Pilgrims celebrate Orthodox Easter in Amman
While Christians who follow the Western calendar celebrated Easter earlier this month, a party of pilgrims from Britain celebrated it last weekend. Their pilgrimage to Jordan focused on meeting and worshipping with the Christian communities as they celebrated Holy Week and Easter together. In Jordan, Catholic and Protestant Christians observe Easter on the same date as the Orthodox churches, which this year was 12 April.
“The pilgrimage provided us with opportunities to visit sites of religious or historical importance,” explained Fr Dominic Robinson SJ from Farm Street Jesuit Church, who was one of the leaders of the trip. “We also met some of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Jordan and found out more about work being done for refugees from neighbouring conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.”
Also leading the pilgrims was Father Philip Keogh, who had a ministry in Jordan for a number of years and is a fluent Arabic speaker. They were accompanied by Deacon Duncan Macpherson, the honorary president of Living Stones which organised the pilgrimage and has himself led many pilgrimage groups to the Middle East over more than 30 years.
Having started their visit at the Baptismal site at Mount Nebo and attended the Orthodox service of the Holy Unction at Madeba, pilgrims celebrated the Holy Thursday liturgy with members of the Syrian Orthodox community. They then visited the citadel and the Roman Theatre and Blue Mosque, before evening Mass with Latin Catholics in Amman.
Good Friday was celebrated at the exclusively Christian towns of Fuheis or Al Hussein, while the Melkite Cathedral in Amman was the venue for the Easter Vigil. On Easter Sunday itself, the pilgrims had the choice of celebrating the Resurrection of Our Lord at either the Anglican, Orthodox or Latin services in Zarka.
Easter Monday offered the opportunity for pilgrims to meet church leaders and members of the Middle East Council of Churches, as well as representatives from Caritas International. Some of the group then returned to the UK, while others stayed for a tour of Petra and other religious sites in Jordan.
Farm Street Church, where Fr Robinson is a member of the parish team, has a strong association with Christians in the Middle East. Their Aid for Syria project began last April with three aims: to pray for peace and reconciliation in Syria and the Middle East; to raise awareness of the humanitarian situation through information and events bringing together Middle Eastern Christians and those of other religions and none; and to raise funds for agencies working with refugees in the region.
“The work we are doing with displaced peoples in the Middle East must be rooted in Gospel values, “ says Fr Robinson, “in a commitment to respecting the dignity of each human being of whatever religion, ethnicity, background, and, amid the growing tensions in the region, fostering education, human flourishing, community integration, in families, in local communities, in society. These are enormous aims but they are those of the Gospel and for those working so courageously in the region they are both real and with prayer, support and a large heart ultimately achievable.”
Main photo: A liturgy at the Melkite Cathedral in Amman. Right: The Baptismal site at Mount Nebo (credit: Leslie Giltz)