Vesele Velikonoce – Happy Easter!

Painted eggs hung on ribbons decorate a Czech garden © Ricky Yates

I’ve just re-read the blog post I wrote in April 2009 entitled ‘My first Holy Week & Easter in the Czech Republic’. Inevitably last year was a fairly steep learning curve both in understanding the way Easter is marked by the predominantly secular society here in the Czech Republic as well as finding out how best to celebrate the Christian festival with an English-speaking, predominantly ex-pat congregation. Overall, I think the experience gained and lessons learned from 2009, have helped me through this recent rather busy time from Palm Sunday through to Easter Day.

One of the really attractive Czech traditions at Easter is to use ribbons to tie decorated eggs to trees in gardens or attach them to sticks and place them in window boxes or pots containing spring flowers. I’ve chosen to illustrate this post with some examples photographed in the immediate surroundings of our Chaplaincy flat.

Czech Easter garden gate decoration © Ricky Yates

Many Czechs also attach Easter wreaths to their front doors in a similar manner to the more common practice in the UK and elsewhere, of attaching a wreath of greenery & red berries at Christmas. As you can see, the photograph I’ve included here is of a wreath attached, not to the front door, but to the front garden gate of a house on the Baba estate.

As I mentioned in last year’s blog post, unlike in the UK, Good Friday is not a public holiday in the Czech Republic. Instead, for most people is an ordinary working day. But Easter Monday very definitely is a public holiday. And it results in some interesting contrasts with what happens over the Easter weekend in England.

Since the law regarding Sunday trading in England and Wales was relaxed in 1994, large supermarkets and stores have been able open for up to six hours on any Sunday except Easter Day. However, here in the Czech Republic, both of our local supermarkets, (‘Billa’ and ‘Albert’), were open on Easter Sunday for the same number of hours as on any other Sunday in the year. But today, Easter Monday, both are completely shut as they were on Easter

Czech Easter decoration of a small tree © Ricky Yates

Monday last year. Contrast this with England where on Easter Monday, most large supermarkets will be open at least between 9am and 6pm if not for longer hours.

As a Church, we marked Holy Week and Easter with a similar pattern of services to last year. We held a Maundy Thursday evening Eucharist to commemorate our Lord’s Last Supper. On Good Friday evening, I led a devotional service which included reading the Passion narrative from the Gospel of John with times of silence for reflection and prayer. Whilst both services were appreciated by those who attended them, the overall numbers doing so were relatively small. And yet for me, the joy of Easter Day is always so much more meaningful if I have first sought to enter into and tried to understand the pain of betrayal and suffering that Jesus experienced that first Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

Our Easter Day Eucharist, though not quite as well attended as last year, still drew a large congregation. Whilst some of our regulars, particularly some who either teach in or have children in one of the International Schools here in Prague, were away in their home countries for the Easter break, we lose far fewer than we do at Christmas or during July and August.

In reverse, some of our regulars have family and friends who come to visit them for Easter. On Palm Sunday, the children of one of our newer worshipping families proudly told me that Grandma was flying in from England to stay with them at Easter. Yesterday morning, I was duly introduced to Grandma who joined the whole family for Easter Day worship.

Probably about half of the congregation were visitors, enjoying a long weekend visit to Prague and pleased to be able to worship in English on Easter Sunday. There were fewer Brits and more Americans than in 2009, together with a couple from Melbourne, Australia and a female lawyer from Canada amongst those who told me about themselves at the door after the service. Most interestingly, there was a Turkish family, the daughter now resident in London and who spoke fluent English, who wanted to experience being part of a Church service on Easter Day.

Czech flowerpot decorated for Easter © Ricky Yates

Afterwards, the young lady told me that her father in particular, had found the experience ‘quite moving’.

As I increasingly like us to do, we sang hymns which were a mixture of traditional and modern. For me, you cannot really have Easter Sunday without singing ‘Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia’, which we did as our opening hymn. We also sang the traditional hymn ‘The strife is o’er, the battle done’ to the Palestrina tune ‘Victory’. But, as far as I am aware, we also sang for the first time at St. Clements, the Graham Kendrick song ‘Led like a lamb to the slaughter’. I was pleased that there were sufficient members of the congregation who already knew it and, even those who didn’t, soon caught on to the rousing chorus declaring ‘You’re alive, you’re alive, you have risen! Alleluia!

We ended the service with the twentieth century hymn, ‘Thine be the glory’, to the tune ‘Maccabaeus’ by Handel. The English words of the hymn are a translation from the French by Richard Hoyle. The original is ’À toi la glorie’, written by the French-speaking Swiss, Edmond Budry. But as I told the congregation before we sang it, it was not the first time that Easter Day that the Church walls had re-echoed to the hymn. For whilst standing outside the Church in advance of our service, waiting for our host congregation, the Evangelical Church of  Czech Brethren to finish theirs, what did I hear but the joyful singing of the self-same hymn – in Czech!

Alleluia. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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