I would definitely not call myself one of the most devout Christians in the neighbourhood. I consider myself what someone might call a typical cultural Christian, occasionally attending mass, as probably most Greeks do, going to Church at Easter and Christmas and a few Sundays a year. But on Good Friday, amid the coronavirus lockdown measures, which has seen all Greek Orthodox Churches across the nation closed by government orders to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, I experienced something quite strange.
I decided to exit my house to get some supplies a little before 9 pm, the time during Easter Week when Churches would normally hold the procession of the Epitaph through the streets with chanting in a sombre atmosphere as hundreds of faithful would follow with candles in hand.
On my way home, after buying some coffee from a nearby mini market just in the nick of time before it closed, I passed by the Church of St. Demetrius near my neighbourhood. The sight was something I had never witnessed before in my life. It was sad, and eerie in a way. The facade the Church was lit, the Hymns of Good Friday “Ai yeneai pasai” (Αι γενεαί πάσαι) could be heard over the loudspeakers being sang by the priests locked inside, while a few people, probably 10-15 had gathered outside across the small plaza.
I dismounted my motorcycle and stood there for a few minutes contemplating in prayer. There were two people with their faces on the Church doors looking inside. Others from nearby balconies were following the liturgy with their lit candles.
Ten minutes later, I saw 4 uniformed police officers approach the people standing in the small plaza, informing them, as I surmised from a short distance, to disperse as they were not allowed to congregate. One of the officers came to me and told me I had to leave. I am not a devout Christian, but I blurted out: “Allow to finish my prayer and I will leave”. He left. Another officer arrived a couple of minutes later informing me I had to leave. “I know,” I responded. I left with a strange, unsettling feeling.
I got a tiny glimpse, albeit under different reasoning and circumstances, of what it might have been like living in places where the suppression of freedom of religious expression and congregation was a harsh reality of life…Maybe the Church leaders in Greece could have done a better job at reaching middle ground between public safety and the spiritual needs, and deep-rooted traditions of the Greek people.