It is an age-old custom, “which dates back at least to the Ottoman Empire,” said Br. Stéphane Milovitch, the guardian of St. Savior’s Monastery: the exchange of greetings between the Christian communities of Jerusalem, on Easter and Christmas.
On the occasion of Latin Easter, in late March, the Franciscans had welcomed the various Christian denominations in their Diwan (reception room). After Orthodox Easter on Sunday, it was their turn to go and exchange their greetings.
On Tuesday, May 4, and on Wednesday, May 5, in the absence of the Custos of the Holy Land, the Custodial Vicar Br. Dobromir Jasztal acted as the spokesperson for the Friars Minor. The Franciscans processed to various places for the exchanges of well wishes, from patriarchy to patriarchy, and to the four corners of the old city, on a path that was led by the kawas.
Besides the traditional warm congratulations, the exchanges also recalled the situation in the Middle East, the cooperation between the different faiths and the imminent departure of Custos Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
Br. Dobromir Jasztal in his various speeches, gave his well wishes on behalf of all the friars and the Father Custos. He also stressed that though “the difference of calendars can be seen as a problem, it helps us to live out the Easter period for a longer time, and therefore it represents a positive difference.” He added that “our Christian faith does not stop not when the Easter season ends, it continues every day of the year.”
During these past two days, five communities were visited: the Greek Orthodox and their patriarch H.B. Theophilos III, the Coptic Orthodox and their new archbishop H.E. Anba Antonios, the Ethiopian Orthodox and their archbishop H.E. Daniel Aba, the Syriac Orthodox and their patriarchal archbishop H.E. Mar Swerios Malki Murad, and the Armenian Orthodox and their patriarch H.B. Torkom Manoogian.
The Greek and Armenian Patriarchs expressed their delight in the harmony among communities who came to an agreement on the restoration of Christ’s tomb. Work should begin early next week.
In his greetings, the Greek patriarch recited verses written by St. Francis. He also expressed his satisfaction with the agreement reached by the communities: “This unit is significant and we pray that this may be a source of encouragement to others.” He then wished to express his “gratitude to Fr. Pierbattista” for reconciliations that he encouraged during his term and he wished him the best of luck for his next mission.
The Armenian patriarch praised the Custos. “Fr. Pizzaballa embodies all of the Franciscan values: piety, humility and Christian love. He has built bridges here,” he continued. The Patriarch also discussed the situation in the Middle East which, despite adversity, “reminds us of our roots and our destiny, and it can unite and strengthen us in our common destiny.”
The Syriac Archbishop has emphasized that the tradition of exchanging well wishes was an opportunity to support each other, the Syriac Church being particularly affected by the Syrian conflict.
H.E. Anba Antonios, the new Coptic Orthodox Archbishop stressed that “the strange thing for humanity was death, not resurrection.” This is why Christmas, the first birth, and resurrection, the second one, are two major opportunities for the Christian communities to rejoice and to exchange greetings in an atmosphere of brotherhood.
In each Patriarchate (or equivalent), the ceremony takes about twenty minutes and the hosts offer to those they welcome chocolate, liqueurs and coffee, and sometimes real eggs that have been painted red, a symbol of renewal.