Subdued celebration of Easter as Lebanon’s Christians cope with COVID-19 lockdown

Despite the gloomy conditions under which Easter is celebrated this year, people are hopeful about a better tomorrow.
Sunday 12/04/2020
A Lebanese woman wearing a protective mask holds flowers as she takes part in a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ during Good Friday, April 10.  (Reuters)
A Lebanese woman wearing a protective mask holds flowers as she takes part in a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ during Good Friday, April 10. (Reuters)

BEIRUT--Lebanese Christians’ celebration of Easter this year was different from any previous Easter celebration. The COVID-19 lockdown meant there was no one going to church, no family reunions and no Easter egg hunts for children.

All churches have been closed since March 15 and Christian shrines that are normally visited by the faithful are shuttered, as authorities seek to forestall the spread of the deadly respiratory disease.

The restrictions deprived Maronite Christians from carrying out the usual rituals preceding Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. These include walking the passion trail of Jesus on his way to crucifixion and the afternoon service commemorating his death on Good Friday.

According to the tradition, a man posing as Jesus carries a cross and walks the street in villages and towns escorted by worshippers enacting Christ’s journey on Good Friday.

Also, worshippers were told not to congregate for the Easter service on Sunday April 12, or a week later on April 19, for the Greek Orthodox Easter. Mass was scheduled instead for broadcast on television and social media platforms including Facebook and YouTube.
 

A Lebanese Maronite Christian priest leads a procession in a street on Good Friday, in the dominantly Christian suburb of Dekwaneh, east of the capital Beirut, on April 10. (AFP)
A Lebanese Maronite Christian priest leads a procession in a street on Good Friday, in the dominantly Christian suburb of Dekwaneh, east of the capital Beirut, on April 10. (AFP)

“We have strict instructions. Each priest should celebrate mass in his church alone without audience but with live transmission to worshippers,” says Maronite priest Father Gaby Khairallah. “In my case, I will film the service and mix it with chants of the chorus then upload it on YouTube.”

“This year we are celebrating Christ’s resurrection on a background of corona deaths. Humanity is in a phase of awaiting rebirth. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful Easter of solidarity. I am sure that something positive will come out, especially the growing solidarity among all the Lebanese,” Father Khairallah said.

His parish has been distributing daily food portions and meals to the most needy across Lebanon, be they Christians or Muslims.

For Myrna Helou, a mother of two in her fifties, Easter under COVID-19 lockdown is a time for reflection and contemplation.

“Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is somehow like the death of our world that is no longer viable, but something else will be reborn, hopefully a new world order where there will be more equality, less selfishness and less greedy politicians ruling the world,” Helou said.

“Confinement has, in a way, stopped the fast wheel of life that we have been leading and now we have time to meditate and look deeper inside our souls,” she said.

While her children live abroad, Helou and her husband will have the lunch feast alone in confinement.

“I did not prepare any of the pastries that we usually have for Easter. It will be just the two of us without family and friends, but we are happy to have time together as a couple like we never did before,” Helou said.

Lebanese Christians watch a crucifix shrine car procession on Good Friday, from their balcony in the dominantly Christian suburb of Dekwaneh, east of the capital Beirut, on April 10, 2020. (AFP)
Lebanese Christians watch a crucifix shrine car procession on Good Friday, from their balcony in the dominantly Christian suburb of Dekwaneh, east of the capital Beirut, on April 10, 2020. (AFP)

Attending church on Good Friday and visiting churches as part of the religious rituals during the Holy Week is a duty that faithful churchgoer Joumana Komati never missed before.

“My husband and I insisted on touring churches but could not go inside. We just prayed outside the front door and attended the Good Friday mass online,” Komati said.

“We will be assisting in the Easter service on YouTube. My son and daughter used to come home especially to celebrate Easter with us. But this year’s celebration will be limited to a video call during which we will say a prayer altogether.”

However, for Paula Naaman, a housewife and mother of two, maintaining Easter traditions and keeping up a good spirit is vital to overcoming the difficulties of living in confinement, a way, she says, “to have fun and diffuse a positive vibe in this very difficult period.”

“The feast this year is about hope although we will not be able to share the celebration with the people we love. We are living with lots of humility. All over the world we are experiencing the same anguish.  But it is Easter and spring is here which means revival is coming,” Naaman said.

Despite the gloomy conditions under which Easter is celebrated this year, people are hopeful about a better tomorrow.

A Lebanese Maronite Christian priest accompanied by a scout, celebrates the Holy Friday mass on April 10, 2020, in an almost deserted church in the capital Beirut. (AFP)
A Lebanese Maronite Christian priest accompanied by a scout, celebrates the Holy Friday mass on April 10, 2020, in an almost deserted church in the capital Beirut. (AFP)

“It is a very particular Easter because, despite everything, the Easter spirit is even stronger,” says Komati. “I believe that after every calamity there is resurrection. The fact that Ramadan is starting shortly after Easter is a sign that things will change for the better.”

“The pandemic should be a lesson learned,” Helou said. “The virus does not discriminate between people and I believe that there is a universal message that should be learned from this crisis.”

Lebanon has 609 cases of coronavirus infections which have killed 20 people so far.

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