Firewalkers honor Saint Constantine in mystery-shrouded, centuries-old rituals

Firewalkers dance across a bed of burning coals in a ritual in honor of St. Constantine in the village of Lagkadas, near Thessaloniki, on May 22, 2023. [Giovanna Dell'Orto/AP Photo]

Sotirios Gkaintatzis danced across burning coals, his stomping bare feet raising sparks and puffs of smoke as he held aloft an icon of Saints Constantine and Helen.

Gkaintatzis is the leader of a group of "anastenaria" - the devotees of St. Constantine who celebrate these centuries-old rites in a smattering of small villages near Thessaloniki, in northeastern Greece.

Firewalking is the most spectacular and public of these annual rituals that include dancing, prayer, and shared meals in the konaki, a private dwelling where the icons are preserved for generations.

"Dancing and firewalking is like communicating with the saints," Gkaintatzis said through a translator, before leading the solemn ceremony in the middle of a residential street in Lagkadas. "It cannot be translated into words. It's all a matter of faith."

This year's festival carried extra...

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