Syria’s muted Easter celebration
In the recent unrest, Syria’s Christian population will be unable to celebrate Easter as they have for the last two millennia. Even in Aleppo – Syria’s second city, which remains strongly pro government – public gatherings are viewed as highly sensitive. Christians make up 4% to 6% of the country’s population, but the traditional Good Friday pilgrimage of seven churches – a ritual in the old Christian quarters – will not take place this year. This is in the interests of national security, considering that greatest instability tends to take place on Fridays, as people leave the mosque after morning prayer.
In addition, last Sunday saw the coincidence of Palm Sunday and Syrian Independence Day, celebrated on 17 March each year. Both events are a commemoration of triumphant liberation: the first fulfilling the prophecy of the Hebrew scriptures; the latter the emancipation from colonial rule.
“Unlike in the west where Christmas is the most celebrated event of the Christian calendar, in the Middle East greater prominence is given to Easter,” explains Ann Jeanette Søndbø, a specialist in Syrian theology. For the Syrian Orthodox – the oldest indigenous Christian community in Syria – she adds, “this is not some theatrical re-enactment. Rather, it is the immanent emotion of being party to Jesus’s arrival in the holy city”.
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