Holy Week: The Central Event that Defines the Palestinian Christian Experience

30 Mar

Holy Week is the quintessential Palestinian Christian experience. The vast majority of Christians relate to Holy Week in the abstract, however, for the Palestinian Christians it marks the intrinsic and central event that defines their history, character, and organic relationship to their faith and daily struggles. It is their unique and uninterrupted faith experience that has continued for more than 1,500 years. For Palestinians, Holy Week is an annual commemoration of faith, hope, and hardships that is observed and passed from mother to daughter and father to son.

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mai abdul rahman March 2021

Palestinians are the living stones of uninterrupted generations of Christians. They are linked in faith and lineage to the very first Christians. They are the Palestinian Jews who chose to follow Jesus, and to date continue to suffer the consequences of their conversion. For them, Holy Week is the central event that defines their ancestral connection to their faith. It marks their history and organic relationship to their faith and struggles. For them, Holy Week, is the most significant event that reaffirms their faith and commitment to remain faithful to Jesus’s just path.

Holy Week is the Central faith experience that connects Palestinian Christians to their past, present and future, and the quintessential cornerstone of their faith. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week and concludes on Easter Sunday.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem for his last meal with his friends and faced his deceivers and trial. Palestinians follow the same route that Jesus took to Jerusalem and contemplate their organic experience and unique narrative that connects them to the very first Christians and ancestors who lived through and witnessed the countless biblical accounts that speak of Jesus and the heavy cross he carried during his last Journey to Jerusalem. And they still carry.

During Holy week Palestinians retell the story of Jesus’ sabeel (Arabic for way or path) at the oldest standing churches in Christendom (Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin, Taibeh, Tabarieh, Arabe’, Beit Sahour, and Beit Jala). In supplication they link their struggles to the difficulties that Jesus Christ faced from birth until his last journey into Jerusalem. They will recount how Jesus entered their cherished and tortured Jerusalem greeted by a loving crowd who waved and covered his path with palm branches. They will also recount the joys their ancestors before them experienced, and pray for the peaceful end of the innumerable hardships they daily confront.

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This week, Palestinians with an Israeli permit will march on foot and waddle through Israel’s Separation Wall, checkpoints, and soldiers while carrying and waving their Palm fronds and olive branches.

On Good Friday, twenty Palestinian men will carry the heavy cross that Jesus carried alone. Twenty representatives of the same families will place the cross on the same position that their fathers before them placed on their shoulders. They will retrace Jesus’ sabeel along the cobble stoned Via Dolorosa, reflect and pray at each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross where Jesus stopped as depicted on the ancient walls of East Jerusalem. Some will carry and clutch the same small wooden cross their ancestors carried before them. Together they will march towards the Sanctuary of Flagellation and meander the narrow paths that commemorate the final steps of Jesus. Like their mothers before them, young Palestinian women will gently release white pigeons of peace at the end of the procession in honor of their beloved and tormented Jerusalem.

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On the eve of Holy Saturday, the Holy Sepulcher will spread the Holy Fire that has been kept lit for 1,500 years to nearby churches. Before the Israel’s military occupation, Palestinians on foot carried the Holy Fire to the multitude of churches in nearby Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

On Easter Sunday, few lucky Palestinians would celebrate Easter at one of the two holiest Christian sites that mark the birth of Jesus and his crucifixion (Bethlehem and East Jerusalem). Easter at the Church of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre is an entire day event devoted to memorializing Jesus’s message of peace and hope. However, most would be confined by Israel’s Separation Wall, check points and visa restrictions from entering East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In faith, they will pray for a just peace that honors the rights of the Palestinians and Israelis.

Holy Week for the Christians of Palestine is a shared faith experience of struggle and hope. It defines their unique historical Christian narrative. For them, Holy Week, is the most significant event that reaffirms their faith and commitment to remain faithful to Jesus’s just path.

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