Trying to keep any semblance of a normal Easter is proving difficult
Balconies and verandas are expected to play an important role on Saturday night with the faithful trying to hear the message of the resurrection of Christ from the loudspeakers of nearby churches from home.
It will be just one obvious coronavirus-imposed change from a usual Easter with its extended family gatherings, packed churches, visits to villages and enjoyment of the usually warm, spring weather.
But this year, instructions were clear: stay at home. Both the president and the archbishop urged people to refrain from going to church.
“I know that this Easter will be different for all of us,” President Nicos Anastasiades said in a brief message on Thursday urging everyone to stay at home to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Archbishop Chrysostomos too called on the faithful to stay at home, reminding everyone that this was a temporary but necessary measure and that churches would be open and ready to receive them soon enough.
“We are living in peculiar times,” theologian Theodoros Kyriacou told the Cyprus Mail.
Reiterating the same message, he said people have to stay at home, to protect themselves and others but also avoid putting pressure on priests at churches who have to make sure no congregation attends their services. Some also have to deal with the “orders” by unruly bishops who have defiantly called on the faithful to attend mass.
“Hopefully, on Saturday evening, priests will turn on the loudspeakers’ volume on full so that people can hear the message of the resurrection from their balconies,” Kyriacou said, adding that is what he was planning to do.
According to Kyriacou there is also no point of bringing the ‘holy light’ this year from Jerusalem since there will be no congregation to receive it.
The holy light symbolises the resurrection of Jesus and is traditionally passed on to the faithful at around midnight on Easter Saturday before the message of the resurrection is heard in churches.
The archbishop said that this year he would not be making arrangements for the light to arrive from Jerusalem to the archbishopric, although the representative of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem to Cyprus, Metropolitan Vostron Timotheos said this week it was being flown over on a private jet. No information however was given as to where it would be distributed.
“Receiving the Holy Light has its symbolism but if there are no people in churches, I think it would be too much to bring it over,” Kyriacou said.
He added that people could light their own candles that day while listening to the church service from home.
The notion of trying to hear the service from their balconies or stand outside holding candles is proving a popular choice. Several groups on social media have called on people to do so in a bid to create a spiritual ambience but also mark this religious tradition in solidarity.
Niki Vasiliou said she is determined to observe the tradition by “standing in the back yard in the evening and try to listen to the service from the nearby church.”
She said she will also light her own candle since it will not be possible to receive the holy light this year.
“If I don’t fall asleep, I will go outside the balcony, and try to listen to the service. There’s a church nearby, I hear bells chime. I’m not sure if we can hear the sermon from there as well, but we will try,” said Marianna Athanasiou from Nicosia.
As for Easter Sunday, the traditional Easter lunch will go on as normal, minus several layers of relatives.
“We have already all the necessary for the Easter table,” Vasiliou mother of four said. Two of her children still live at home and will celebrate all together on that day.
“We will set the table in the garden, if the weather allows it.”
Others have always had alternative ways of spending Easter.
For Birgit, a vegetarian living with her family in Nicosia, Easter has always been an opportunity to take advantage of the spring weather and spend a couple of days outside town and enjoy the countryside rather than organise lavish feasts.
“What I’ve always liked about Easter is walking around nature and watch other people slave over their souvla,” she told the Cyprus Mail.
This year, however, with movement restrictions, travelling outside of town was not an option.
“I’m less happy this year, I won’t be able to move around as much, just around my neighbourhood and there’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” she said.
For Marcos Ioannou whose plans for his customary trip to the UK to celebrate Easter with his family have faltered due to the travel restrictions, the plan is to clean that day.
“I haven’t given it a thought. I will probably vacuum the living room and get rid of all the cat hairs,” he said.