Passion Week RitualsPassion Rituals­ – Eritrea Ministry Of Information – Eritrea Embassy Geneva, Switzerland


Palm branches, an embargo on kiss greetings, and distinctively named weekdays

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In the days leading up to Easter, rituals start with Hosanna (Palm Sunday), precisely held a week before Easter Sunday. It is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar and marks the beginning of the Holy Week, immediately preceding the week of events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Palm Sunday derives its name simply from the palm branches waived by the crowds of people and strewn in the path of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for the Passover, riding on a donkey. They shouted: ‘Hosanna!’ (Liberate us).

On Palm Sunday, people here in Eritrea are accustomed to crafting rings from palm leaves. In many churches and other parts of the world, congregants twist palms into the shape of a cross to commemorate the day or use other branches if palms are not easily accessible– in some parts of Europe, churchyards are strewn with branches and flowers. The holiday is often celebrated with a procession. Palm Sunday signifies the beginning of the last week of Lent — and the beginning of Holy Week.

And then we have H’mamat (the Passion or Suffering of Jesus Christ from the Last Supper until his Crucifixion). Many people abstain from worldly things like dancing and boozing. The days after Hosanna are a bit gloomy.

However, hamus tsgbo (Maundy Thursday) brightens things up. Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter, believed to be the day when Jesus celebrated his final Passover with His disciples. Most notably, that Passover meal was when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet in an extraordinary display of humility. He then commanded them to do the same for each other. In Eritrea, Maundy Thursday is traditionally celebrated by eating boiled legumes that are given to children and adults alike. One can eat as much as one likes.

And then comes Arbi Siklet (Good Friday). Some people wear Christ’s thorn, or Paliurus spina-christi, around their heads. Women and men go to the church and repeat Kyrie Eleison until four or five in the afternoon. Great and Holy Friday is observed as a strict fast. Christians are expected to abstain from all food and drink the entire day to the extent that their health permits.

In Eritrea, when Church services are over, mostly at six or seven in the afternoon, everyone goes home, gathers as a family, and breaks bread together. Later, after eating, the whole family is again together in the living room and has coffee while the little ones drink tea or juice. Do you know what the other days are called during Passion Week? Well, fear not; here is the answer: the day after Palm Sunday comes, Hold Monday; this marks Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, emphasizing the purity and sanctity of God’s house. Hold Monday is followed by Holy Tuesday, which signifies Jesus’ preparation of his disciples for what is to come. Wednesday is known as Spy Wednesday; on this particular day, Judas agreed to betray Jesus by bargaining with Sanhedrin; this was the turning point toward Jesus’ arrest.

So starting Sunday, you have Palm Sunday, Hold Monday, Holy Tuesday, Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.

Along the way, there are a few does and don’t during Passion Week; it is said that Priests don’t carry their crosses, and likewise, the faithful don’t kiss the Cross this week. The Cross’s honor and strength were revealed after the Crucifixion of the Lord and Savior. Another don’t is don’t kiss each other in greetings. Judas used a kiss to show the soldiers to arrest Christ. Therefore, he betrayed Jesus Christ with a kiss. This does not mean that those who do greet each other with a kiss are in sin, but it is said that it symbolizes that the peace will not last.

Finally, when Fasting is done humbly, it breaks the power of flesh and demons. It kills unbelief and brings answers to prayer because it is a significant key to hearing God’s voice. As our church Fathers described it, Fasting is a mother of prayer. It ultimately brings about purity of heart. As long as the flesh rules, purity of heart will not exist. Therefore, according to our fathers’ teaching, we must begin by rolling our bodily desires through Fasting to purify our hearts. Only then can we attain purity of heart, and when there is purity of heart, there is God’s blessing.

In brief, we fast to tune ourselves (minds) into God so as to obtain alignment with God, win our hearts and bring humility upon us, shape our spiritual focus and put ourselves in harmony with our powerful and loving God, determine our spiritual vision and win our souls to be close to Him, clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and reject gratifying the desires of the sinful nature.


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