THESSALONIKI – Adjusting to the continuing coronavirus reality, the faithful – secular and religious – of the City of Thessaloniki honored their traditional calendars as they prepared for the new post-COVID era.
On Good Friday, April 30 during a later Pascha season than usual, Orthodox Christians gathered at their churches all over Greece’s second largest city, some inside, mostly outside, but without the processions of the ‘epitafio’ – the beautiful flowered bier of Christ.
The following morning the town’s political Left mounted a May Day march in the Centre, notwithstanding the plans of other groups to mark Greek Labor Day on May 4 this year, when COVID restrictions will be further lifted.
The Christians and the social activists – comprised mainly of the older generations – were properly masked and social distanced, while their children other youth were having a grand old time in the city’s squares and its magnificent seaside promenade – presumably, the more sensible citizens at the churches, at least, were praying for the young people partying nearby at a time when infections seem to have stabilized but are still at dangerous levels.
The ancient churches of Aghia Sophia and Agios Demetrios were not packed with people as usual, but they glowed with the unique light and ancient glory of Early Christian and Byzantine architectural masterpieces.
More humble – in size and history – other local churches adjusted to the pandemic by setting up for services in their courtyards. Beneath a highway overpass west of the Thessaloniki centre, parishioners outside the modest church of Agios Stlylianos participated in the Good Friday service of the Apokathilosis, which marks the removal of Christ from the Holy Cross.
All around the city, however, there were signs of optimism and hope, with stores and restaurants literally brushing up – painting, renovating, and cleaning – in anticipation of COVID’s exit and the return of the tourists.