The weather is gray and dreary in Athens of late, almost as though the cumulative preparation for Good Friday is setting the stage for a mournful weekend leading to the burst of sunshine, Easter Sunday, or Pascha. Starting tomorrow most businesses will start shutting down in preparation for a rolling list of ceremonies and traditions:
Good Friday: The bells from church towers ring sad and heavy through the day while the deeply religious grieve as though they’d lost a family member. An icon called an “Epitaphios” depicts Christ surrounded by mourners; every church is open for the public to pile flowers and garlands onto the icon, set on a bier with an elaborate, carved top- the whole effect much like visiting a death bed. Around 9:00, a crowd carrying taper candles gathers around the steps of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dignitaries, Ministers and officials will join with the military orchestra in a funeral march fit for a fallen hero. The procession is followed by head priests and the Athens Archbishop who carry the Epitaphios of the main church of Athens up the steps for lamenters to see. The Archbishop gives a speech and all go home.
Tip: should the procession pass you on the streets or while you’re eating in a cafe, it is respectful to stop conversation and stand until it passes.
Great Saturday: A considerably more uplifting day, Greeks are nearly over the grievous hump; in spite of the beautiful ceremony surrounding the arrival of the Holy Light from an Olympic Air jet coming from Jerusalem to the old Plaka church, Agia Anargyroi, the smoke of lamb meat being turned on the spit and the bustle of tavernas preparing for the midnight rush gets the spirit high before the sun has even set.
Easter Sunday: Kalo Pascha! This is a joyful day filled with food, wine, dancing, and lamb. Lots and lots of lamb. Crack dyed red eggs before the big Easter lunch to find out whose egg is indestructible giving instant luck. Visit some of the churches and experience the cloud of incense and priests chanting jubilant hymns – as jubilant as Orthodox chanting can be, anyway. Plan to make a few friends: people are incredibly generous on this day. Do not plan to visit any archaeological sites or museums up close, and don’t let this get you down. You’re exchanging a city’s great past for the best of their present, so wedge yourself into a taverna, order some kokoretsi and raise a glass to the coming of spring.