Yes, Astoria is big on processions. The biggest and most
spectacular processions of my experience have been in L'viv on Holy
Theophany and in Athens on Good Friday. Descriptions:
1) Holy Theophany in L'viv. From time immemorial, excluding the
recent unpleasantness (aka the Soviet period) it has been the custom on
Theophany to hold the Great Blessing of Waters in the large square around
City Hall. The square has four big fountains, one at each corner, so to
There is Divine Liturgy in every church on the morning of
Theophany, naturally. The last time I was there for this feast, the
Greek-Catholic Metropolitan Volodymyr served in Transfiguration Church,
which is the nearest to the square; one of the younger auxiliary bishops
served in Saint George's Cathedral and another bishop served in the large
church at the Studite Monastery; elsewhere the priests served. At the end
of the Divine Liturgy in each church the hierarch if there is one, the
clergy, the choirs and the faithful (with banners and so on ) make a
procession to the square around City Hall (the pastors, of course, know how
long the procession will take to walk from their particular church to City
Hall, and therefore they know at what time to begin the Divine Liturgy).
The Metropolitan and his procession from Transfiguration Church are the
last to arrive. Large platforms are erected for the occasion at each of the
Since at the time of writing the ecumenical situation in L'viv is a
bit tense, each of the four fountains is allocated to a different
ecclesiastical judicatory (which could lead to an amusing analysis, since
each fountain has a symbol, and none of those symbols have anything to do
with Christianity, but never mind): one, of course, for the
Greek-Catholics, one for the Moscow Patriarchate, one for the "Kiev
Patriarchate", and one for the "Ukrainian Autocephalous Church". Despite
the generally strained relations amongst these groups, the order of the
Great Blessing is agreed and calm: nobody starts until the Greek-Catholic
Metropolitan is ready. Each contingent holds the service simultaneously,
without abbreviations. The square is jammed with faithful, beyond capacity;
people are in all the windows of the shops and apartments around the
square, and in the streets leading into the square, and besides the
fountains there are great vats of water, crosses carved from ice, and so
forth. The singing is stupendous.
When the Precious Cross is immersed in the water, the Hutsuls blow
a loud blast on their trembyty, whereupon the crowd sings the Apolytkion.
The blessing of the crowds with the Holy Water is joyful chaos, with
priests (each accompanied by husky acolytes carrying large containers of
Holy Water) moving in all directions and the people surging forward to fill
their own containers and to drink some of the Holy Water. The processions
then go into reverse, so to speak, and return to the churches from which
they came, with the clergy blessing constantly along the streets.
Practical Note: L'viv has an atrocious climate, and it's bitter
cold in late January. Clergy taking part in this service normally see to it
that they are very warmly dressed, and then put on heavy, warm vestments as
well. An inconspicuous black fur hat under a klobuk is quite helpful. Those
who would like to have such processions in other northern districts might
keep this in mind.
2) Good Friday night in Athens. As anyone who has ever attended a
Greek church on Good Friday night anywhere knows, in Greek usage the
Funeral of Christ has become quite festive; here I describe only the
processions. The police, of course, know very well what is going to happen
and where and at what time, so they know when to block the secular traffic
and where they will need to direct processions that criss-cross. There is
no central rendezvous; each procession leaves its church, processes around
a number of streets (presumably determined by the clergy in consultation
with the police), and returns to its own church. The crowds are enormous,
beyond counting; for most churches in Athens this is by far the
best-attended service of the year.
According to the Ustav, the procession should chant the Trisagion.
It starts out that way, but very soon the music will switch to parts of the
Lamentations, or parts of the Canon, which most of the people know by heart
and will sing with enthusiasm. It is the custom in Athens that people leave
the electric lights on in their homes on this particular evening, so that
the processional routes are lit all along the streets; those who care to do
so will rush back to their apartments, open the windows, and throw perfume
and flowers on the Epitaphios as the processions pass.
Several times (usually four times) the procession stops,and the
clergy chant a short ectene (the kind that the Slavs might use at a
Moleben); otherwise the procession is continuous.
As I mentioned, in the city center where there are a great many
churches the processions criss-cross (I've seen on the TV news the next day
views taken by video-camera from the hill-top overlooking the city center;
it's amazing to see the patterns of light - since everyone has a candle -
crossing each other). In the district around Holy Trinity Church on
Akharnon the procession from Holy Trinity and the procession from Saint
Nicholas pass each other in the streets and children from each procession
enjoy throwing flowers at the Epitaphion in the other procession.
N.B. for those who are wondering why the crowds attending services
in Athens are larger on Good Friday than on Pascha, it's quite simple: on
Holy Saturday the population of Athens drops as though somebody had pulled
the plug; everyone tries to go home to his village. By midnight Athens
resembles a ghost town.
Apart from these, I've often enough been involved in processions in
Western Ukraine for patronal feast days, especially in villages. These
processions don't require much by way of description. In such villages
there is invariably a funeral procession as well, from the church to the
cemetery, regardless of the distance.
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