This year, Greeks gathered for the mournful Good Friday “Epitaphio” procession under slightly different conditions than usual due to coronavirus restrictions.
Perhaps one of the more radical changes to the ceremony was the time change. The time that the procession took place was earlier than other years, set by government guidelines to occur at 6:00 PM rather than much later in the evening.
Furthermore, as is to be expected at this point in the pandemic, individuals were expected to be socially distanced during the Good Friday proceedings.
When inside the church, there was a limit to the number of people allowed to participate, with one person allowed per 25 square meters (269 square feet). When outside of the church, where the majority of the Epitaphio procession occurs, this measure was loosened.
Outside of churches during the traditional commemoration of Christ, one person every 10 square meters (107 square feet) was allowed.
Throughout the whole procession, regardless of whether they were indoors or outdoors, people were required to wear two face masks instead the normally acceptable single mask.
The Good Friday tradition of Epitaphio
Good Friday is a profoundly mournful day in Greece which commemorates the Passion of Christ. A nationwide affair, it recalls the moments leading up to and including the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament of the Bible.
Even the most remote churches honor the tradition of the Epitaphios (Bier of Christ), creating a pious atmosphere full of tradition.
On Good Friday morning, the Epitaphios is decorated with spring flowers — mostly white, red, and purple — until it is entirely covered.
The Tomb is often sprinkled with flower petals and rosewater, decorated with candles and ceremonially censed as a mark of respect. Then the priest and faithful venerate the Epitaphios as the choir chants hymns, called the “Epitaphic Lamentation.”
The epitaph procession begins around the streets of the city, with bells ringing the funeral toll, commemorating the burial procession of Christ. Accompanying the solemn procession are the people of the congregation, who continually chant the Lamentations.
At the end of the procession, the Epitaphios is brought back to the church. Sometimes, after the clergy carry the Epitaphios in, they will stop just inside the entrance to the church, and hold the Epitaphios above the door, so that all who enter the church will pass under it.
The faithful continue to visit the tomb and venerate the Epitaphios throughout Great Saturday.
Resurrection service at 9:00 pm, in churchyards this year
According to the decision, the faithful will be permitted to celebrate the Resurrection service on Holy Saturday, May 1, at 9:00 PM on the grounds outside of churches — not inside.
The service is traditionally held just before midnight on Holy Saturday, on the eve of Easter Sunday, with worshippers packed together indoors, holding lit candles.
The move was made in order to prevent spread of the coronavirus inside of churches, as there is a reduced risk of viral transmission outdoors, and to avoid violating the country’s 9:00 PM curfew as much as possible.
Additionally, many services will be livestreamed for the faithful who are unable to attend.
Although conditions this year have had to be slightly different, the Epitaphio was still widely attended on Good Friday. Social distancing, masks and limited numbers aside, it’s hard to keep Greeks from coming together to participate in centuries-old Greek Easter traditions.