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The Holy Friday procession

Today, our online journey will not take us to a place on the map, but to an alternative reality; we are going to visit Greece on a Holy Friday without Covid-19.

Most countries have already celebrated Easter, but the Orthodox follow a different tradition. In Greece, the Easter is yet to come; today it is Holy Friday. This year the churches are closed, to slow the spread of the pandemic, and the faithful are urged to watch the services on TV or online. Yet what would happen if this were a year like every other?

For Greeks Holy Friday is among the holiest days of the year, if not the holiest one, and one that draws everyone to church. It is the day Jesus died, so believers observe a strict fast and refrain from any pleasurable activity. If you were in Greece, you would see cinemas and theatres closed, as well as banks and other businesses.

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Starting early in the morning, church bells would toll mournfully all day. The churches would be open and people would go there to pray and pay their respects to the dead body of Jesus. An icon or embroidery of Jesus dead would be lying under a canopy decorated with flowers which is called the Epitafios. People would cross themselves, then bend and kiss His hand, as they would that of a dead relative.

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In the evening, most streets would close for traffic and the faithful would gather to take part in the Epitafios Procession. Starting from every church, each Epitafios would be carried all around its parish, in a somber procession resembling a funeral. The priest would lead the way and all parishioners would follow, except the very old and very ill, who would be waiting at their windows for the procession to pass by.

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Everyone would hold a candle, doing their best to protect it from the wind, while chanting mournful psalms all along the way. Stops would be made, during which excerpts from the books of Matthew and John would be read. It is considered a blessing to pass below the canopy during these stops so people, especially the children, would tire the bearers who would have to lift the canopy to let them pass. After a change of bearers, the litany would continue until, after a full circle, it would return to the church.

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The faithful would quietly disperse, to prepare for the resurrection of Jesus the next day; unlike today’s muted and sorrowful tones, the resurrection is usually celebrated with as much noise as possible. I don’t know what the noisy hotheads will do this year, but I’m curious to find out.

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