A bit more than one week before Easter starts the holy week for the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, it starts on the Friday 9 days before Easter, where it is called ‘ending of fasting Friday.’ Oh wait, I should have mentioned first that the Coptic Church does a strict vegan diet fasting for 55 days before Easter, and that Friday, 9 days before Easter, it is not the actual end of the fasting, as there is still 9 days to go!
Ending of Fasting – not really – Friday
But this Friday, the ending of fasting Friday, marks the beginning of the “week of pain”, which is named like that because it was the last week in Jesus’ life before being crucified. During that week, if anyone dies, the church does not pray for them, so that is why the religious go to church on that Friday specifically, as the priest makes the death prayer on all attendees, just in case.
But the first real event of this week is on the Sunday before Easter, known as Palm Sunday. Which is a celebration of when Jesus went into Jerusalem, and the people welcomed him with Palm leaves in their hands. If you go to any church on the Saturday evening before Palm Sunday, you’ll find palm leaves being sold, ranging from just normal fresh palm leaves to ones that have been worked on, made into crosses and other shapes. It is worth taking a look at them, some of the products look really interesting!
On Palm Sunday, people take the palm leaves they have bought and go to church. This is one of the most crowded days at church in any given year (Only exceeded with the Sad Friday which will be mentioned soon.) Church on Palm Sunday usually starts around 7 am and lasts till at least 12 or 1 pm.
After the mass is over, that is when the real “week of pain” starts, the church is covered in black (from inside,) and if you have the musical ear and attend church before (and until) Palm Sunday, and again during the week of pain you will notice the difference in the music, much slower and sadder.
During that week and starting Sunday till Thursday, there is church every evening. Not a normal mass, but just a few prayers and reading parts of the bible that tells the story of what happened on that day in Jesus’ life.
Thursday, specifically called Maundy Thursday, or if to be translated from Arabic, it is called “Thursday of Promise.” It is the day of the last dinner, and the day Jesus gave his disciples the promise of the bread and wine Passover. It is also the day when he was betrayed by Judas. If you are ever in Egypt, don’t kiss anyone as means of saying hello on that Thursday, they would understand, but still it is a bad sign, as it’s the sign of betrayal by Judas to Jesus.
On that day too, during the mass, the crowds make a huge line and move forward towards the priest, shoes off, and the priest washes their feet. Not literally, because if he will do so to each one it would take ages, he has a bowl of water, and a wet cloth, and just passes it on the feet (even with socks on!) But it is just a sign of humbleness just like Jesus did that to his disciples (according to the bible.)
In the part two I explain the rest of that elongated week, talking about the following Friday and Saturday before the Sunday Easter itself, Easter day and the Egyptian “Easter Monday” when the whole country smells like rotten fish!