Easter, no Easter
Major parts of the Christian world are celebrating Easter today. The Christian Orthodox countries will only follow suit in April. They commemorate the same events, but use a different calendar to decide on the appropriate dates. Taking the calendar issue out of the equasion, I am approaching some inhabitants of Timisoara to ask them how they will be celebrating Easter.
I soon find out that the West of Romania is not entirely free of Easter these days. Timisoara is home to a many Italians, Hungarians and Germans, most of whom are catholic, but the city also has protestant churches within its borders. George (30) remembers how he used to take part in the catholic Mass celebrations when he was younger. `I sometimes played `angel` in the catholic church near my house, together with a childhood friend who was catholic. The priest would give us a little money and we thought it was fun. In later years, my Easter habits changed. During my teenage years, my friends and I used the Easter Midnight celebration as an excuse to go somewhere and drink a lot. Together with Christmas night, it used to be the only evening of the year when it didn`t matter what time we got home. Nowadays, I still don`t celebrate Easter as a religious event, more of a cultural one.
`In the Orthodox Church, you can drop in at almost whatever time you like`
Irina (24, photo) tells me that Easter night is the most important part of the celebration: `Almost every Romanian goes to church and many people stay around until 2, 3 or even 4 in the morning. The Orthodox Church is not very strict about who comes in at what time. People come and go. There are no seats, or maybe a few for handicapped people, but attendants normally have to stand for all of the night. Many people await the distribution of the bread and wine, representing the body and the blood of Christ. It`s different from normal Sunday Masses in the way that we normally don`t have wine. When the distribution of light starts, an important regional priest comes to the church to light small candles from the big one. People take the small candles home and try to keep it lit for at least the rest of the night. There is usually a procession that takes the audience around the church three times. All parts of the ceremony are optional. Actually, people come and go as they please, just like they do during the normal Sunday services.`
`The Saturday night may be the most important service during Easter ? it is certainly not the only one. There are Holy Masses on every day and the churches are usually full throughout the entire Easter weekend. People divide their time between the table and the church, both of them usually in company of their relatives. The four days are long enough to also meet up with friends and share celebrations with them, but it is quite uncommon to meet outside the house or to have any of the meals in a restaurant. We keep that for the end-of-year celebrations, which have no religious connotation`, Irina explains.
Eggs and light
Alex (21) explains me that Easter is also the time for confessions, although these can already be done during the week that precedes Easter. `The priest will ask you which sins you have committed throughout the year, and he will tell you what you need to do to compensate for them. According to the rules, you are only allowed to receive the body and blood of Christ once you are free of sins.`
`Apart from the religious part, we also celebrate the arrival of springs. Boilt eggs are painted red by family mothers and we play a competition with the eggs. While knocking yours on someone else`s, you`re supposed to say: Jesus has risen, which will be replied by yes, he has. Our red eggs here in the South-West are not very exciting by the way. They are usually just plain red, while peasants in the North tend to transform them into art works, just like they do with the monasteries. The countryside is a perfect place to witness celebrations like these. City dwellers are already quite fanatic when it comes to celebrating Easter, but the countryside makes even more of an event out of it. Everything that has to do with religion takes a lot of time there. Weddings and funerals can seem to last forever and there are lots of rituals and expressions of art associated with the event. It`s not surprising to see so many people visiting family members in the countryside at this time of year. `
Silviu (21) tells that, in his perception, the orthodox Romanians are more fanatic about religion that the local Catholic community. `Maybe the phenomenon more cultural than straightforward religious, but the church has a lot of support from the population. Churches are refurbished with community money. It`s actually the population who insists that the local authorities spend money on churches, more so than the Church asking for money from the state or from the people.`
`Orthodox Christianity is more dramatic, more lively but at the same time less strict than the Catholics. The Romanians care a lot about blessings and prayers. It is very common to see people, young and old, make several cross signs when they pass a church, no matter whether they are walking or on a bus, in company or without. Actually, they are supposed to do so for every cross they see. It`s a sign of respect to the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and it is supposed to protect them from evil. And beating several crosses is of course better than just doing one, so some people start the process when they get a church in sight and only stop when they are way past it.`
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