Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter in Athens

I wish I could tell you that we went to lots of Easter services in Athens, but I can't - exactly. We had some travel delays that made our plans go up in smoke. But the fact is that no matter what you do, Easter in Athens surrounds you.

On our way home from Piraeus after a long and unexpected delay at the gate where we got off our boat, we took the metro back to our flat. By the time we got off the metro, it was fully dark. We knew we had missed the local Easter service when we followed a woman walking up the dark street, pocketbook hanging from her elbow, holding her long candle whose flame she carefully protected with her cupped hand. As we walked down the sidewalk every door was shuttered and every shop closed with three notable exceptions. The confectioners. Each of the three brightly lit stores stood with their doors open to the night like welcoming beacons in an ocean of darkness. Their plate glass front walls were polished, the delicious Galatoboureko and baklava, Easter breads baked with a red egg in the center and short delicate cookies displayed with pride. They seemed like little jewel boxes. Exhausted and hungry, we made a bee line for our doorway and a quick dinner of pasta and the leftover cheese we had bought on one of the islands for a snack. We were just wondering if we had the energy to stay awake and try to go out or give up and go to sleep when the city exploded with the sounds of ringing bells near and far and the furious popping and banging of firecrackers. It was midnight. Easter was here.

The next morning we turned on the television to see how the holiday played out in the media. The first thing we saw was an Greek airforce jet on the tarmac. We waited expectantly, wondering what political piece of news would follow. (Craig can follow the modern Greek a little, so we get a general idea) The door of the jet opened and out of the darkness of the doorway came a monk clothed in his black habit holding a large lantern. Holding the light slightly aloft, he carefully descended the stairs to the runway crowded by excited people. After making a statement to the waiting crowd, and deferring to another politician for another statement, the monk and the politician got into a waiting limosine and were wisked off.

What followed were pictures of the lighting of the first fire in Jerusalem, from which this fire had come, A picture of a man having just lit his torch from the first fire running through the gathered crowd. His mouth open with an unheard cry, he catapulted away from the fire, holding his brightly blazing torch high above his head less like a prize than a banner of victory at the head of an unseen army. The teasers for the news were excerpts of speeches by 3 Patriarchs and 3 Archbishops of the Orthodox Church from all over the world. What followed was the full coverage of the Patriarchs of Contantinople, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. This was followed by the full coverage of 3 more speeches from the Archbishops of Albania, Athens and all Greece, and the Americas. The rest of the news of the world took about 5 minutes. That pretty much says it all.

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