In Old Slavonic, the liturgical language of the eastern church, that means “Christ is Risen!” and it is the conventional greeting during the Easter season. The person being greeted responds “Voistinu voskrese!”, “he is indeed risen”. And then you do the French cheek-kissing thing. So…kiss, kiss, kiss. Happy Easter, everybody! Eastern greetings being appropriate in this case since the priest at the Nunciature, Jozsef, is Hungarian, though apparently part of the Latinate Hungarian Church instead of the Eastern Catholic one, or at least he does the Latin Mass for us.
Last night, I schlepped my way down to Ouaga 2000 through a crowd of Burkinabè going the other way, to a big soccer match, and got to the Apostolic Nunciature, where Father Jozsef was doing the Easter Vigil Mass for us Anglophones. We started outside around a big bonfire
which would have been a lot more fun if we were in the northern temperate zone in, say, Oregon, where, on March 26th, it is generally in the low single digits (centigrade) instead of the high 30’s. You can see that most folks are standing well back. But anyway, we lit the Easter candle (visible in the hands of the acolyte next to Fr. Josef) at the fire, then lit little candles ourselves from the Easter candle, and then trooped inside for the service.
The Easter candle went out a couple of times in the breeze from the air conditioners (ahhhh, air-conditioners!), which would have troubled my Iroquois ancestors, who had a tradition of re-lighting the fires in the houses at the beginning of the year from a sacred flame. Gods help you if the sacred flame went out. My great-grandfather was the last of our family to belong to that tradition: his white Presbyterian wife made him give the “False Face” mask to a museum, from whence, one hopes, it has been returned to the tribe under the provisions of the American law on Indian graves and artifacts. But I wonder, since the Iroquois were early and very effectively evangelized by Jesuits in the 17th and early 18th centuries, if there wasn’t a bit of syncretism in the Iroquois fire-lighting. The ceremony at the beginning of last night’s service certainly had a Joseph Campbell feel to it.
Anyway, off we went to welcome, in anticipation anyway, Jesus back to the world of the living. I read the Exultat, (didn’t sing it like the guy in the link) which is the prayer that traditionally begins the Easter Vigil service. Fr. Josef had chosen the long form, which goes on for about ten minutes; it talks about creation, passover, nights when some of the prophets got called, and the night Jesus died as well as this night, when he comes back. My voice was a little hoarse by the end; it’s still a little dusty these days. Next, there was a good half an hour of Old Testament readings, ranging from the (first) story of creation in Genesis to various prophetic writings believed by Christians for foreshadow various elements of Jesus’ life. I read the New Testament reading, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, all about how Jesus has died to sin so that we can live in him. One of my favorite bits of Paul, a guy whose work I am always a little suspicious of even though I go to a church named after him.
Nobody got baptized, but we renewed our baptismal promises and got sprinkled with holy water. Nobody audibly fizzed or sparked when sprinkled even though the place was full of Americans 😉 We blew out our candles, they turned on the lights, and had Mass. It was pretty fun even though I had to ride home through the exulting soccer fans – Burkina Faso defeated Uganda 1-0 to qualify for the African Nations Cup. They have hopes of going to the World Cup next year if they do well. And when I got home I discovered that my Oregon Ducks have been eliminated from the NCAA Men’s Basketball championships; they did get to the round of 8 first, though, so go Ducks!
Saturday night before Easter Sunday is a huge holiday in Haiti, and a pretty big deal here as well. In Haiti, they explain that since Jesus is God, and Jesus is dead from 3:00 pm on Good Friday until dawn on Sunday, that time is special for the loa, the spirits, since they have to be in charge while the big guy is off taking care of business in hell. So they make the most of it. There are strolling bands called rara that go around the neighborhoods like African griots getting free drinks and tips from homeowners – the first year I was there, I gave the rara guys a drink of rum and five or ten gourdes (a couple of bucks) each and apparently I was a good tipper because all my neighbors heard about my generosity and many saw fit to mention it to me afterwards (“never more than a few coins or you’ll never see the end of them!”) I did get to hear a lot of rara music, though. Here, no strolling bands of drunken horn-players and drummers, but concerts everywhere and bars jammed. I was feeling a bit under the weather with my sore throat so I had a little grog at my neighborhood maquis in honor of the occasion and then went to bed early. I’m going to brunch though in an hour or so, another North American Easter tradition.
(Byzantine icon of the Resurrection, from Byzantine Art Works.com)