THESSALONIKI – Pascha celebrations this year in Thessaloniki – as among Orthodox Christians everywhere – can be characterized by two words: `muted' and `hopeful'. There were less people in the streets and in the churches than in the years prior to the pandemic and fewer candles burning, bells ringing, and even fireworks resounding between hills and apartment buildings, but at least congregations were present, both in the many newer churches spread throughout the largest city in Greece's Macedonia region, and at the glorious Byzantine architectural gems in the city centre.
In the beloved ancient church dedicated to Thessaloniki's patron, St. Demetrios – the current structure is more than 1300 years old – Head Priest Fr. Damaskinos Petikas concluded the Holy Saturday service and Pascha Divine Liturgy with a glance back to the previous year, and a look towards a brighter future, Orthodox Bright week having an additional meaning in Greece this year as expected further loosening of restrictions on May 3 will add to growing feelings across the nation – as vaccination accelerate even as COVID infections remain stubbornly high – that indeed, light is visible at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Fr. Damaskinos, with the warmth and appreciation that were as welcome signs that life goes on as the brightly colored eggs he was soon to distribute, noted “last year it was so sad when only clergy and chanters were here, and we could not hear your responses to our cries of `Christos Anesti!”
But this year, even though most of the congregants were outside in the courtyard and they were few and far between inside, their faces invisible behind their masks – almost all worshipers where following the COVID restrictions – he felt the love that was absent in 2020. “That is what Christ wants. For you to put love inside yourselves. Take the breath of love we received today and distribute it to everyone outside as you wish them Xristos Anesti, and may God grant you all every good thing.”