Brenna and I connected in the wide internet world, before having a chance to get to know each other better in two separate online writing groups. We met and hugged at the Festival of Faith and Writing last April, and it's been a treat to get to know her better. I'm sure you'll enjoy this evocative de(tale) she's written for Holy Week.
I don’t enter Holy Week without remembering. Each Good Friday I step on the carpet in our church, still bearing the resemblance to a warehouse, I see my feet walk down cobblestone streets and paved roads under the blanket of dark, illuminated by a thousand candles.
We were using what is called Terminal Leave, a way of saying my husband got to take a long vacation with all the time off he had saved during his years in the Navy. Some take it when they are done to receive a paycheck while looking for a civilian job, but we as were stationed in London we spent weeks backpacking through Greece, tracing the footsteps of Paul, which is how we found ourselves in Thessaloniki on a Good Friday eleven years ago.
I hadn’t noticed it was Easter weekend. The Greek Orthodox Easter was a different date than the one we planned to observe at our Anglican church. The first thing we noticed were the trucks. Earlier in the week as we travelled to Thessaloniki, we saw trucks full of sheep bleating out into the open air as they barreled down dirt roads. Just days later we would see those same sheep lining store windows as they hung upside down, skin removed, blood still dripping from their noses. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
Friday afternoon in Thessaloniki was like every other day we had spent in every other town. Small hotel rooms without the benefit of a toilet able to flush toilet paper and shops and restaurants and museums. More yogurt with honey. But this day, the streets began to clear out as the sun set, quite unusual as we observed most town squares didn’t become busy until then. We continued wandering the streets as the sky darkened and we found ourselves in the center of town surrounded by throngs of people, all crowded around a single building – a church.
We stretched our heads to see through the crowd and saw what appeared to be a funeral service. Someone was being honored and nearly all of Thessaloniki was in attendance. Incense was heavy in the air so much so you could taste it. Without warning we found ourselves pushed backwards as people left the church, carrying long hand poured beeswax candles 18 inches long. We watched as men dressed ornately in church garments came through the crowd, carrying a cross, and a large casket laden with fragrant flowers.
Throughout our Greek travels, we found our time in Thessaloniki the most difficult. In other towns English served us fine, and attempted Greek phrases were received with smiles and gratitude. But here we found difficulty communicating and even in instances where we heard people speaking English, when we came up to them they turned to Greek. I was looking forward to our next town in hopes of a better experience.
But this evening, as we found ourselves walking with the crowd through the streets of Thessaloniki in this funeral procession, a woman took a candle and pressed it into my hands. “Here. This is for you,” she said softly and with a smile. And so we followed along enveloped in the crowd, silent through the narrow streets, and past the harbor until we returned to the church. The priests brought the cross and casket back inside and as quickly as it all began, it ended. Everything much the same. Everything much different.
Brenna writes at Beautiful Things and is a regular contributor at The Mudroom ⋆ Making Room in the Mess. She believes in finding and celebrating the breath of God in the every day, and that sometimes a gentle, simple group of words is the best way to reflect the complex and bold beauty of the world. You can find her on Facebook where she talks about city living, radical hospitality, and raising fierce girls who love Jesus.