The Many Faces of Easter
The tiny Greek village is dark when the church lights suddenly go out. They remain that way until midnight when a bearded priest emerges, a lighted candle in hand. “Come forth,” he urges, “and receive light from the unwaning light and glorify Christ, who is risen from the dead.” Worshipers huddle around him to light their candles from the flame and then they carry them home. There is great joy in the village. Easter has begun.
OF ALL the holy days of Christendom, none is considered more important than the spring festival called Easter. In other languages the festival is called pâques (French), pasqua (Italian), påske (Danish), paasch (Dutch), and pasg (Welsh). By whatever name you call it, this is a holiday dear to many. Australia’s Anglican Archbishop John Grindrod calls Easter “the centre of a Christian’s faith and the hingepoint of the whole civilisation that has grown around us.”
In the ancient city of Jerusalem, a series of processions have begun. On Good Friday, thousands of worshipers retrace the last steps of Jesus. One woman crawls the half-mile trek on her knees. Later the pilgrims visit the Holy Sepulcher—the traditional burial place of Jesus. Black-clad women anoint the burial slab with oil and weep over and kiss it. But all is not peaceful in this city, the name of which means “possession of twofold peace.” A thousand policemen are on hand to maintain order.
Easter has different faces in different parts of the world. For many, Easter is an intensely solemn occasion, a time for prayer, mass meetings, and pilgrimages to sacred sites.
For some Filipino men, Holy Week (called Mahal na Araw) is a time of self-inflicted pain. Though the church frowns on the practice, flagellation is still practiced by some who wish to make public atonement for their sins. Some of the womenfolk will make a pilgrimage to various shrines and wipe the images of Christ with a handkerchief. Later they will apply the handkerchief to themselves for healing.
In Guatemala, a Quiche Indian kneels in prayer over some ears of seed corn. Corn is the staple food of his people, and the traditional fertility rites coincide with the Easter Holy Week. He hopes Easter will bring him an abundant crop.
In Vatican City, nearly a quarter of a million people jam St. Peter’s Square to watch the pope preside over an outdoor Mass. At the tolling of the noon hour, the pope appears on the basilica balcony to give his annual Easter address—a condemnation of violations of human rights and the arms race.
On a quiet South African hill called Moria, a gathering is taking place that dwarfs the Vatican assemblage. Well over a million members of the Zionist Christian Church (an independent black church) have come. This has been called “possibly the biggest assembly of worshippers in Christendom.”
In many lands, though, Easter means feasting, rejoicing, and merriment!
In the United States and in Germany, children excitedly go to bed, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Easter hare. In the morning they will hunt for the beautifully colored eggs the mysterious bunny has supposedly left. Popular in the United States is the famous White House Egg Roll on Easter Monday. Thousands of children roll eggs down the beautiful lawn adorning the president’s home. The rolling supposedly symbolizes the rolling of the stone away from the tomb of Christ. But the children seem oblivious to this. All they know is that egg rolling is a lot of fun.
In other lands, Easter puts on yet another face—a time for superstitious activities.
Easter Eve in Finland is a night for farmers to be on the lookout for trolls—witchlike creatures who inflict all sorts of mayhem on their flocks and property. Actually, though, the trolls are believed to be jealous old women who take mischievous delight in bringing misfortune to prosperous neighbors. Easter week is the perfect time for their vandalism. Superstitious Finns believe that evil spirits abound on Good Friday and Easter Eve.
Austrian couples are told that running water is especially blessed on Easter. So they save this water for their wedding day. Before heading to church, they sprinkle each other with it. They hope it will bring good luck to their marriage.
At the tolling of the church bells Easter morning, Filipino parents will hold their small children by the head and lift them off the ground. They believe it will make their children grow tall.
Yes, Easter is many different things to people. Says a manager of a South African chocolate manufacturing company: “Easter presents an opportunity to make more profit.” (During the 1985 Easter season, his firm produced over five million candy eggs!) Even Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu businessmen there jump on the Easter bandwagon. Explained one Indian businessman who lives in South Africa: “Muslims and Hindus do not believe in Jesus, yet some of them promote Easter and will sell hot cross buns and Easter eggs.” Indeed, one Hindu store owner admitted: “Muslims and Hindus also buy Easter eggs.”
Recently, Easter has even taken on a political aspect, as an opportunity for political protest.
Brazilians have found a new Easter victim to thrash. Whereas in times past, an effigy of Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Christ, was beaten, youths now club effigies labeled “Mr. Inflation.”
Incredibly, though, all these diverse customs, traditions, and practices are believed to serve a common purpose—that of glorifying the resurrected Christ Jesus. But do they? And where do such customs come from in the first place?
[Picture on page 4]
The celebration at Moria
The Star, Johannesburg, S.A.