Last year, in the midst of the first lockdown, we spent a beautiful Anastasi, the midnight celebration of the resurrection, walking around Plaka in central Athens. The churches were shut to the public, but inside the services still carried on. After watching the fireworks over the city from a viewpoint near the top of the Acropolis, we wandered slowly around the empty streets, following our ears, trying to trace the mystical and ancient music awake on the breeze. We went from one church to another: through the small, open windows the music from the unaccompanied voices within floated out and settled on those of us standing outside. Few had ventured out into the gentle night, but those that we saw were taking their candles – kindled from the holy light and shared through the streets – home, to burn smoky crosses on the lintels above their doors. We too kept our candle alight for as long as possible, and only extinguished it when we went to bed, after eating our soup and cracking our red eggs. It was a night we will always remember, a night of tranquility and healing in an unsure and scary world.
I suspect that this year will probably be a little bit noisier. We have moved to a new flat a little further away from the historical centre, and it directly overlooks a church, with a courtyard to one side. With the acceleration of vaccinations and the gradual easing of restrictions – in reality if not in law – the streets are more alive, and an end to our seclusion and exclusion from each other is in sight. People are coming to the church as much to meet each other as to worship, even though they can’t get in. Officially.
As Easter here is late this year, and also perhaps because it is warmer and spring is more advanced, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower”, as Dylan Thomas put it, is evident everywhere. The pandemic cannot end too soon.
Easter is a time of resurrection, but this year I think regeneration is important too. Regeneration of muscle wasted from eating, drinking and sitting in front of the television. Regeneration of relationships left to lie fallow without the enervating influence of physical contact. Regeneration of habits lost: stopping in the street to talk to people, shopping, just going for coffee or drinks just because you feel like it. Regeneration of the real economy, rather than the somewhat surreal economy created in the meantime.
Am I speaking too soon? This is not a time to dampen the celebrations, or be miserable, or spoil the party. There will be time for that soon enough. But regeneration should not mean threatening yourself any further, like an athlete straining a muscle by working too hard, too soon after injury. Regeneration is necessary, and I expect it will be quite hard work and take some getting used to. But with regeneration comes redemption, and redemption is driven by hope. And, hope – apart from being the thing with feathers – is something uniquely human, something that keeps us all going. And, as they say here, hope dies last.
For those of you about to celebrate Easter, Καλό Πάσχα! Otherwise enjoy the other holidays for the beginning of May, not forgetting Golden Week in Japan. Let’s hope that this spring, a time of new life, rekindled energy and fresh hope for a better future delivers some of its promise, dispelling the long shadow and chill of COVID-19 as quickly as possible. It’s about time.