Greek community set to celebrate their second Easter during the pandemic

    Parc-Extension’s Greek community will be once again celebrating Orthodox Easter under COVID-19 restrictions for the second year in a row.
    Celebrated over the weekend, the government has yet to announce any changes to the limits of people allowed in places of worship, complicating matters for those who want to attend Easter celebrations.
    Considered to be the most revered events in the Greek orthodox tradition and usually undertaken in a very communal way, many in Parc-Extension will need to celebrate differently this year.
    Biggest celebration of the year
    “Christmas is something for us too, but the resurrection of Christ, it’s the top,” said Reverend Father Nicolaos Papageorgiou of the Koimisis Tis Theotokou church on the corner of Saint-Roch and de L’Épée.
    “We have so many things to fix between the Saturday of Lazarus, resurrection to the Sunday of Easter, every day is something special to celebrate for the life of Jesus,” said Rev. Nicolaos.
    “After that, it is a big celebration for us to eat, to drink together and yes to celebrate together,” he said of how festivities would go usually.
    Nonetheless, he is very aware of the impediments the pandemic will again bring to celebrations this year. “Because of the COVID-19 it is a very big problem to us,” said Rev. Nicolaos.
    25 people maximum
    Remembering the sheer scale of previous Easter celebrations attended by thousands of people, he admits that the limit of 25 people will make it different.
    “To let people inside the church, only 25, I have to respect the law of government and to live like that,” said Rev. Nicolaos, underscoring the importance of the measure and adding that social distancing and mask-wearing was “very important.”
    With current restrictions for places of worship in Montreal, the church will only be allowed to accommodate 25 worshippers at a time on a rotating schedule. This is in addition to the 8 PM curfew which is still in place until Monday evening when it will be extended to 9:30 PM.
    Nonetheless, Rev. Nicolaos was happy that other Christian denominations got to celebrate Easter when limits were still at 250 people approximately one month ago. “Yes, I’m happy for that,” he said.
    Holy week
    Easter celebrations usually run from the end of April to the first week of May and are community events.
    Celebrations began on Palm Sunday on Apr. 25, followed by a week of celebrations commonly known as the “great” or “holy” week.
    On the following Thursday, an indoor service would usually be held to celebrate the Akathistos.
    This would then be followed by evening celebrations on Holy Friday, where the Epitafios, the cloth representing the body of Jesus, is taken out into the community followed by a procession of people with lit candles.
    It is then hoisted above the entrance of the church where worshippers pass underneath it.
    Saturday is the day of the resurrection, celebrated with a late evening service which culminates in the turning out of lights near midnight before the priest comes out with one lit candle and spreads the light, metaphorically representing the word of Christ.
    People would then leave the church carrying candles and singing hymns, namely Christós Anésti or Christ has risen.
    This culminates in a final Sunday morning service at the church followed by at-home easter celebrations comprising singing, dancing, roast lamb and drinks. Due to health restrictions, those celebrations will only be permitted between people of the same family bubble.
    Hope for the future
    Nonetheless, the Reverend Father was hopeful that things would get better as time moved on and that he and his congregation could get back to worshipping as they used to.
    “I hope to continue to give my service here [during] the years that God gave me life to,” he said.
    “We pray to God and the mother of Christ to stop, to finish that big problem with COVID-19,” said Rev. Nicolaos, adding that he looks forward to all Canadians being reunited after the pandemic.
    “I believe that Canada is a paradise and the center of that paradise is Montreal. I like Montreal,” he concluded, saying that he looks forward to when all Montrealers from all religions can unite again.

    Easter is one of the most important celebrations for worshippers in the Greek Orthodox religious tradition. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk