On Easter Saturday at midnight Christ’s resurrection is celebrated in Orthodox churches. Not this year. The resurrection service of midnight mass was brought forward to 9 pm so the curfews could still be in place.
Last night our curfew was lifted from 9 pm to 11 pm. Honestly, it felt as if we’d been liberated after being long-term hostages. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder as I was actually outdoors after 9 pm.
There were police aplenty but this time not one of them was stopping anyone to check for documentation or to check on where we were going or if we were wearing masks properly. They all stood back in spite of the blatant breaking of, and frankly impossible to maintain, social distancing. Everyone was out on the street heading to church, even the non- believers, just to partake in the ritual of resurrection and rebirth.
I wasn’t going to attend: I was too busy because we can have up to 12 people to our homes if we are sitting outside. Our apartment is too small but my aunt who lives on the fifth floor has a penthouse which is twice the size of an average house and has a balcony as big as most backyards so we will be probably dining there even though I’ve set up the dining room for her. I’m doing all the cooking and preparing because no one can come and help me and the two old ladies just can’t cope any more with such activity. So, I was too busy.
But a wonderful neighbour called me and said, ‘Come on. Let’s get out of the house and go bring the holy light home.’
I was wearing a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms. To stop, shower and refresh and change into a suitable outfit would’ve taken too long and I was in the middle of my work so I just threw a light overcoat on top of what I was wearing, grabbed a candle to receive the light, and went.
Do you remember the old barrel organs the organ grinders used to wheel along the streets sometimes with a performing monkey? Occasionally, you still see them here in Greece. They are called laternas. They are festooned with all sorts of blooms, ribbons and in general made as colourful or as gaudy as possible. Last night there were two types of women attending the ritual of the holy light. Those, like me, who pulled an overcoat over their work clothes and dashed out to participate.
It was only my politeness that stopped me from taking photographs to show you some examples but there is one set of massive bright orange tasselled earrings so long they hit the shoulder that are still fresh in my memory.
The holy light comes from Jerusalem. Every Easter Saturday from deep within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre a light is said to spontaneously combust from beneath the marble that covers the rock which is said to be Christ’s tomb. We can argue the origin of that light for a long time but the point of this tale is to tell of how the light reaches us. How it originates is a secret the monks keep. And they can keep it.
The Prime Minister of Greece sends his aeroplane to Jerusalem and a guard of honour comprised of all the armed forces. As that church is primarily governed by the Greek Orthodox church, they are given direct access to the first emergence of the light and then they all get back on the plane and fly straight to Athens.
When it arrives, it is given the same honours given to a head of state with full military greeting, bands, processions, everything. It’s quite a spectacle.
But not this year.
The light arrived at 6 pm. It wasn’t able to be distributed to every city by 9 pm so the other cities further away will have had to compromise. Perhaps they can have a chat to the monks who guard the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as to how they create spontaneous combustion.
In spite of the drastically changed circumstances, my casual attire and the curfew it was the most moving Anastasi (resurrection service) I’ve ever been to. I confess I did shed a tear. I’m far away from my adored children and grandchildren for whom I usually make these Easter feasts. I still don’t know when I’ll be back in my home in Australia but I have so much to be grateful for. I’m sending you some photographs but I don’t know that they can capture the atmosphere and emotion of the night. We’ve all suffered during this pandemic.
As I was leaving, I heard a man’s voice in the apartment next door. That man caught Covid-19 and spent three months intubated. He then spent a further three months in intensive care. He is home now so there’s a resurrection for you. On the other side was gloriously happily married couple with four amazing children, they both died within days of each other just last week, from Covid. We can’t relax yet. Another mini resurrection which means the world to us here in Greece, after literally months and months and months of lockdown, is that the cafes will open on Tuesday. I’ve never wanted to have a cup of coffee so badly. I’m going to dress up my two charges and take them out for the first time in seven months. I’ve been able to leave the house and do the shopping and minor chores those two ladies have not.
It does feel like a rebirth is happening it’s slow, cautious, but it’s happening.