Saturday, April 15, 2006

How Lent and Good Friday Work In Iraq

NOTE: Cross-posted on Fayrouz In Beaumont with a few modifications.


Lent starts the Monday before Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent is very important for Iraqi Christians. Parents make sure everyone in the family fasts until noon and abstains from eating meat and dairy products for the whole day.

Many people fast all season by abstaining from meat and/or dairy products. Assyrians are very strict and most of them follow this rule. The rest of Christian sectors follow this rule depending on how conservative the family is. I'm a light Lent person when it comes to fasting. So, I setup different rules each year. My older sister and I did fast one year for the whole Lent. That is because my mom was willing to make us something to eat. We both lost a lot of weight as mom wasn't willing to cook a separate meal for us and another one for rest of the family. My mom always reminds us of army commanders. She gives lots of instructions and rules inside and outside the house. You're cursed if you don't follow her rules. But, she brought up tough sons and daughters.

Good Friday is the biggest day of Lent in Iraq and rest of the Middle East where Christians live. I thought it was huge in Iraq until I spent a Good Friday in Jordan. Jordanian Roman Orthodox churches put you directly into the spirit of passion of the Christ. If you ever happen to be in Jordan during Good Friday, remember to watch the procession of the symbolic coffin outside the Roman Orthodox church in Lwaybda, Amman. I say "watch" because you won't find a seat anyway.

Back to Iraq. Chaldean Catholic churches start the service at 3 p.m. The sequence of events is the same as the Roman Catholic churches. So, I don't need to repeat the details. The major difference is visitation of the Cross and the symbolic coffin takes place at end of the service. Churches stay open until 9 p.m during peaceful times. It's the one day of the year that almost every Iraqi Christian, including the church non-goers, go to church. You better show up at church very early unless you're willing to stand on your feet for at least three hours. It's your choice.

One tradition we had, especially in Basra, was visiting more than one church after the service. I don't mean just a Chaldean Catholic church. But, the other sectors and vice versa. Now, you understand why they need to keep the churches open. Every church has Fairouz's Good Friday songsplaying in the background. In short, it's a magical day for Iraqi Christians.

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