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Greeks Celebrate Easter without Restrictions (Photos)

ATHENS — For the first time in three years, Greeks were able to celebrate Orthodox Easter without the restrictions made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond the obvious religious messages, in Greece, Easter signifies a return to the countryside, often to people’s ancestral homes, and a mass exodus from big cities.

Police and port authorities say that this year’s exodus was significantly higher than that of pre-pandemic 2019.

Faithful follow the procession of Jesus’ funeral bier, known as the “Epitaph” in Greek, at Agios Georgios church in Myrodafni village, Epirus region, northwestern Greece, on Friday, April 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

In 2020, there was a total lockdown; in 2021, some dared leave the cities, often in violation of long-distance travel rules. Police had set up roadblocks on national roads to turn offenders around and impose fines.

This year, churches were full and events fully attended, too. A variety of customs, some predating Christianity, were celebrated locally. Friday evening’s solemn procession of decorated funeral biers, or Epitaphs, once again was fully attended.

Crowds lined the old city of Corfu’s narrow streets Saturday morning for one of the most spectacular events, called ‘botides,’ that involves dropping clay jars full of water from balconies to crash with a loud bang on the streets below, spraying attendees with water. Locals consider it a miracle that there have been no serious injuries from flying clay shards. This ancient event’s original purpose was to ward off evil spirits.

This year, the Resurrection was celebrated once again at midnight Saturday after pandemic measures had brought it forward to 9 p.m. the previous year. By midnight, the ‘Holy Light’ — lit miraculously, the faithful believe, at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Saturday — had reached almost all parishes across Greece, having arrived by plane in Athens and greeted with all the honors due a visiting head of state.

People attend a live concert, part of 62 cultural events of sacred music festival organized by the National Opera, at the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Dionysius in Athens, Greece, on Monday, April 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Celebratory fireworks, often to excess, have become associated with the celebration of Resurrection. And nowhere are they more excessive than on the island of Chios, in the village of Vrontado, where two parishes throw a barrage of fireworks at each other. Injuries have been far from rare in the past, but none was reported this year. Participants agreed to limit the fireworks to between 11 p.m. Saturday and 12:15 a.m. Sunday. Still, more than 10,000 fireworks were launched; both churches and many homes had been protectively covered in chicken wire.

Police announced Sunday that they had arrested 11 individuals in the capital, Athens, for trying to light up fireworks; a recent variant involves throwing firebombs, or Molotov cocktails. Police say they impounded 27 such bombs, along with several butane canisters and containers full of gasoline.

Sunday involves the usual slow roasting of a lamb, sometimes venison, on the spit and the cracking of Easter eggs, traditionally painted red.

Easter Monday is also a full holiday, with authorities hoping that people will have recovered enough from Sunday’s carousing to drive safely back home.

Faithful wearing face masks to curb the spread of coronavirus, attend a church service in Athens, Greece, on Monday, April 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
An elderly woman holds flowers as she enters the yard of Agios Georgios church in Monodendri village Zagorochoria, Epirus region, northwestern Greece, on Holy Thursday, April 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Christina Anastasopoulou holds her son Giorgos-Filippos as his sister Amelia stands next to them as they attend a liturgy in Agios Georgios church, in Myrodafni village, Epirus region, northwestern Greece, on Holy Friday, April 22, 2022. For the first time in three years, Greeks were able to celebrate Easter without the restrictions made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Orthodox faithful take part in a ceremony of the Deposition of Jesus Christ at Saint Catherine church, in Athens, Greece, Friday, April 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
Faithful follow the procession of Jesus’ funeral bier, called the “Epitaph” in Greek, at Agios Georgios church in Myrodafni village, Epirus region, northwestern Greece, on Good Friday, April 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Residents watch the procession of the relics of Saint Spyridon, patron saint of Corfu, during Easter celebrations on the Ionian Sea island of Corfu, northwestern Greece, on Saturday, April 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
People watch the procession of Jesus’ funeral bier, called the ” Epitaph” in Greek, during Easter celebrations on the Ionian Sea island of Corfu, northwestern Greece, on Saturday, April 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
A member of a philharmonic band performs during the procession of Jesus’ funeral bier, called the “Epitaph” in Greek, during Easter celebrations on the Ionian Sea island of Corfu, northwestern Greece, on Saturday, April 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
People prepare to throw a huge clay jar from a balcony during the custom called “botides” on the Ionian Sea island of Corfu, northwestern Greece, Saturday, April 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
People throw a huge clay jar from a balcony as visitors use their cellphones to film the custom called “botides” on the Ionian Sea island of Corfu, northwestern Greece, on Good Saturday, April 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Orthodox Archimandrite Rafael delivers the Holy Fire brought from Jerusalem, at the church of Agioi Anargyroi, in Athens, Greece, on Saturday, April 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
Faithful attend the Resurrection liturgy outside Agios Georgios church during celebrations for the Orthodox Easter in Myrodafni village, Epirus region, northwestern Greece, on Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
A volunteer sits next to bags containing food, which will be deliver to low income families, as he packs colored eggs for Easter at an Orthodox Church in Athens, Greece, on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Eftichia Pliakou, 77, puts the Easter lamb under the gastra, a local traditional grill, in Myrodafni village, Epirus region, northwestern Greece, on Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
The Easter lamb is spit-roasted as Alexandros Ehrmann, left, smiles to his son Giorgos-Filippos and Christina Anastasopoulou, right, holds her daughter Amelia next to her father Giorgos, in Myrodafni village, Epirus region, northwestern Greece, on Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

 

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