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Holy Week: The Quintessential Palestinian Christian Experience

posted on: Apr 11, 2017

Roman Catholic kids hold branches and flowers during a mass marking the Palm Sunday at the Church of Santa Cathrina in the Church of the Nativity Compound in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on March 24, 2013. Palm Sunday marks the triumphant return of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem when a cheering crowd greeted him waving palm leaves, a week before his crucifixion. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL-SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)

By Mai Abdul Rahman

Palestinians are the living stones of uninterrupted generations of Christians that are linked in faith and lineage to the first Christians. Holy Week for the Christians of Palestine is the most significant living faith experience that connects them 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.  On Palm Sunday the Palestinians will follow the same path that Jesus took on his triumphant return to Jerusalem. Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode on a donkey as followers laid palm branches along his path. This week, Palestinians will march on foot and waddle through Israel’s Separation Wall, checkpoints, and soldiers while carrying and waving their Palm fronds and olive branches.

Palestinians will retell the story of Jesus’ sabeel (Arabic for just path), visit their churches, and attend candlelight services at some of the oldest standing churches in Christendom (Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Taibeh, Tabarieh, Arabe’, Beit Sahour, and Beit Jala). They will recount how Jesus entered Jerusalem greeted by a loving crowd who waved and covered his path with palm branches.

During Holy Week, Palestinians  will meditate 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 Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; and John 12:12-19). They will recount the hardships and the Joys their ancestors before them experienced, and pray for the peaceful end of the innumerable hardships they daily confront.

On Good Friday, they will retrace Jesus’ sabeel along the cobble stoned Via the Dolorosa, mark the Stations of the Cross that lead to his crucifixion, reflect and pray at each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross that are depicted on East Jerusalem’s ancient walls. While carrying and clutching their wooden crosses they will march towards the Sanctuary of Flagellation and meander the narrow paths that commemorate the final steps of Jesus. Some will gently release white pigeons of peace at the end of their procession to honor their beloved and tortured Jerusalem.

On the eve of Holy Saturday, the Holy Sepulcher will celebrate the Holy Fire, which will spread to every town, city and village across Palestine. For 1,200 years and until the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, delegates, clerics and laymen carried and passed the Holy Fire to neighboring Christian churches in Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.

On Easter Sunday, Palestinian Christians will attend Easter Sunday masses and services. At the two holiest Christian sites that mark the birth of Jesus and his crucifixion (Bethlehem and East Jerusalem) more than twenty separate masses will be conducted within 24 hours at their two holiest Churches- the Church of the Nativity and the Holy Sepluchre.

For the Christians of Palestine, Jesus’ sabeel path dictates every aspect of their Holy Week. Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are the organic manifestations of their faith, and directly connects them to their past, present and future. Faithful, they relentlessly practice non-violence while working for justice and peace for the People of the Holy Land- Palestinians and Israelis. During this Holy week, Christians of Palestine will live their faith by tracing Jesus’ sabeel, and again commit to remain faithful to his just path.