Fr Emmanuel swung the triple-chain gold thurible with precision. He swung the censer back and forth in equal measure.
The movements were just enough for the white puffs of smoke to dance around the θυμιατήρι’s gold chains.
He then swung the thurible right to left and the smoke darted to the sides.
The burning incense filtered through the air and the sweet smell tickled my nostrils.
For a few moments I forgot the heat of my own breath trapped in my face mask: For a few moments more I forgot the blue disposable surgical mask’s chemical smell.
I closed my eyes and saw images of a Sunday service at the Holy Trinity, Greek Orthodox church, Αγία Τριάδα, in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of Richmond, before COVID-19 and restrictions.
A time when parishioners didn’t have to make a booking to attend the once-a-year commemoration to all the Greek Orthodox saints, The Sunday of All Saints, as was held.
A time when the faithful switched off their mobile phones at the church’s front door, not used them to scan a Quick Response(QR) code.
A time when believers bought candles before doing anything else, before having to retrieve pens to write their details on a paper check-in register.
A time when brethren recognised each other instantly, not tried to guess who was behind the mask.
A time when mourners freely attended a loved one’s memorial service, not RSVPed and e-mailed their details days in advance.
What would the departed Melpomeni, Vaseilia, Antigoni and Evterpi have made of all this? So many relatives and friends spanned their lives, but only a handful allowed to mourn their passing. So many chants to be sung for them, but only Fr Emmanuel Ioannidis and the chanters free to chant them clearly.
Or would they have focused on the other person in the church without a mask? That smiling baby boy in the front row on the left, clinging to his mother’s chest.
What a cute figure he cut.
There he was in his tan jacket and trousers with light brown coloured shoes to match. His chubby cheeks begging to be pinched: His wide eyes hungry to take in all the world. He looked at his father and his godfather holding his christening candle. He looked at all the adult faces and their masks.
The congregation looked to Fr Emmanuel for direction at the service’s end. He gave us COVID-safe instructions to queue to receive the holy bread. As we filed passed him, he gave us each two pieces of αντίδωρο
in a plastic snap seal, resealable bag. Some parishioners kissed his hand through their mask as he handed them the holy bread. We all then went outside to collect our bags of κόλυβα,
We opened our bag, ate the boiled wheat and remembered Melpomeni, Vaseilia, Antigoni and Evterpi.
“Αιώνια η μνήμη, Μελπομένη,Βασειλιά, Αντιγόνη και Ευτέρπη”.