31 March 2010

Traditional Pacha Basket Food for the Paschal BreakFast

In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, after Great and Holy Friday's Divine Liturgy (or more often on the evening o Holy Saturday prior to Paschal Vespers), the Clergy and Faithful process out into the Church Courtyard for the Blessing of Paschal Food.

First of all, the Artos is blessed. The Artos (Greek Bread) is a loaf baked especially for the Paschal Services.

It is yet another symbol of the Risen Messiah, who is the Bread of Life, coming down from heaven (John 6:35ff.) The Artos is set on Analoy and place before the Holy Doors of the Altar throughout Bright Week.
The Artos, like the Resurrection Icon, is carried in the daily Paschal Processions of the Cross. On Bright Saturday (often transferred to Thomas Sunday, following the reading of a special prayer, it is broken into pieces and distributed to the Faithful.

In the courtyard, when all have taken the places, the Easter Baskets are blessed.

They contain all the food from which the Faithful have been abstaining during the period of the Great Fast in preparation to celebrate the Great Day.

They contain such Traditional items as:
  • Kielbasi (Polish Sausage) and Ham recalling to us the Heavenly Banquet, the proverbial Fatted Calf and the richness of God's great mercy.
  • Paska Cheese and butter (The Resurrection inaugurates the entrance into the Promised future Kingdom, of which Israel, the Promised land of Milk and Honey, is an historic antitype.
  • Eggs symbolize New Life in Christ, proclaiming the Good News of the Resurrection and Divine love for humanity.
  • - Horseradish mixed with blood red Beets, which colour and taste recall the bitterness of the Passion and humanity's enslavement to sin.
  • - Salt for the Faithful being the Salt of the Earth {Matthew 5:13}.
  • - Paska Breads, decorated with a Cross and the Paschal Kerygma. Christ Himself is the Bread of Life come down from the Heavens.
The Butter is often carved into the shape of a Byzantine Cross or a Lamb (recalling Christ, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world) and decorated in patterns depicting the Cross, using cloves, which are themselves Cross shaped.

A Candle is place in the Easter Basket, denoting the sacrality of the Festive Meal. A special cloth embroidered with "Christ is Risen!" and other Paschal symbols is used to cover the Basket.

On Pascha, Children (and anyone they can get to do it with them) play the game of Krashenky, where they hit each other's Easter Egg to see whose cracks first.

These foods are also eaten, as pious Orthodox Christians fast from all meat and dairy products before Pascha Easter) for Holy Week and the 40 days prior, known as the Great Lent.

30 March 2010

Cold Food Festival Starts on Easter

The traditional East Asian calendars divide a year into 24 solar terms (節氣). Qīngmíng (pīnyīn) or Seimei (rōmaji) (Chinese and Japanese: 清明; Korean: 청명; Vietnamese: Thanh minh; literally: "clear and bright") is the 5th solar term. It begins when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 15° and ends when it reaches the longitude of 30°. It more often refers in particular to the day when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 15°. In the Gregorian calendar, it usually begins around April 4 (April 5 East Asia time) and ends around April 20.

The Cold Food Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday celebrated for three consecutive days starting the day before the Qingming Festival in the Chinese Calendar, which falls on the 105th day after dongzhi (April 5 by the Gregorian calendar, except in leap years). It is celebrated in China as well as the nearby nations of Korea and Vietnam. At this time of year, the sky becomes clearer and buds sprout in the field. Farmers sow various seeds and supply water to their rice paddies.

Qing Ming Holiday is known by a number names in the English language:
  • All Souls Day (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic holiday, All Souls Day, of the same name)
  • Clear Bright Festival
  • Ancestors Day
  • Festival for Tending Graves
  • Grave Sweeping Day
  • Chinese Memorial Day
  • Tomb Sweeping Day
  • Spring Remembrance
Legend has it that Chong'er (重耳), a prince of Jin, endured many hardships while he fled around the warring states. Once, in order to help the prince who was tormented by hunger, Jiè Zhītuī(介之推 or Jiè Zǐtuī, 介子推) cut off the flesh from his thigh and offered it to the prince for sustenance.

Later, when Chong'er became Duke Wen of Jin (晉文公), he ordered a search for Jie Zhitui who had gone into hiding in the remote mountains with his mother. Jie Zhitui had no political ambitions and felt ashamed to work with his hypocritical fellows, hence refused invitation of the Duke. Chong'er ordered the mountains to be burned down in order to force Zhitui out of hiding. Unfortunately Zhitui did not give in and the fire ended up killing Zhitui and his mother.

Filled with remorse, Chong'er ordered that each year during these three days the setting of fire is forbidden – all food was to be consumed cold. Therefore the Festival is thus named. In Jiexiu City of the Shanxi Province, where Jie zhitui died, locals still remember this tradition clearly. But even for them the tradition of eating cold food is no longer actually practiced.

The Cold Food Festival started from the ancient tradition of setting fire by rubbing wood pieces together and the tradition of lighting new fires. Due to the change of seasons and the change in the type of wood available, the ancient practice was to change the type of fire-starter-wood used from season to season. Fire is lighted anew upon the start of each season. Before the new fire is officially started no one is allowed to light a fire. This was an important event during that time. The traditionally practiced activities during the Cold Food Festival includes the visitation of ancestral tombs, cock-fighting, playing on swings, beating out blankets (to freshen them), tug-of-war, etc. The practice of visitation of ancestral tombs is especially ancient.

For China the Spring Ancestral Worship used to be practiced during the time of the Cold Food Festival. It was later moved to coincide with the Qingming Festival. However in Korea, where the festival is called Hansik (hangul: 한식), the tradition of practicing Spring Ancestral Worship during the Cold Food Festival still remains.

In Vietnam, where it is called Tết Hàn Thực, the Cold Food Festival is celebrated by Vietnamese people in the northern part of the country on the third day of the third lunar month, but only marginally. People cook glutinous rice balls called bánh trôi on that day but the holiday's origins are largely forgotten, and the fire taboo is also largely ignored.

In Korea, it is called Hansik, literally meaning "cold food," and is a traditional Korean holiday. In the modern version of Hansik, people welcome the warm weather thawing the frozen lands. On this day, rites to worship ancestors are observed early in the morning, and the family visits their ancestors' tombs to tidy up.

Falling on the 105th day after the winter solstice (April 5 by the Gregorian calendar, except in leap years). At this time of year, the sky becomes clearer and buds sprout in the field. Farmers sow various seeds and supply water to their rice paddies. The custom of eating cold food on this day is believed to originate from a Chinese legend, but recently this custom has disappeared.

Since this day coincides with Arbor Day, public cemeteries are crowded with visitors planting trees around the tombs of their ancestors.

29 March 2010

Pascha: Orthodox Easter Too

Marina Zavialova's favorite Easter tradition will take place in the early hours of Sunday morning when Father Athanasy of the Russian Orthodox Church in Fairmount blesses her basket of meats and cheeses.

No chocolate bunnies in this Easter basket.

Since the Great Schism of 1054 split the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, the two have charted their holy days by different calendars, so their celebrations do not often take place on the same days.

But this year, the Eastern Orthodox Julian and Roman Catholic Gregorian calendars do coincide.

Like Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox consider Easter - Pascha - the most significant holy day of the year. But their food traditions are distinctive. So we asked Zavialova and three friends from the Russian Orthodox Church of Our Lady, the Joy of All Who Sorrow, at 20th and Brandywine Streets, to tell us about the foods that distinguish their celebration.

And, because geography so greatly influences cuisine, we also dished about dishes with Loula Bouikidis, a member of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral at Eighth and Locust Streets.

Zavialova, who came here just 18 months ago, and Bouikidis, who arrived 42 years ago as a 16-year-old bride, represent different waves of immigration. But newcomers have long enriched the city's culinary landscape.

In the early 1900s Philadelphia was the destination for scores of Eastern Orthodox immigrants from Ukraine, Poland, Serbia, Albania, Romania, Slovakia, and more. Most settled in Northern Liberties, where they built ornate domed churches and baked legendary Easter breads.

This week, crowds will converge on grocery stores and bakeries in Port Richmond, the Northeast, and South Philadelphia in search of culinary touchstones. And the variety of what they seek speaks to the many ways religion, ethnicity, and even geopolitics influence what we eat.

To Bouikidis, Easter bread is tsoureki, a round brioche-like loaf twisted in the shape of a crown and decorated with a crimson egg. Stalwarts on the Philadelphia restaurant scene, the Bouikidis family owns Pine Street Pizza, Effie's Greek Restaurant, and now Paul's, a "new American" BYO, all on the 1100 block of Pine Street. So as a pro, Loula Bouikidis' tsoureki will be on sale at St. George Cathedral now through April 15 for $5 and $10.

For Russian Orthodox families, Easter bread is kulich, a sweet bread baked using aluminum cans as molds and frosted with meringue to resemble a giant cupcake.

As a main dish on Easter, Greek families like Bouikidis' will serve roast leg of lamb with tzatziki, a yogurt-cucumber sauce (see recipes). Ukrainian Orthodox families will likely serve baked fresh ham.

But Zavialova and her friends, in their 30s and 40s, came here accustomed to food scarcity, so they stretch their meat, using it as a filling for pierogi and savory pies, stuffing it in cabbage, and blending it into kielbasa (mild, not spicy like the Polish style).

Even within the Greek community, there is culinary variety based on what part of Greece you are from, says Father Nektarios Cottros of St. George Cathedral.

"Maybe you'll have avgolemono, which is made with chicken, rice, and lemon, or mageritsa, which is the heart, lungs, liver, and innards of the lamb, cooked with an egg-lemon base. Other people prefer what we call fricassee, which is and egg-and-lemon-based soup with romaine lettuce wilted in along with pieces of lamb."

Baskets of food are blessed at many but not all Eastern Orthodox churches. At Zavialova's church the traditional Paschal Vigil starts at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, and it is 4 or 5 a.m. by the time the baskets are blessed and churchgoers sit down to a shared meal.

In Russia, extended families would be together, says Nadia Soloukhina, who emigrated here from St. Petersburg about a decade ago. But now many families are far apart, so the church is the center of social and religious life.

"Because the church is here, it is our family," says Yuliya Shatunova, who came here from Omsk in southwestern Siberia 11 years ago and works as an office manager.

"People bring their baskets, we open a few bottles of wine, and we share," says Shatunova, who is planning to roast a turkey for the occasion.

Church teachings add another layer to the edible mandate. During the 40-day Great Lent, she says, Eastern Orthodox do not eat meat or dairy. So these are the ingredients with which they mark the Resurrection.

One favorite is paskha, a delicious dessert cheese made in the shape of a pyramid. The mold embeds the phrase "Christ Is Risen" in the sides of the cheese, which is a mix of farmer's cheese with grated lemon rind, raisins, orange peel, almonds, or candied fruits. It tastes like cheesecake without the crust and Athanasy compares it favorably to hrutka, which was made long ago in the Carpathians.

"They would put the cheese in a kerchief" in the days before cheesecloth, he says, "and hang it from the trees until it molded into the pyramid shape."

Both paskha and kulich take days to prepare, says Elena Lukashenko, another of the Russian Orthodox Church women. So people tend to buy them at one of the shops in Northeast Philadelphia that serve the Eastern European community.

"Many years ago ladies didn't work," says Lukashenko, an accountant in her 40s. "They spent weeks making paskha and kulich. Today if you do make it yourself you take shortcuts with a mixer or a bread machine."

And then there are Easter eggs. Instead of Easter egg hunts, Eastern Orthodox people play an egg-cracking game in which two people face off, each with one hard-boiled egg, and try to crack the other's egg shell.

Ukrainians are famous for their pysanky, eggs hand-painted in intricate patterns. But most Eastern Orthodox people make solid red eggs to symbolize the blood of Christ.

Instead of buying dyes, Zavialova and her friends made a batch the natural way, getting purple from shredded red cabbage, red from the skins of red onion (beets also work), rich brown from brewed coffee, and a sunny yellow from a mix of dried turmeric and curry.

(At home, use 1/4 teaspoon of vinegar for each dozen eggs. Boil the onion skins or cabbage in a saucepan, add eggs and vinegar, and simmer for 20 minutes, leaving some eggs in longer for a deeper color.)

Zavialova says her 5-year-old, Regina, sees children in her kindergarten class with chocolate eggs and bunnies.

"She asks for them and, of course, I will let her have the chocolate. But I talk to her more about having kulich and dyed eggs."

Tzatziki (sauce for Roast Lamb)
Makes 5 servings

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 1 pound Greek yogurt
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 to 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice

1. Shred cucumber with a peeler, or in a food processor. Strain excess water for several hours or overnight.

2. Mix the cucumber with the yogurt. Add salt and pepper to taste and 1 to 2 cloves of minced garlic. Add olive oil and either vinegar or lemon juice.

3. Refrigerate before serving. Dip can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

- From Loula Bouikidis, Effie's Greek Restaurant, Phila.www.effiesrestaurant.com
Per serving: 153 calories, 4 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 11 grams fat, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 53 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Lamb Soup
Makes 6-8 servings

  • Lamb neck
  • Two whole lemons (divided use)
  • Splash of olive oil
  • 2 bunches scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of rice, uncooked
  • 2 eggs

1. Put lamb neck in a stockpot and cover with water. Using one half of a lemon, squeeze the juice over the meat and then drop the squeezed lemon half into the water.

2. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 11/2 to two hours, until the meat is tender but not reduced to pieces. Remove the neck gently and let it cool. Then remove the meat from the bone and discard the bone. Strain the cooking water, saving two cups.

3. In a fresh stockpot, heat the olive oil, add scallions and dill, and saute. Add the cooked meat, two cups of the strained cooking water, and 6 cups of fresh water.

4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Add one cup of rice and cook covered for 20 minutes until rice is cooked. Remove from heat.

5. In a separate bowl, make a lemon sauce: Whisk two eggs well, and add the juice of the remaining lemons. Scoop 1 to 2 cups of warm soup and add slowly to the egg and lemon mixture to temper the eggs. Then add the lemon mixture to the soup, stirring constantly. Soup may be refrigerated and reheated.

- From Loula Bouikidis, Effie's Greek Restaurant, Phila., www.effiesrestaurant.com
Per serving (based on 8): 112 calories, 3 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 5 grams fat, 53 milligrams cholesterol, 28 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.

Roast Lamb
Makes 5 servings

  • 6-pound leg of lamb
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • Juice of one whole lemon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash the meat and pat dry. Combine the salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic powder and rub that mixture on the lamb.

3. Put the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan lined with enough parchment paper to fold over the side of the pan, but do not cover. Pour the lemon juice over the lamb.

4. Cook at 350 degrees for about 2 to 21/2 hours, depending on your preference of doneness.

- From Loula Bouikidis, Effie's Greek Restaurant, Phila., www.effiesrestaurant.com
Per serving: 628 calories, 61 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace sugar, 40 grams fat, 206 milligrams cholesterol, 194 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Makes 130 cookies

  • 1/2 pound (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 4 ounces confectioners sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 to 5 cups flour

For egg wash:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Handful of sesame seeds (optional)

1. Combine the butter with both sugars and beat with a hand mixer about five minutes until blended. Add the eggs and beat two minutes. Add 1/4 cup milk and stir.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the lemon juice and baking soda. The mixture will bubble slightly. Pour this mixture into the butter, egg, and sugar mixture. Add vanilla.

3. Combine the baking powder with 4 cups of flour. Add to the batter and stir. If the dough is very sticky at this point, add some additional flour, a little at a time.

4. Let the dough rest for at least one hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

5. When you are ready to make the cookies, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dough may be used straight from the refrigerator or after 15 minutes.

6. Use an ice cream scoop to make balls of dough. Then shape each ball with your hands, rolling to form a twisted six-inch oblong or an S shape.

7. Put the cookies on a sheet pan lined with parchment and brush with an egg wash made of 2 egg yolks, a teaspoon of sugar, and a tablespoon of milk. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

8. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, until brown at the edges. Cool on a wire rack.

- From Loula Bouikidis, Effie's Greek Restaurant, Philadelphia www.effiesrestaurant.com
Per cookie: 41 calories, 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 2 grams fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 12 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

To order Easter bread from St. George Cathedral call 215-627-4389.

27 March 2010

The Entry into Jerusalem: Palm, Flowery, and Willow Sunday

Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast which always falls on the Sunday before Easter Sunday. The feast commemorates an event mentioned by all four Canonical Gospels Mark 11:1-11, Matthew 21:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19: the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in the days before his Passion. It is also called Passion Sunday or Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion.

In many Christian churches, Palm Sunday is marked by the distribution of palm leaves (often tied into crosses) to the assembled worshipers. The difficulty of procuring palms for that day's ceremonies in unfavorable climates for palms led to the substitution of boughs of box, yew, willow or other native trees. The Sunday was often designated by the names of these trees, as Yew Sunday or by the general term Branch Sunday.

According to the Gospels, before entering Jerusalem, Jesus was staying at Bethany and Bethphage, and the Gospel of John adds that he had dinner with Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha. While there, Jesus sent two disciples to the village over against them, in order to retrieve a donkey that had been tied up but never been ridden, and to say, if questioned, that the donkey was needed by the Lord but would be returned. Jesus then rode the donkey into Jerusalem, with the Synoptics adding that the disciples had first put their cloaks on it, so as to make it more comfortable. The Gospels go on to recount how Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and how the people there lay down their cloaks in front of him, and also lay down small branches of trees. The people sang part of Psalm 118 - ...Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father, David. ... (Psalms 118:25-26). Where this entry is supposed to have taken place is unspecified; some scholars argue that the Golden Gate is the likely location, since that was where it was believed the Jewish messiah would enter Jerusalem; other scholars think that an entrance to the south, which had stairs leading directly to the Temple, would be more likely (Kilgallen 210).

It is a common custom in many lands in the ancient Near East to cover, in some way, the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honour. The Hebrew Bible (2Kings 9:13) reports that Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was treated this way. Both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John report that people gave Jesus this form of honour. However, in the synoptics they are only reported as laying their garments and cut rushes on the street, whereas John more specifically mentions palm fronds. The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and of victory, in Jewish tradition, and is treated in other parts of the Bible as such (e.g. Leviticus 23:40 and Revelation 7:9). Because of this, the scene of the crowd greeting Jesus by waving palms and carpeting his path with them has given the Christian festival its name.

Christians often interpret a passage from Zechariah as a prophecy which was fulfilled by the Triumphal Entry:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
—Zechariah 9:9-10
Matthew quotes this passage from Zechariah when narrating the story of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem. His interpreting of the repetition in the Hebrew poetry as describing two different donkeys: gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey, is offered by some Biblical scholars as a reason for Matthew's unique description of Jesus riding both a donkey and its foal. However, there is an alternate explanation. The full text in Matthew regarding this issue is as follows:
"And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, 2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. 3 And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. 4 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. 6 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, 7 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon." (Matthew 21:1-7 KJV)
The Septuagint, in Zechariah9:9 says: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim it aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King is coming to thee, just, and a Saviour; he is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal." (Brenton) The wording is slightly different from the Hebrew text but one can reasonably interpret from the text that the Messiah, Jesus, will be riding on one of the animals, presumably the ass, or donkey, and that its colt, or foal, will be following behind its mother. To imagine that Jesus would be riding on both simultaneously would indeed present a strange image to mind. Hilary of Poitiers, in one of his sermons on this chapter of Matthew, is of the view that two animals, the ass and its colt, were brought to Jesus and, presumably, those animals were not separated when he rode into Jerusalem: "Two disciples are sent to the village to loosen the ass tied up with its colt and to bring them to him. And should someone ask them why they are doing that, they are to respond that the Lord needs the animals, which must be released to him without delay. From the previous sermons we remember that the two sons of Zebedee symbolize the double vocation of Israel. Therefore, now it is fitting to interpret the two disciples sent to release the ass and the colt as the subsequent double vocation of the Gentiles. It applies first of all to the Samaritans, who abandoned the law after their dissent and lived in a state of dependence and servitude. Yet it also applies to the rebellious and ferocious Gentiles. Therefore the two disciples are sent to loosen those who were bound and arrested by the bonds of error and ignorance."

A widespread Jewish belief states that the Mount of Olives would see the coming of the Messiah (see Josephus, Flavius, Bellum Judaicum, 11,13,5 and Antiquitates Judaicae, XX,8,6). This belief is based upon Zechariah 14:3-4:
Then shall the Lord go forth and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle./ And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east [...]
The triumphal entry and the palm branches, recall the celebration of Jewish liberation in 1 Maccabees 13:51:
On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews [led by Simon Maccabeus] entered it [the fortress of Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.

The great enemy in Jesus days on earth was the Roman army; and one can imagine that many Jews saw the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem as the advent of a revengeful Messiah who will wipe out the Romans from Holy Land.

But, then, there is the problem of the donkey. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a question asked by the Persian king Shevor: Why doesn't your Messiah come riding on a horse? If he lacks one, I'll be glad to provide him with one of my best! (Sanhedrin 98a). Indeed, why should the Messiah come on a donkey? The answer stays in the symbolism of the donkey, which in some Eastern traditions seems to be seen as an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Therefore, it was said that a king came riding upon a horse when he was bent on war and rode upon a donkey when he wanted to point out that he was coming in peace. Thus, the king riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey complies with the epithet gentle or lowly (Hebrew anî - poor, afflicted) and strongly implies the message of peace. This message of peace was always fundamental with Jesus, but it is not clear how well understood was it in those days. In fact, John declares: These things understood not His disciples at the first (12:16). It is highly probable that the public enthusiasm of the day saw the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem more like a declaration of war against Israel's enemies than a message of peace.

In the book Sanhedrin from the Babylonian Gemara it is written that the Messiah will appear as a poor man on a donkey only if the Jews are not found deserving of the salvation. Otherwise, the Messiah will ride on a horse. Since all humans are sinners, including Jews, it is obvious that the Messiah will always ride on a donkey. However, this is a Christian belief and not supported in Judaism (Jews, for example, do not believe in original sin).

Dates for Palm Sunday, 2009-2020
Year: Western Date/ Eastern Date

  • 2009 April 5 April 12
  • 2010 March 28
  • 2011 April 17
  • 2012 April 1 April 8
  • 2013 March 24 April 28
  • 2014 April 13
  • 2015 March 29 April 5
  • 2016 March 20 April 24
  • 2017 April 9
  • 2018 March 25 April 1
  • 2019 April 14 April 21
  • 2020 April 5 April 12

On the tenth of Nisan, according to the Mosaic Law, the lambs to be slaughtered at Passover were chosen. Because of the link of this to the Triumphal Entry, some new interpretations report that the event was not even on Sunday, because Nisan 10 would not be a Sunday if the Crucifixion occurred on Friday the fourteenth. This day in the year of the Passion saw Messiah presented as the sacrificial Lamb. It heralded his impending role as the Suffering Servant of Israel (Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12:10).

The first day of any Old Testament feast was always considered a Sabbath regardless of what day it fell on. The Feast of Unleavened Bread always begins on Nisan the 15th. Passover was celebrated the Evening before. If Nisan the 15th was a Saturday, then Preparation Day (Matthew 27:62) was Friday the 14th, or Good Friday. In any event, that would mean that the events of Palm Sunday actually occurred on Monday, being five days before (John 12:1-12).

If Nisan the 15th was a Friday, however, then Jesus was actually crucified on Thursday, Preparation Day, with Friday being a special Sabbath, a high holy day (John 19:31), and the events of Palm Sunday would be Nisan the 10th, late in the day, (Mark 11:11). Thus the days later that week would be Thursday, Preparation Day, Friday a special Sabbath followed by Saturday a regular Sabbath.

So if there is a relationship between the triumphal entry and the selection of the Pascal lamb on the tenth either Jesus was crucified on Thursday or the events of Palm Sunday happened on Monday. One final option is that Jesus was crucified on Friday the 15th of Nisan.

On Palm Sunday, in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as many Anglican churches, palm fronds (or in colder climates some kind of substitutes) are blessed with an aspergilium outside the church building (or in cold climates in the narthex when Easter falls early in the year) and a procession enters, singing, re-enacting the entry into Jerusalem. In most Lutheran churches and in many other Protestant churches, a similar practice is followed without the aspergilium.

The procession may include the normal liturgical procession of clergy and acolytes, the parish choir, the children of the parish or indeed the entire congregation as in the churches of the East. In Oriental Orthodox churches palm fronds are distributed at the front of the church at the sanctuary steps, in India the sanctuary itself having been strewn with marigolds, and the congregation processes through and outside the church. In some Lutheran churches, children are given palms, and then walk in procession around the inside of the church while the adults remain seated.

The palms are saved in many churches to be burned the following year as the source of ashes used in Ash Wednesday services. The Roman Catholic Church considers the palms to be sacramentals. The vestments for the day are deep scarlet red, the color of blood, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering the city who welcomed him to fulfill- his Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.

 Christian rites later continued in attenuated form in Eastern Orthodox, Western Catholic and Protestant rites.

In the Episcopal and many other Anglican churches, the day is nowadays officially called The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday; however, in practice it is usually termed "Palm Sunday" as in the historic Book of Common Prayer, by way of avoiding undue confusing with the penultimate Sunday of Lent in the traditional calendar, which was "Passion Sunday."

In the Church of Pakistan (a member of the Anglican Communion), on Palm Sunday the faithful carry palm branches into the church, as they sing Psalm 24.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church Palm Sunday is often called the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, it is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year, and is the beginning of Holy Week. The day before is known as Lazarus Saturday, and commemorates the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. Unlike the West, Palm Sunday is not considered to be a part of Lent, the Eastern Orthodox Great Fast ends on the Friday before. Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are considered to be a separate fasting period. On Lazarus Saturday believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday. The hangings and vestments in the church are changed to a festive color—in the Slavic tradition this is often green.

The Troparion of the Feast indicates that the resurrection of Lazarus is a prefiguration of Jesus' own Resurrection:
O Christ our God
When Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion,
Thou didst confirm the resurrection of the universe.
Wherefore, we like children,
carry the banner of triumph and victory,
and we cry to Thee, O Conqueror of Death,
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that cometh
in the Name of the Lord.
In the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Catholic Church, and Ruthenian Catholic Church, the custom developed of using pussy willow instead of palm fronds because the latter are not readily available that far north. There is no canonical requirement as to what kind of branches must be used, so some Orthodox believers use olive branches. Whatever the kind, these branches are blessed and distributed together with candles either during the All-Night Vigil on the Eve of the Feast (Saturday night), or before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. The Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy commemorates the "Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem", and so the meaningfulness of this moment is punctuated on Palm Sunday as everyone stands holding their branches and lit candles. The faithful take these branches and candles home with them after the service, and keep them in their icon corner as an evloghia (blessing).

In Russia donkey walk processions took place in different cities, but most important in Novgorod and, since 1558 until 1693, in Moscow. It was prominently featured in testimonies by foreign witnesses and mentioned in contemporary Western maps of the city. The Patriarch of Moscow, representing Christ, rode on a "donkey" (actually a horse draped in white cloth); the Tsar of Russia humbly led the procession on foot. Originally Moscow processions began in Kremlin and terminated at Trinity Church, now known as Saint Basil's Cathedral, but in 1658 Patriarch Nikon reversed the order of procession. Peter I, as a part of his nationalisation of the church, terminated the custom; it has been occasionally recreated in the 21st century.

It is customary in many churches for the worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. In parts of the world where this has historically been impractical substitute traditions have arisen. Besides Pussy Willows, flowers are often used.

In Jordan, Palm Sunday is perhaps the best attended service in the Christian Calendar, among the Orthodox, Catholic (Latin rite and Eastern rite), and Anglican Churches, perhaps because it is a notably family occasion. On this day children will attend church with branches from olive and palm trees. Also there will be carefully woven crosses and other symbols made from palm fronds and roses. There will normally be a procession at the beginning of the service and at some point the priest will take an olive branch and splash holy water on the faithful.

In Latvia, Palm Sunday is called "Pussy Willow Sunday," and pussy willows - symbolizing new life - and blessed and distributed to the faithful [1]. Children are often woken that morning with ritualistic swats of a willow branch. People also catch each other and spank each other with the branches.

In the South Indian state of Kerala, (and in Indian Orthodox congregations elsewhere in India and throughout the West) flowers are strewn about into the sanctuary on Palm Sunday during the reading of the Gospel at the words uttered by the crowd welcoming Jesus, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who is come and is to come in the name of the Lord God." These words are read to the congregation thrice. The congregation then repeats, "Hosanna!" and the flowers are scattered. This echoes pre-Christian Hindu celebrations in which flowers are strewn on festive occasions; however this also echoes the honour shown to Jesus upon his entry into Jerusalem. Indian Orthodoxy traces its roots to the arrival in India of St. Thomas the Apostle in AD 52 (according to tradition) and his evangelism among both the Brahmans of the Malabar Coast and the ancient Jewish community there. Its rites and ceremonies are both Hindu and Jewish as well as Levantine Christian in origin.

In Elx, Spain, the location of the biggest palm grove in Europe, there is a tradition of tying and covering palm leaves to whiten them away from sunlight and then drying and braiding them in elaborate shapes.
A Spanish rhyming proverb states: Domingo de Ramos, quien no estrena algo, se le caen las manos ("On Palm Sunday, the hands drop off of those who fail to wear something new").

All the parishes of Malta and Gozo on Palm Sunday (in Maltese Ħadd il-Palm) bless the palm leaves and the olive leaves. Those parishes that have the statues of Good Friday bless the olive tree that they put on the statues of Jesus prays in the Olive Garden (Ġesù fl-Ort) and the Betrayal of Judas (il-Bewsa ta' Ġuda). Also many people take a small branch of olive to their home because say that the blessed olive branch keeps away disease and the evil eye (l-għajn ħażina or is-seħta).

In the Saxon regions of the Netherlands, crosses are decorated with candy and bread, made in the form of a rooster. In the diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden a great procession with oil lamps is held the night before Palm Sunday in honour of the Sorrowful Mother of Warfhuizen.

Many Polish towns and villages (the best known are Lipnica Murowana in Małopolska and Łyse in Podlasie) organize artificial palm competitions. The biggest of those reach above 30 meters in length; for example, the highest palm in 2008 had 33.39 meters.

In Romania Palm Sunday is known as Duminica Floriilor.

In Bulgaria Palm Sunday is known as Tsvetnitsa. People with flower-related names, (for example Tzviatko, Margarita, Lilia, Violeta, Yavor, Zdravko, Zjumbjul, Nevena, Temenuzhka, etc.) celebrate this day as their name day.

In the Philippines, there are some places where a re-enactment of Jesus' triumphal entry occurs. The priest rides a horse and is surrounded by the congregation, bearing palms. Sometimes women spread large cloths or aprons along the procession route. Palm branches, called palaspas, are taken home after the Mass and are hung beside, on or above doorways and windows.

After the blessing of the palm branches, the people put the palm branches in front of their house. Although the real objective of placing the leaves in front of houses is to welcome Jesus Christ, some Filipinos say that the palm leaves turn away evil spirits.

In Finland kids dress up as Easter witches and go door to door in neighborhoods for coins and candy. It is an old Karelian custom called "Virpominen".

24 March 2010

Eid al-Adha

Eid al-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى‎ ‘Īdu l-’Aḍḥā) "Festival of Sacrifice" or "Greater Eid" is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God, but instead was able to sacrifice a ram (although God asked for the sacrifice of a lamb, which later was done by sacrificing his own Son, the Lamb of God, Jesus). Eid is also about spending time with family and friends, sacrifice, and thanksgiving for being able to afford food and housing. In traditional or agrarian settings, each family would sacrifice a domestic animal, such as a sheep, goat, cow, or camel, by slaughter (though some contemporary Muslims do not sacrifice an animal as part of their observance, it is still a very popular tradition, even in Muslim communities in Europe). The meat would then be divided into three equal parts to be distributed to others. The family eats one third, another third is given to other relatives, friends or neighbours, and the other third is given to the poor as a gift.

Eid al-Adha is the latter of two Eid festivals celebrated by Muslims, whose basis comes from the Quran. Like Eid ul-Fitr, Eid al-Adha begins with a short prayer followed by a sermon (khuṭba).

Eid al-Adha is celebrated annually on the 10th day of the month of Dhul Hijja (ذو الحجة) of the lunar Islamic calendar. The festivities last for three days or more depending on the country. Eid al-Adha celebrations start after the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims worldwide, descend from Mount Arafat. The date is approximately 70 days after the end of the month of Ramadan.

The Arabic term "Festival of Sacrifice", ‘Īd ul-’Aḍḥā, was borrowed as a unit into Indic languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati and Bengali and Austronesian languages such as Malay and Indonesian.

Another Arabic word for "sacrifice" is (Arabic: قربان‎ Qurbān), which is used in Dari Persian - Afghanistan and Iranian dialect of Persian as Eyde Ghorbân (Persian: عید قربان), and in Tajik Persian as Иди Қурбон (Idi Qurbon), into Kazakh as Құрбан айт (Qurban ayt), into Uyghur as Qurban Heyit, and also into various Indic languages. Other languages combined the Arabic word qurbān with local terms for "festival", as in Kurdish (Cejna Qurbanê), Pashto (Kurbaneyy Akhtar), Chinese (Chinese: 古尔邦节 Gúěrbāng Jié), Malay and Indonesian (Hari Raya Korban, Qurbani), and Turkish (Turkish: Kurban Bayramı). The Turkish term was later used in other languages such as Azeri (Qurban Bayramı), Tatar (Qorban Bäyräme), Bosnian and Croatian (Kurban-bajram), Serbian (Курбан бајрам), Russian (Курбан байрам).

Another Arabic name, ‘Īd ul-Kabīr (Arabic: عيد الكبير‎ `Īd al-Kabīr), meaning "Greater Eid/Festival" (the "Lesser Eid" being Eid al-Fitr), is used in Yemen, Syria, and North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt). The term was borrowed directly into French as Aïd el-Kebir. Translations of "Big Eid" or "Greater Eid" are used in Pashto لوی اختر Loy Akhtar, Kashmiri Baed Eid, Hindi and Urdu Baṛā Īd, Malayalam Bali Perunnal, and Tamil Peru Nāl.

Another name refers to the fact that the holiday occurs after the culmination of the Hajj (حج), or pilgrimage to Mecca (Makka). Such names are used in Malay and Indonesian (Hari Raya Haji "Hajj celebration day", Lebaran Haji), and in Tamil Hajji Peru Nāl.

In Urdu-speaking areas, the festival is also called بقرعید Baqra Īd or Baqrī Īd, stemming either from the Arabic baqarah "heifer" or the Urdu word baqrī for "goat", as cows and goats are among the traditionally sacrificed animals. That term was also borrowed into other languages, such as Tamil Bakr Eid Peru Nāl.
Other local names include 宰牲节 Zǎishēng Jié ("Slaughter-livestock Festival") in Chinese, Tfaska Tamoqqart in the Berber language of Jerba, Tabaski or Tobaski in West African languages, Babbar Sallah in Nigerian languages, and ciida gawraca in Somali.

Eid-al-Adha has other popular names across the Muslim world. The name is often simply translated into the local language, such as English Festival of Sacrifice, German Opferfest, Dutch Offerfeest, Romanian Sărbătoarea Sacrificiului and Hungarian Áldozati ünnep.

Four thousand years ago, the valley of Mecca was a dry and uninhabited place. According to Islamic history, the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) was instructed to bring Hajar and their child Ismael to Arabia from the land of Palestine by God's command.

As Ibrahim was ready to return to Palestine, Hajar asked him, "Who ordered you to leave us here"? When Ibrahim replied: "Allah" (God), Hajar said, "then Allah will not forget us; you can go". Although Ibrahim had left a large quantity of food and water with Hajar and Ismael, the supplies quickly ran out and within a few days the two were suffering from hunger and dehydration.

According to the story, a desperate Hajar ran up and down between two hills called Safa and Marwa seven times, trying to find water. Finally, she collapsed beside her baby Ismael and prayed to Allah for deliverance. Ismael struck his foot on the ground, causing a spring of water to gush forth from the earth. Other accounts have the angel Jibril (Gabriel) striking the earth and causing the spring to flow. With this secure water supply, they were not only able to provide for their own needs, but were also able to trade water with passing nomads for food and supplies. When the Prophet Ibrahim returned from Palestine to check on his family, he was amazed to see them running a profitable well.

The Prophet Ibrahim was told by God to build a shrine dedicated to him adjacent to Hajar's well (the Zamzam Well). Ibrahim and Ismael constructed a small stone structure—the Kaaba—which was to be the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in Allah. As the years passed, Ismael was blessed with Prophethood and gave the nomads of the desert his message of surrender to Allah. After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving city and a major center for trade, thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zamzam.

One of the main trials of Prophet Ibrahim's life was to face the command of Allah to devote his dearest possession, his only son. Upon hearing this command, he prepared to submit to Allah's will. During this preparation, when Satan tempted Prophet Ibrahim and his family, Hajar and Ismael drove Satan away by throwing pebbles at him. To remember this rejection of Satan, stones are thrown during Hajj.

At the time of sacrifice, Ibrahim discovered a sheep died instead of Ismail, whom he hacked through neck. When Ibrahim was fully prepared to complete the sacrifice, Allah revealed to him that his "sacrifice" had already been fulfilled. Ibrahim had shown that his love for his Lord superseded all others: that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dear to him in order to submit to God. Muslims commemorate this superior act of sacrifice during Eid al-Adha.

The Takbir is recited from the dawn of the tenth of Dhu al-Hijjah to the thirteenth of it. The Takbir consists of:
Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar الله أكبر الله أكبر الله أكبر
lā ilāha illā Allāh لا إله إلا الله
Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar الله أكبر الله أكبر
wa li-illāhil-ḥamd ولله الحمد
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest,
There is no deity but Allah
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest
and to Allah goes all praise
Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar الله أكبر الله أكبر
lā ilāha illā Allāh لا إله إلا الله
wa Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar والله أكبر الله أكبر
wa li-illāhil-ḥamd ولله الحمد
Alḥamdulillāh `alā mā hadānā, wa lahul-shukru `ala mā awlānā الحمدلله على ما هدانا و له الشكر على ما اولانا
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest,
There is no deity but Allah
and Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest
and to Allah goes all praise, (We) sing the praises of Allah because He has shown us the Right Path. (We) gratefully thank Him because He takes care of us and looks after our interests.
Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar الله أكبر الله أكبر الله أكبر
lā ilāha illā Allāh لا إله إلا الله
Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar الله أكبر الله أكبر
wa li-illāhil-ḥamd ولله الحمد
Allāhu akbar kabīra, wal ḥamdu lillāhi kathīra, wa subḥāna Allāhi bukratan wa aṣīlā الله أكبر كبيرا والحمد لله كثيرا وسبحان الله بكرة وأصيلا
lā ilāha illā Allāh waḥdah(i) لا اله إلا الله وحده
Ṣadaqa wa`dah, wa naṣara abdah, wa 'a`azza jundahu wa ḥazama al-aḥzaba wahdah صدق وعده ونصر عبده وأعز جنده وهزم الأحزاب وحده
lā ilāha illā Allāh لا إله إلا الله
walā na`budu illā iyyāh ولا نعبد إلا إياه
Mukhliṣīn lahu ud-dīn wa law kariha al kāfirūn مخلصين له الدين ولو كره الكافرون
Allāhumma ṣallī `alā Sayyidinā Muḥammad, wa āla Sayyidinā Muḥammad, wa 'alā aṣḥabi Sayyidinā Muḥammad, wa `alā anṣāri Sayyidinā Muḥammad, wa `alā azwāji Sayyidinā Muḥammad, wa ala ḏurriyyati Sayyidinā Muḥammadin wa sallim taslīman kathīra اللهم صل على سيدنا محمد وعلى آل سيدنا محمد وعلى أصحاب سيدنا محمد وعلى أنصار سيدنا محمد وعلى أزواج سيدنا محمد وعلى ذرية سيدنا محمد وسلم تسليما كثيرا
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest,
There is no deity but Allah
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest
and to Allah goes all praise
Allah is the Greatest, all Praise is due to Him, And Glory to Allah, eventide and in the morning
There is no god, but Allah the Unique
He has fulfilled His Promise, and made Victorious His worshipper, and made Mighty His soldiers and defeated the confederates
There is no deity but Allah
He alone we worship
With sincere and exclusive devotion, even though the infidels hate it
O Allah, have Mercy on our Prophet Muhammad, and on the family of our Prophet Muhammad, and on the Companions of our Prophet Muhammad, and on the Helpers of our Prophet Muhammad, and on the wives of our Prophet Muhammad, and on the offspring of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW's), and Bestow upon them much peace
Men, women, and children are expected to dress in their finest clothing to perform Eid prayer (ṣalātu l-`Īdi) in a large congregation is an open area or mosque. Muslims who can afford to do so sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually sheep, but also camels, cows and goats) as a symbol of Ibrahim's sacrifice. The sacrificed animals, called uḍiyyah (Arabic: أضحية‎, also known as "al-qurbāni"), have to meet certain age and quality standards or else the animal is considered an unacceptable sacrifice. Generally, sacrificial animals must be at least one year of age.

The regular charitable practices of the Muslim community are demonstrated during Eid al-Adha by the concerted effort to see that no impoverished person is left without sacrificial food during these days.
During Eid al-Adha, distributing meat amongst the people, chanting Takbir out loud before the Eid prayer on the first day, and after prayers throughout the four days of Eid are considered essential parts of the festival. (See Takbir in "Traditions and practices" of Eid el-Fitr.) In some countries, families that do not own livestock can make a contribution to a charity that will provide meat to those who are in need.

While Eid al-Adha is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year since the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar. The lunar calendar is approximately eleven days shorter than the solar calendar. Each year, Eid al-Adha (like other Islamic holidays) falls on one of two different Gregorian dates in different parts of the world, due to the fact that the boundary of crescent visibility is different from the International date line.

17 March 2010

Dragon Raises His Head on the Long Tai Tou Festival

Longtaitou Festival (simplified Chinese: 龙抬头; traditional Chinese: 龍抬頭; pinyin: lóng táitóu), also known as the Eryueer Festival(二月二), is a traditional Chinese festival held on the second day of the second month of the Chinese calendar. The festival is a reflection of the ancient agrarian Chinese culture. In the tradition of Chinese culture, the dragon is believed to be the king of all insects and at same time. It is also believed to be in charge of bringing rains, and both of these are important factors in ancient agricultural society. It is called "Dragon rising its head" (Long Tai Tou, 龙抬头) because the dragon was traditionally regarded in China as the deity in charge of rain, an important factor in ancient agriculture. It is sometimes also simply called "2 Month 2", (Er Yue Er, 二月二) for short. Longtaitou Festival is different from Zhonghe Festival for the latter was an official festival and holiday in the Tang and Song Dynasties, and it was celebrated on the first day of the second month of the Chinese calendar.

Longtaitou Festival is celebrated around the time of Jingzhe, one of the 24 solar terms (節氣). The phrase Jing Zhe (驚蟄) has the meaning of awakening of the hibernated (implying insects). Jing (驚) is startling, and Zhe (蟄) is hibernated (insects). This is the time during which the hibernating insects begun to wake up at the beginning of early spring, which is often accompanied by the arrival of the first rains, meaning the weather is getting warm. Longtaitou Festival is an important worship ritual of wishing for good harvest in the coming months. In addition to paying respect to Dragon King, was often paid to Tu Di Gongtoo and wishes are often made at the temples for Tu Di Gong. Another ancient practice to celebrate Longtaitou Festival was to get rid of insect pests in homes via fumigation by burning various herbs with recognized insect repellent effects.

Today, Longtaitou Festival is celebrated in various ways, most of which are still identical to those practiced in the ancient times, including getting a haircut, eating Chinese pancakes (春饼) and noodles. Perfume bags filled with the powder of ground fragrant herbs are made to be carried by women and children for good fortune, though they are no longer used as insect repellent as in ancient times. Another ancient celebration still practiced today is that Longtaitou Festival is the first day of the Taihao (太昊) temple fair that lasts until the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar. Taihao (太昊) temple fair is a celebration of ancestral deities Fuxi and Nüwa and Longtaitou Festival marking the beginning of this celebration.

There were ancient traditions of celebrating Longtaitou Festival that are no longer practiced, including:

  • Women should not practice sewing because needles could puncture the eyes of dragon.
  • Plant ashes were spread around the house, and then inside the house, and finally around the earthen jug, symbolizing inviting the dragon to provide enough rain for good harvests.

16 March 2010

The Dao and Christ

Taoism is a beautiful religion, actually it is a "predecessor of Christianity", but the one most misunderstood, because for its symbol is used the dualistic anagram of the Yin and Yang, born 1,500 years before Taoism.

In 440 BC it was adopted as a state religion. At that time Lao-Tse, the founder, became popularly venerated as a deity. Taoism, along with Buddhism and Confucianism, became the three great religions of China. With the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty in 1911, state support for Taoism ended. Much of the Taoist heritage was destroyed during the next period of warlordism.

Taoism currently has about 20 million followers, and is primarily centered in Taiwan. About 30,000 Taoists live in North America; 1,720 in Canada (1991 census). Taoism has had a significant impact on North American culture in areas of "acupuncture, herbalism, holistic medicine, meditation and martial arts..."

1- The essence of Taoism and the Bible:

The essence of Taoism is "Tao", "the way", who is not the "eternal Tao", (not God the Father); he is "the way, the truth and the life" (does it sound like Christ?)... the translation of the Bible in Chinese reads, "In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God"...like John1:1... the "Tao" is "infinite profundity", "the origin of all things", "a stabilizing force, for where Tao is equilibrium"... "it existed before heaven and earth", "it is eternal", "stands alone, and never changes, pervades everywhere", "Tao is the source of all things, the treasure of good men, and the sustainer of bad men"... He is the "Word", Jesus Christ!.

"Tao" (pronounced "Dow") is basically indefinable. It has to be experienced. It "refers to a power which envelopes, surrounds and flows through all things, living and non-living. The Tao regulates natural processes and nourishes balance in the Universe. It embodies the harmony of opposites (i.e. there would be no love without hate, no light without dark, no male without female.)"

In Taoism, Tao, roughly translated as path, is a force which flows through all life and is the first cause of everything. The goal of everyone is to become one with the Tao. Tai Chi, a technique of exercise using slow deliberate movements, is used to balance the flow of energy or "chi" within the body. People should develop virtue and seek compassion, moderation and humility. One should plan any action in advance and achieve it through minimal action.

Yin (dark side) and Yang (light side) symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen through the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. The impact of human civilization upsets the balance of Yin and Yang.

Taoists believe that people are by nature, good, and that one should be kind to others simply because such treatment will probably be reciprocated.

Taoism's focus on nature and the natural order complements the societal focus of Confucianism, and its synthesis with Buddhism is the basis of Zen.

TThey seek answers to life's problems through inner meditation and outer observation.... Each believer's goal is to become one with the Tao.

2- The "men of Tao":

"He who lives in Tao, and Tao in him, is a good men: He keeps in good terms with men, takes things easy, loves the world as he does his own person; he is simple like an infant, cautious, modest, yielding. He is humble, and thus he remains entire. He is subtle, penetrating and profound; avoids excess, extravagance, and indulgence. He makes the self of the people his self"... he acts to the good or to the bad with goodness, and to the faithful or the faithless with faith. He returns love for great hatred"...

All these quotations from the "Tao-Tee King" certainly sound like "Christ" and "Christianity!...

The Three Jewels to be sought in Taoism are compassion, moderation and humility.

What Taoism is missing is the "Tao" incarnated, and that's what Christianity got.

The essence of Christianity is not "to know" about Christ but "to be" another Christ, with Christ in the Christian and the Christian in Christ, in his Mystical Body, in his church... and Christ is God, the Absolute, the real "Tao" who became a real human person.

1- The Cross: Jesus on the Cross redeemed us, He paid for all our sins for all our bad karma, we just have to appropriate this free payment just by believing in Jesus Christ. and doing what he orders, mainly to be baptized in his church (Mark 16:16-18).

2- The Resurrection: But the Cross was not the end... After His Resurrection Jesus Himself wants to live in us, here, on earth. We were saved from sin to live on earth with the love and joy and peace of Jesus in us, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Gal.2:20). A love and joy and peace that nothing and nobody can take away (Rom.8:37-39).

Give thanks with joy to God always and in any circumstance as proclaimed in Eph.5:20 and emphasized in the Preface of every Divine Liturgy, Indeed it is "just" and "necessary", our "duty" and our "salvation" to give thanks to God always and in all circumstances. There are no more words in the dictionary to emphasize it!

3- The Ascension: Still more: The work of Jesus on earth did not end with the Cross nor with the Resurrection, but with His Ascension to Heaven: He wants us to go to eternal Heaven, like Him!... Christianity is the religion of joy on earth, but still more, in Heaven for one eternity, without the need for any reincarnation, because Jesus paid for absolutely all or sins, all our bad karma.

Yes, many problems and sufferings, but with the joy and excitement of a "mother in labor" Jesus tells us in Jn.16:21. Because Each suffering is to bring up a new life, either in us or in others:

  1. In us... because each suffering is like an injection of God to purify us, as proclaimed in Hebrews 12.
  2. In others... like the sufferings of redemption of Christ or Mary, of Peter or Paul... Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions. (Colos.1:24)... yes, with my cross I am a co-redeemer with Christ, it is my best evangelization, to help others to go to Heaven. An old sick woman is not a burden, but the best treasure of home.

"Suffering" is a great revolution of Jesus in the two mountains:

  1. In the Mount of the Beatitudes, proclaiming the "poor happy", the "hunger happy", those who "mourn happy", the "persecuted happy"...
  2. At Calvary it was not with words, but with deeds, with his flesh... the greatest success of humankind!... IT CAN BE DONE... CHRIST AND I, ABSOLUTE MAJORITY!, I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phil.4:13).
  3. The third part of Taoism: The Old dualism: The "old dualism" of life stems from Tao, as the competition of complimentary opposites, "Yin and Yang"; these two competing energies are found in all things, but both must be kept in "balance". Excess of any energy is harmful. When the 2 forces are in balance within the human personality then the perfect ideal human will exist. But always Tao, the spirit, will prevail over the physical, material nature, for Tao will never die.

There is a long history involvement by Taoists in various exercise and movement techniques. Tai chi in particular works on all parts of the body. It "stimulates the central nervous system, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress and gently tones muscles without strain. It also enhances digestion, elimination of wastes and the circulation of blood. Moreover, tai chi's rhythmic movements massage the internal organs and improve their functionality." Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that illness is caused by blockages or lack of balance in the body's "chi" (intrinsic energy). Tai Chi is believed to balance this energy flow.

4- The other site of Taoism: Priests, magic, spirits, emperor

Lao-Tze left no church, no priests, no rituals and services... but today, it is lived in syncretism with the old Animism of China, and it is demeaned by polytheism, witchcraft, demonology, spiritism, spirit spells, and a degenerate papacy...

"- The "Yin" and "Yang" represented as a "dragon" and a "tiger", live in a sort of cosmic struggle of gestation and have to be controlled in life by the "priests" rituals, plus the "medium", the "shaman", and the "oracle"... and the Emperor..

The "priests" head the rituals in the temples, and an "incense burner" is essential to every magic rite and exorcism... these "temples", besides of the religious rituals, are as well a "cultural axis", providing fairs, puppet shows, story-tellers, opera... and most Chinese have they altars at home, to the ancestors, and to spell the bad spirits.

The "medium" whose body is occupied by a spirit while in trance, communicates with the ancestors, makes divination...

The "shaman" travels into the afterlife, either to heaven or hell, and makes healing rituals, alchemical formulae, medicine, herbal texts...

The "oracle" speaks in the words of a by standing spirit, and fulfills the role of a seer, healer, and keeper of justice mainly in the villages, providing more stability than the rapidly political and industrial forces of Communism.

The Emperor is the only one who can communicate with Tao, so, for centuries, became the "Emperor-god", the actual god of the people of China... and when the Emperors were dethroned by the Communists in 1950, Mao and his successors became the actual "atheist gods" of the Chinese.

Each Chinese, after death, wants to be an important ancestor... in their Heaven, where they can help the living... but there is Hell, like "Purgatory", with 9 stages of punishments, each one governed by a demon king; and the prayers can help them to get out of there.

Lao-Tze was not successful in China, so he decided to leave... and he went away, no body knows where... but before leaving, at the request of his friend Yin Hsi, he wrote the "Tao Te King" which means "the Way to Virtue Canon", and it is the main holy scripture of Taoism, and very beautiful!. Two centuries latter "Chuang Tze" spread Taoism, and his writings are also considered holy scriptures. Tao te Ching, Chuang Tzu

Most of them are to honor the ancestors, who can help us in this life, because thy may be in a kind of a Christian Heaven, or to pray for them, because they may be in a kind of Christian "Purgatory"

Two Traditions:

  1. Orthodox: Tao masters and Black Headed Taoists. Stress the importance of rituals, cosmic renewal, and controlling spirits.
  2. Spirit Claud Taoists: Masters of methods or Headed Taoists. Concentrate on meditation, not rituals.

Taoism, was founded in the 604 BC in China by Lao-Tze, which means "old philosopher" or "old boy", but his real name was Li-Uhr.

It is actually practiced in China by most of the 2 billion Chinese, in syncretism with Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam... and even by those who call themselves Communists...

Lao-Tze was the teacher of Confucius... and both Taoism and Confucianism complement each other: Lao-Tze is the "mystic" who spoke chiefly of the unseen and intangible; Confucius is the "great realistic" and moral philosopher who preferred not speaking of things unseen, rather he set a system of "moral axioms" rather than "religious dogmas".

"Two" different religious ways:

For Confucius "human conduct" must be righteous, and the man's relation with God and the universe would take care of itself... for Lao-Tze, man must establish himself in harmony with the universal principle, with Tao, through his own Tao, and good human conduct will follow...

- Which way will be better to become a good person?... to try to be good, or to try to unite with God?...

For Christianity the way is to live in Christ and Christ in you... because all persons are essentially "selfish", we love ourselves, which is the opposite of the real "love"; but if Jesus is in you, then you are going to feed the hungry, help the sick or the one in need... but it is "not you", it is Christ "who lives in you" (Gal.2:20)... however, when Christ is in you, you do not become a "robot", you are still the only one responsible for yours actions, and you have to strive to be pure and good, living every minute of your life with faith in Jesus, who lives in you, without fear to nobody and to nothing... the greatest sin of a Christian is to do something without faith in Christ, trusting in himself or in money or in human power instead of trusting in Jesus Christ (Rom.14:23).

15 March 2010

New Title, New Header. Why Change?

Some of you may have noticed that the blog has changed the title and moved to the 3rd header image in 3 years. Really, while the name has been "Ecumenical Buddhism", this blog focuses on all religions, but mostly the San Jiao faiths of Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, and how they are forward and backward compatible with catholic and apostolic Christianity. To reflect this truth, the title has been changed from "Ecumenical Buddhism" to the longer, but more accurate "Ecumenical Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism". Likewise we changed the header description to clarify this more, although many people loved our previous description of this blog: "Buddhism (as well as Taoism and Confucianism) explained — especially for the Western Christian mind. An exploration of what unites Buddhism (and Eastern thought) to Western religions and philosophies, rather than what separates them. Yes, this blog may be considered by some to be universalistic in its so-called syncretism or ecumenism — saying that a Christian, even a Saint or Jesus the Christ Himself can be a Buddhist — but also that a Buddhist, a Bodhisattva or even a Buddha, can be a traditional, orthodox, Christian too!" The image is a famous Chinese paintings of Lao Zi (Lao-Tzu), Kong Zi (Confucius), and the Buddha (Siddhārtha Gautama) that represents that their three teachings are truly one truth leading towards the 3 in 1 God of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

14 March 2010

San Jiao He Yi: Three Teachings Harmonious As One

In East Asia, the three teachings, known as the San Jiao (三教) in Chinese, are considered to be Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The use of the phrase the "three teachings" as an aggregate title of these three belief systems first occurred during the Wei Dynasty and Jin dynasty. Many Buddhists consider Confucist and Taoist teachings as part of their religion. The three teachings may also be interpreted as a non-religous philosophy so a Chinese of a monotheistic faith such as Judaism, Islam or Christianity may accept the philosophy of the three teachings.

The phrase the "three teachings harmonious as one (三教合一)" has both an academic meaning and a common one. Academically, this was the name of the sect founded during the Ming Dynasty by Lin Chao-en that combined Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist beliefs. The common understanding of "three teachings harmonious as one," however, has little to do with this ancient sect. Today, many Chinese take the phrase to simply reflect the long history, mutual influence, and (at times) complementary teachings of the three belief systems.

In Henan Province's Shaolin Temple, a stone tablet represents the concept of the "Three Teachings Harmonious as One." The tablet is an optical illusion. Looked at in one way, it appears to be a single, fat monk holding a scroll; looked at in another way, it is clearly an illustration of three monks bent over the same scroll. The man on the left is Laozi, the founder of Taoism. The man in the middle is Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, and the man on the right is Kongzi (Confucius), the founder of Confucianism. If you look closely, the three men have only one nose—this represents the ultimate harmony of their respective faiths.

The Vinegar Tasters (uncommon names: 三酸圖, three sours; 嘗醋翁, vinegar tasting old-men; 嘗醋圖, 尝醋图), is a traditional subject in Chinese religious painting. The allegorical composition depicts the three founders of China's major religious and philosophical traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.

The three men are dipping their fingers in a vat of vinegar and tasting it; one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a sweet expression. The three men are Confucius, Buddha, and Laozi, respectively. Each man's expression represents the predominant attitude of his religion: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddhism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state. Another interpretation of the painting is that, since the three men are gathered around one vat of vinegar, "the three teachings are one".

The painting was popularized in the Western world by the American Taoist writer Benjamin Hoff's book, The Tao of Pooh. As mentioned in the book, the scroll painting was a popular piece of art in ancient times. However nowadays it is rarely painted in China anymore.

  • Confucianism, being concerned with the outside world, viewed the vinegar as "polluted wine." 
  • Buddhism, being concerned with the self, viewed the vinegar as a polluter of the body and soul of the taster. 
  • Taoism saw life as fundamentally good in its natural state ad so everything is sweet.

"From the Taoist point of view, sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of 'The Vinegar Tasters'".
—Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

01 March 2010

End of the Chinese New Year Festival

The 15th day of the 1st lunar month is the Chinese Lantern Festival because the first lunar month is called yuan-month and in the ancient times people called night Xiao. The 15th day is the first night to see a full moon. So the day is also called Yuan Xiao Festival in China. According to the Chinese tradition, at the very beginning of a new year, when there is a bright full moon hanging in the sky, there should be thousands of colorful lanterns hung out for people to appreciate. At this time, people will try to solve the puzzles on the lanterns and eat yuanxiao (glutinous rice ball) and get all their families united in the joyful atmosphere.

Until the Sui Dynasty in the sixth century, Emperor Yangdi invited envoys from other countries to China to see the colorful lighted lanterns and enjoy the gala erformances.

By the beginning of the Tang Dynasty in the seventh century, the lantern displays would last three days. The emperor also lifted the curfew, allowing the people to enjoy the festive lanterns day and night. It is not difficult to find Chinese poems which describe this happy scene.

In the Song Dynasty, the festival was celebrated for five days and the activities began to spread to many of the big cities in China. Colorful glass and even jade were used to make lanterns, with figures from folk tales painted on the lanterns.

However, the largest Lantern Festival celebration took place in the early part of the 15th century. The festivities continued for ten days. Emperor Chengzu had the downtown area set aside as a center for displaying the lanterns. Even today,there is a place in Beijing called Dengshikou. In Chinese, Deng means lantern and Shi is arket. The area became a market where lanterns were sold during the day. In the evening, the local people would go there to see the beautiful lighted lanterns on display.

Today, the displaying of lanterns is still a big event on the 15th day of the first lunar month throughout China. People enjoy the brightly lit night. Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, for example, holds a lantern fair each year in the Cultural Park. During the Lantern Festival,the park is literally an ocean of lanterns!Many new designs attract countless visitors. The most eye-catching lantern is the Dragon Pole, This is a lantern in the shape of a golden dragon, spiraling up a 27-meter -high pole, spewing fireworks from its mouth. It is quite an impressive sight!

There are many different beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival.But one thing for sure is that it had something to do with religious worship.

One legend tells us that it was a time to worship Taiyi, the God of Heaven in ancient times. The belief was that the God of Heaven controlled the destiny of the human world. He had sixteen dragons at his beck and call and he decided when to inflict drought,storms, fafmine or pestilence upon human beings. Beginning with Qinshihuang, the first emperor to unite the country, all subsequent emperors ordered splendid ceremonies each year. The emperor would ask Taiyi to bring favorable weather and good health to him and his people. Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty directed special attention to this event. In 104 BC,he proclaimed it one of the most important celebrations and the ceremony would last throughout the night.

Another legend associates the Lantern Festival with Taoism. Tianguan is the Taoist god responsible for good fortune. His birthday falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It is said that Tianguan likes all types of entertainment. So followers prepare various kinds of activities during which they pray for good fortune.

The third story about the origin of the festival boes like this. Buddhism first entered China during the reign of Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Han Dynasty. That was in the first century. However, it did not exert any great influence among the Chinese people. one day, Emperor Mingdi had a dream about a gold man in his palace. At the very moment when he was about to ask the mysterious figure who he was, the gold man suddenly rose to the sky and disappeared in the west. The next day, Emperor Mingdi sent a scholar to India on a pilgrimage to locate Buddhist scriptures. After joumeying thousands of miles,the scholar finally returned with the scriptures. Emperor Mingdi ordered that a temple be built to house a statue of Buddha and serve as a repository for the scriptures. Followers believe that the power of Buddha can dispel darkness.

So Emperor Mingdi ordered his subjects to display lighted lanterns during what was to become the Lantern Festival.

Besides entertainment and beautiful lanterns, another important part of the Lantern Festival,or Yuanxiao Festival is eating small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour. We call these balls Yuanxiao or Tangyuan. Obviously, they get the name from the festival itself. It is said that the custom of eating Yuanxiao originated during the Eastern Jin Dynasty in the fourth centuty, then became popular during the Tang and Song periods.

The fillings inside the dumplings or Yuansiao are either sweet or salty. Sweet fillings are made of sugar, Walnuts, sesame, osmanthus flowers, rose petals, sweetened tangerine peel, bean paste, or jujube paste. A single ingredient or any combination can be used as the filling . The salty variety is filled with minced meat, vegetables or a mixture.

The way to make Yuanxiao also varies between northern and southern China. The usual method followed in southern provinceds is to shape the dough of rice flour into balls, make a hole, insert the filling, then close the hole and smooth out the dumpling by rolling it between your hands.In North China,sweeet or nonmeat stuffing is the usual ingredient. The fillings are pressed into hardened cores, dipped lightly in water and rolled in a flat basket containing dry glutinous rice flour. A layer of the flour sticks to the filling, which is then again dipped in water and rolled a second time in the rice flour. And so it goes, like rolling a snowball, until the dumpling is the desired size.

The custom of eating Yuanxiao dumplings remains. This tradition encourages both old and new stores to promote their Yuanxiao products. They all try their best to improve the taste and quality of the dumplings to attract more customers.
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