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Celebrating the Greek Orthodox Saturday of Souls in Greece

While Greece is a country of many religions, over ninety percent of the Greek population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christian. This makes all related holidays a huge deal here, and today we’re going to tell you about what you can expect on a Greek Orthodox Saturday of Souls.

You’ll learn about the basics of Soul Saturday, Orthodox traditions that usually take place, and lots of useful vocabulary words.

Let’s get started.

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1. What is the Greek Saturday of Souls?

Within the Greek Orthodox Church, there’s a tradition of praying for the νεκρός (nekrós), or “dead,” every Saturday. This is done in memoriam of when Jesus died on the Great and Holy Saturday.

However, there are also two specific days set aside each year, which are often called Soul Saturday or Saturday of the Souls. On each Soul Saturday, Greek Orthodox Christians Τιμώ τους νεκρούς (Timó tus nekrús), or “honor the deceased,” and pray for their forgiveness. This is done specifically for those who have died but—for whatever reason—never had a proper memorial service.

Even before Christianity entered Greece, it was very common for the Greek people to hold memorials for their dead, in which they offered sacrifices and prayed in order to ensure the deceased’s forgiveness.

    → Check out our Religion vocabulary list for some useful words!

2. When are the Soul Saturday Dates?

A Wheat Field

The dates of Soul Saturday vary each year, based on the Eastern Orthodox religious calendar.

There are two main Soul Saturdays. The first one is on the Σάββατο πριν την Κυριακή της Απόκρεω (Sávato prin tin Kiriakí tis Apókreo), or “Saturday before Meatfare Sunday.” The second one is on the Σάββατο πριν την Κυριακή της Πεντηκοστής (Sávato prin tin Kiriakí tis Pendikostís), or “Saturday before Pentecost Sunday.”

For your convenience, here’s a list of this holiday’s dates for the next ten years.

Year First Soul Saturday
(Saturday of Souls Before
Meatfare Sunday)
Second Soul Saturday
(Saturday of Souls Before
Pentecost)
2020 February 22 June 6
2021 March 6 June 19
2022 February 26 June 11
2023 February 18 June 3
2024 March 9 June 22
2025 February 22 June 7
2026 February 14 May 30
2027 March 6 June 19
2028 February 19 June 3
2029 February 10 May 26

3. How Do the Greeks Celebrate Soul Saturday?

A Woman Visiting a Cemetery

The most common Saturday of Souls traditions include μνημόσυνο (mnimósino), or “memorial services,” and an accompanying τρισάγιο (trisáyio), or “special memorial prayer.” As we mentioned earlier, this is a time to pray for the deceased’s forgiveness so that they can αναπαύομαι εν ειρήνη (anapávome en iríni), or “rest in peace.” For a typical memorial service, the event will first be publicized via printed announcements; during the actual service, the Divine Liturgy will be given, followed by the memorial prayer.

In Greece, Saturday of Souls is also an opportunity for people to visit the μνήμα (mníma), or “tomb,” of a loved one. Here, they show respect to the deceased by cleaning the tombstone, taking care of the land around it, leaving flowers, burning incense, and lighting the καντήλι (kandíli), or “vigil oil lamp.”

Another popular tradition is that of eating koliva. This is a delicious dessert that consists of boiled σιτάρι (sitári), or “wheat,” raisins, cinnamon, nuts, pomegranate, and powdered sugar. This dish is handed out after a memorial service, and if there are any leftovers, they’re given to friends and family; this allows the dead to be symbolically forgiven. This custom is thought to have originated in Ancient Greece, because the Ancient Greeks used to offer the dead a similar dish of wheat and nuts.

Crete has a custom for Soul Saturday (and the day preceding it), in which people don’t cut down trees. This is because they believe there are souls sitting on the branches, and cutting the trees down would disturb them.

4. Koliva from Strangers

There’s a Greek proverb, which means in English: “He is having a memorial with koliva from strangers.” What does that mean?

Usually, when someone says this, they’re referring to the fact that someone is pretending to be generous when they’re actually giving away someone else’s money or resources!

5. Must-Know Soul Saturday Vocabulary

A Lit Vigil Oil Lamp

Let’s review some of the vocabulary words from this article!

  • Σιτάρι (Sitári) — “Wheat” [n. neut]
  • Ψυχοσάββατο (Psihosávato) — “Soul Saturday” [neut]
  • Σάββατο πριν την Κυριακή της Απόκρεω (Sávato prin tin Kiriakí tis Apókreo) — “Saturday before Meatfare Sunday”
  • Σάββατο πριν την Κυριακή της Πεντηκοστής (Sávato prin tin Kiriakí tis Pendikostís) — “Saturday before Pentecost Sunday”
  • Νεκρός (Nekrós) — “Dead” [n. masc]
  • Αναπαύομαι εν ειρήνη (Anapávome en iríni) — “Rest in peace”
  • Μνημόσυνο (Mnimósino) — “Memorial services” [n. neut]
  • Μνήμα (Mníma) — “Tomb” [n. neut]
  • Καντήλι (Kandíli) — “Vigil oil lamp” [n. neut]
  • Αγγελτήριο (Angeltírio) — “Printed announcement” [n. neut]
  • Τρισάγιο (Trisáyio) — “Special memorial prayer” [n. neut]
  • Θεία Λειτουργία (Thía Lituryía) — “Divine Liturgy” [fem]
  • Κόλλυβα (Kóliva) — “Koliva” [n. neut]
  • Ζάχαρη άχνη (Záhari áhni) — “Powdered sugar” [fem]
  • Λιβανίζω (Livanízo) — “cense” [v.]
  • Τιμώ τους νεκρούς (Timó tus nekrús) — “Honor the deceased”

If you want to hear the pronunciation of each word and phrase listed above, be sure to visit our Greek Soul Saturday vocabulary list!

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning about the Saturday of Souls, Greek Orthodox Church traditions and customs for it, and some vocab you can start using today!

Does your country have a Soul Saturday holiday, or another holiday for commemorating the deceased? Please tell us about it in the comments; we love hearing from you!

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