Greeks - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religion. Pontian Greeks retain the Greek Orthodox religion, although political and social conditions in the former Soviet Union frequently made it difficult to practice. The closing of Greek churches and the active disapproval of Communist authorities resulted in adaptable communities of Greeks, which use Russian Orthodox churches or establish their own secret churches. The lack of Greek Orthodox priests in the Soviet Union meant that it was frequently necessary to perform religious rituals (using candles, holy water, and icons) without an officiator. It is more usual to attend church at religious festivals such as the panayir (saints' days) or Easter rather than every Sunday. Certain ancient customs adapted to Christian beliefs are also reported among Pontian Greeks of the Caucasus. For example, in a ritual known as gurpan, animals may be sacrificed to a saint, either in gratitude or to help ensure a favorable outcome in some serious crisis.

Arts. Pontian Greek culture has a strong tradition of music and dancing. Traditional instruments include the Pontian lyre ( kamentze ) , flute ( zourna ), and a large drum ( daoul ) . There are many songs that express the troubles of the Pontian people (their exiles and persecutions) and their yearning for their historical homeland. In addition to the particular singing and dancing occurring at weddings, funerals, and religious celebrations, songs are used in numerous Pontian customs. For instance, in the klidonas, young people place their possessions (rings, bracelets, etc.) in a vessel of water. The belongings are picked out one by one, and an individual's fate is predicted according to the theme of the song being sung at the time when the object is returned.

Death and Afterlife. The body of the dead person remains in the house for up to three days, and female relatives and friends sing mourning songs ( miroloyia ) . If a priest is available, he will be asked to officiate at the funeral, but this is frequently not the case. At funerals, mourners distribute koliva or hokiya, a mixture of boiled wheat, sugar, and pomegranate seeds, decorated with sugar and nuts.

Close relatives of the deceased refrain from eating meat for up to a year, and women wear black clothes for a year (or for life if widowed), whereas men wear black and do not shave for forty days. Memorials are held three, nine, and forty days after death and after six months and one year. Thereafter, there are special days in the year ( tafiya ) when the dead are honored.

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