Kalo Pascha! Christos anesti! Happy Easter! Christ is risen!
Saturday night, April 18. It’s Easter tomorrow in Greece, and the festivities are in high gear. We’re staying in the Athenian suburb of Pikermi, situated exactly half way between Athens and Marathon. Much of Marathon Road, just a block from where we are staying, is shut down at night so that the faithful can light their candles and walk on the road to their church. They did this last night, Friday night. Marathon Road has signals and is only two lanes, but people at night typically drive 60-75 mph. The speed limit is half that. Drag races are commonplace.
There’s much pageantry here—candles, light bulb displays on the road in the shape of candles and ribbons, busses with “Kalo Pascha” running on the teletype. People were out in the streets last night in Pikermi and Rafina, on Good Friday no less. Stores were open. Restaurants were packed. If the Greeks are this festive and happy on Good Friday, one wonders how they’ll treat Easter.
But today was different. Stores were closed, restaurants were closed. The candles that lit the way on Marathon Road were removed. The place was dead still, as though all were in mourning.
Then, at 11.30 pm, we went outside and walked down to Marathon Road. Scores of people were walking with unlit candles to the service, held at a little Orthodox church just a couple blocks from where we are staying. A little girl had set up a card table along the main drag, selling long, thin candles. One Euro apiece. We each bought one. By the time we got to the church, hundreds of people were standing outside. The service would last until 3 am. There is no regular Easter Sunday service, just this nighttime vigil. In the midst of the joyous season (which resembles the way Christmas used to be celebrated in the States), we hear thunderous boom! boom! boom! It’s been happening for the last several nights. We at first thought it was a big gun going off, and wondered if the Anarchists were trying to temper the positive attitude that surrounds them. But nobody reacted except for dogs, big and small, and cars with alarms.
We joined the crowds at the church. The tiny sanctuary was packed with folks inside. It could only hold maybe twenty or thirty people at one time; hundreds milled around in the courtyard outside the church. Young and old, all had long, thin, unlit candles. A microphone was hurriedly set up just outside the church entrance. A few minutes later the priest came out and continued his chanting. His voice grew hoarse, but he dutifully continued. At 11.55 pm, we could see people inside the church lighting candles. Then they came outside and lit others; one by one the candles were lit and the darkness began to dissipate. Then at precisely midnight…fireworks! They came from the tops of two buildings—one across the street and one about 100 feet from the church. The fireworks lit up the sky, thundered and boomed, and dazzled the children. The priest kept chanting, but his voice was drowned out by the pyro display. The fireworks went on and on. Ten minutes…fifteen minutes…twenty minutes. And they started precisely at midnight on Easter Sunday morning.
I couldn’t help but think that the fireworks must symbolize Christ’s resurrection from the grave. And as I was watching the show, I saw in it the explosive power, the sudden transformation of the night sky, the joy, and the conquest—all that the resurrection represents. I reflected on when fireworks were used in other countries. St. Sylvester Day in Germany (New Year’s eve) is one that I’ve witnessed, as is Independence Day in America. The Chinese celebrate The National Day of the People’s Republic on October 1, Mexicans on September 16 and May 5, the French on Bastille Day (July 14), while the Brits celebrate Guy Fawkes Day every November 7th—all with fireworks. But these all pale in significance to the resurrection of Christ. How remarkable it is to see a country celebrate the resurrection of Christ—and to do it this way! The Athens newspaper, Το Βημα, headlined its front page today with Ανασταση νεκρων—“he is risen from the dead.” From Easter until Pentecost, the Greek greeting changes from a mere γιασας or ‘hello’ to Χριστος ανεστη (‘Christ is risen’) to which one replies αληθως ανεστη (‘he is risen indeed’).
This is a good time to be here, and a good time to reflect on Jesus’ appointment at his resurrection as the ‘Son-of-God-in-power,’ as Paul said in Rom 1.4. Maybe I’ll light up a few Roman candles next Easter.