On the late evening of the 13th April I attended in burning Judas, in a small village in Nothern Greece.
The revival of this symbolic ritual in many villages in modern Christian Orthodox Greece has caused some debate over the last years. A dummy made from straw, (similar to the scarecrows used in the fields) is set on fire in a central spot either on Good Friday or Holy Saturday during the Easter period.
Under the Christian Orthodox spirt of the supporters it symbolizes the exemplary punishment of the traitor, who even after his death, can not find self-redemption since he took his own life after betraying Jesus.Oppositionists argue that such symbolisms do not fit in any modern western society, as anti-semitism (Judas is often referred to as "the Jew") and self-redress are the core values underlying this revived ritual.
The official Greek Orthodox Church does not support nor condemn this ritual. The preparation of the dummy and the lighting of the Judas is always the responsibility of the villagers.
After the short ceremony was over, i can not really argue that i felt some strong objection to this ritual. I also can not state that I felt that this ritual was re-enforcing or hidding some form of a racist attribute, despite the somewhat bizzare language used by some attendees.
While Judas is burning some take pictures with their cell phones, most people observe quietly the pile of olive branches turning into a flaming body. As the rain starts to fall, most people leave before the fire goes out. Children seem to enjoy it the most, some even throw firecrackers into the fire.
For me it felt like the same people that burn Judas are the ones that offer their forgiveness to him. A strange sense of justice is what i believe that people feel after completing the brief ceremony. I can easily understand the people offended by this ritual and I can fully justify a harsh rhetoric against this ritual.
Thus, the feeling while watching is different, the vibe of the audience is not negativevly charged, for me it seems and feels like burning Judas is just another ritual of casting evil off our lifes.