is served in a sequence: the first piece is set aside for Saint Basil, one of the “Three Hierarchs”; the second piece is for the home; and the rest of the cake is then handed out amongst family members, from oldest to youngest.

Last night’s cake was blessed by Father Prodromos, the deacon in the Greek Orthodox parish, who is finishing his degree at Maynooth and hopes to be ordained priest in Iraklion in Crete later this summer. The cake was then cut by Father Prodromos and Dr Labros Chatzis, President of the Hellenic Community of Ireland. The first pieces were handed to the Greek and Cypriot ambassadors, and I was honoured to be

A gold coin is wrapped and hidden in the cake by slipping it into the dough before baking, and whoever finds the coin in their slice is said to be promised a lucky year. I did not find the coin, but I felt blessed to be handed the priest’s slice by Father Prodromos and Dr Chatzis.

The Three Holy Hierarchs

The Three Holy Hierarchs (Οι Τρείς Ιεράρχες) are Saint Basil the Great (Saint Basil of Caesarea), Saint Gregory the Theologian (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus) and Saint John Chrysostom. These three highly influential bishops from the Early Church played pivotal roles in shaping our theology.

In 11th century Constantinople, there were disputes about which of the three hierarchs was the greatest. Some argued that Saint Basil was superior to the other two because of his explanations of Christian faith and his monastic example. Those who argued for Saint John Chrysostom countered that the “Golden Mouthed” (Χρυσόστομος) Patriarch of Constantinople was unmatched in both eloquence and in bringing sinners to repentance. Those who preferred Saint Gregory the Theologian pointed to the majesty, purity and profundity of his sermons and his defence of the faith against the Arian heresy.

All three have separate feast days in January: Saint Basil on 1 January, Saint Gregory on 25 January, and Saint John Chrysostom on 27 January. Eastern Orthodox tradition says the three hierarchs appeared together in 1084 in a vision to Saint John Mauropous of Euchaita and said that they were equal before God: “There are no divisions among us, and no opposition to one another.” As a result, around 1100 the Emperor Alexios Komnenos declared 30 January a feast day commemorating all three in common.

The 60-ft Chinese dragon from Hong Kong marked the beginning of the Year of the Dragon in Temple Bar last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Earlier in the evening I was invited to Meeting House Square in Temple Bar for the Dublin inauguration of the Chinese New Year, in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Andrew Montague, and the Chinese Ambassador, Luo Linquan.

The Chinese New Year, which begins on Monday, is the Year of the Dragon, and the highlight of last night’s performance was a specially-commissioned, 60-ft Chinese dragon, made in Hong Kong.

I was told last night that I too was born in the Year of the Dragon – not that these things matter to me. But it is said that those born in the Year of the Dragon like to spend money and are charitable with others, that we are financial risk-takers and that we are usually successful. In addition, they say, we are always straightforward in financial dealings and can always be trusted.

I emphasise, I was told this – not that these things matter to me.

I was also told of a Chinese proverb that says: “If you ignore the dragon, it will eat you. If you try to confront the dragon, it will overpower you. If you ride the dragon, you will take advantage of its might and its power.”

A preview of Varvara Shavrova’s ‘The Opera’ in Meeting House Square in Dublin last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Afterwards, we were invited to the Gallery of Photography for a preview of The Opera, a spell-binding work on the traditional Peking Opera by Varvara Shavrova, with her sensitive insights into the fragile world of one of the most revered Chinese art forms.

It was busy, multicultural evening, with beautiful insights into the diversity and joys of the communities that make up this city today.

Earlier in the day, walking back into the city centre from a funeral in All Saints’ Church, Phibsborough, I passed by Greek Street, at the back of the Four Courts ... and wondered that perhaps whether this old street name indicates that Dublin has always been a culturally diverse and rich city.

Greek Street in Dublin ... a sign of centuries-old diversity multiculturalism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

1 comment:

d.t said...

A good article Fr Patrick and I am delighted that you enjoyed it.Unfortunately I could not make it.
with kind regards
d.Tsouros