April 8 this year is Easter Sunday, the most important day of the year for Toronto’s Christians. This day commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ over 2000 years ago.
For Toronto’s ethnic and other churches, the Easter season is expressed in a variety of ways. For many parishioners, it started on February 22 Ash Wednesday with Lent. From then until Easter Sunday, many church members try extra hard to live a life of austerity, contemplation, and prayer, with a focus on acts of love.
The most ascetic Lenten customs, I’ve found so far, are those of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. For that Orthodox church, followers of the Lenten fast go for 55 days with no meat, no dairy, no alcohol, and no sex, said Alemayehu Zenebe of that church. Its practises made me think of the intensity of the fasts practised by Muslims during the month of Ramadan.
On the other end of the spectrum, my United Church friends said, Lent, if followed at all, can be as lenient as giving up chocolate.
Rev. Frank Adu of the Ghanain Presbyterian Church said individual members decide what to give up for Lent, which, in his church, is 40 days. This can be a penance for sins or a promise to forgive. It is a preparation to celebrate Christ’s victory over death.
Palm Sunday on April 1 is the beginning of Passion or Holy Week. It commemorates Jesus’ triumphal march into Jerusalem with his followers waving palm branches. The Ghanaian Presbyterian church and many other churches will have a procession of palm-waving worshippers that day. Its service is from 10am to 1pm. This service is longer than that of most other Presbyterian churches. It allows time for giving praise and offerings through dance, an African custom.
Maundy or Holy Thursday April 5 is the day before Good Friday. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at the famous Last Supper on this day. This was one of his acts of love for them. In Toronto from 11am-12 noon, April 12th, the priests at the Ethiopian Orthodox church will wash the feet of congregates. The Orthodox Easter is one week later. In some churches, members will wash each other’s feet. But “washing feet is not in our tradition,” said Rev. Adu of his Presbyterian church.
Good Friday is the day of Jesus’ death. “On Good Friday, many people attend Confession at our church,” said Alemayehu. They cannot partake of the Mass unless they have been absolved of sins.
“On Saturday evening at 7pm, April 14, we have our big Easter celebration. The pictures are unveiled. We carry the picture of Christ in a procession around the church. At 10pm, there is a Mass. The service goes on until 1am and consists of prayers and chanting,” said the Ethiopian native. “In Ethiopia, Mass is said from midnight to 3am but in Toronto, with no public transit afterwards, we finish earlier at 1am. Our Lenten fast ends at 3am on Easter Sunday. We have no service on Easter Sunday.”
On Good Friday, April 6, many churches will also have services; for example, the Ghanain Presbyterian Church has one from 10am-1pm. St. Helen’s Church has a Good Friday street procession at 7pm. It is at 1680 Dundas Street West (near Lansdowne). This church has many Portuguese parishioners.
At 10:30am, an Ecumenical Good Friday service will be at Windermere United Church, 356 Windermere Avenue near the Jane subway station. That day, it will host members of St. Olaves Anglican, Morningside High Park Presbyterian, and Farmer Memorial Baptist churches.
A very popular Good Friday event is the procession from St. Francis of Assisi Church in Little Italy. It starts at 3pm and goes on for over an hour. This parade depicts the suffering of Jesus as “Roman soldiers” beat him and force him to carry his heavy cross. The parade includes people dressed as Biblical characters, veterans of the Italian army, and church leaders. A map of the route is at: http://www.stfrancis.ca/ENG/easter_procession.htm . Tel. 416-536-8195 for more information.
Another popular Easter event is the Toronto Passion Play in Etobicoke. This year it will be on April 6, 7 and 8. It costs $1-$5. Our report of last year’s performance is on: http://bit.ly/GLttDZ. For more information, click on: www.TorontoPassionPlay.com.
Good Friday is also the day for the Ecumentical Walk for Justice. It starts at 2pm at the Church of the Holy Trinity west of Eaton Centre. See: www.goodfridaywalk.ca.
Many, many churches do have celebratory services on Easter Sunday, April 8 or 15. Ukrainian Catholics take a basket containing bread, ham, cheese, butter, candles, egg, and horse radish to their church. The priest blesses it, and then they take it home for a family meal, breaking the Lenten fast.
Please let us know of other interesting ethnic events, both religious and secular. Easter is a spring festival. It is a day for Easter egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, a parade in the Beach, etc. but more about that in our calendar.