Members of the Greek Orthodox Church rehearse their performance on Friday at the St Nikolas Greek Orthodox Church, as they prepare for the orthodox Good Friday next week. Silvia Razgova / The National
Members of the Greek Orthodox Church rehearse their performance on Friday at the St Nikolas Greek Orthodox Church, as they prepare for the orthodox Good Friday next week. Silvia Razgova / The National

Christians across the country turn out to mark Good Friday

ABU DHABI AND DUBAI // Thousands of worshippers from dozens of denominations congregated at St Andrew’s Church in the capital to mark one of the most important days of the Christian calendar – Good Friday.

The commemoration of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion brought together followers from the Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Pentecostal churches, to name a few.

And in Dubai, 30,000 people turned out at a church compound to hear sermons in several languages.

Rev Canon Andrew Thompson, senior Anglican chaplain and the overseer of St Andrew’s Church compound in the capital, said: “The UAE has brought us all together in the same space, and that is a gift.”

Rev Thompson, who has lived in the Middle East for 27 years, said that in many other countries his church would be isolated from others, but in Abu Dhabi denominations were brought together to celebrate the diversity of the worldwide Christian family.

“On a weekly basis I get to rub shoulders with Greek Orthodox, Indian Pentecostalists and Korean Methodists,” he said.

Despite the Good Friday ceremonies having to be held in a smaller hall due to renovations to the church’s main hall, back-to-back services for more than 40 churches were held throughout the day, starting at 6am and continuing until midnight.

More than 20,000 worshippers were expected at the St Andrew’s compound throughout the day.

As a follower of the Church of Pakistan, Shahzad Nasim said he was marking the day by fasting from sunrise to sunset.

“For me, Good Friday is about abstinence and sharing in the suffering of Jesus Christ by depriving oneself of pleasures,” he said.

A registered nurse, Mr Nasim said he was glad to be able to attend Good Friday services, as work shifts sometimes keep him away from church on weekends.

“Today is a gift to us all and, in turn, we should help the poor people, pray and confess our sins,” he said.

For Camilla Underwood, 20, of the Anglican Church, Easter was one of the holidays that brought her back to her parents who work in Abu Dhabi.

“Obviously it’s a sad day that reminds you what Jesus did and what he means to you, but it’s also a time for coming together with your family,” said the Bristol University student, who had flown in from the UK for the week.

In Dubai, Christians sang hymns and prayed during a day of reflection and introspection, as thousands of worshippers filed into churches to mark the day.

Psalms were recited as sermons in several languages including English, Hindi and Tagalog were held throughout yesterday at the Holy Trinity Church in Dubai, which at 45 years is one of the emirate’s oldest churches.

“There is large-scale suffering all around us in various conflicts, and also there are conflicts in our own lives,” said Rev Dr Ruwan Palapathwala, who conducted services yesterday.

“During the period of Lent, Christians go through soul-searching because this is a time for retrospection, fasting and prayer – when we purge ourselves from any anger, jealousy, envy, hatred or pride because this is the Good Friday path. Without this we cannot celebrate Easter because we must be open to God and see through ourselves.”

One of the most sacred times for Christians, the 40-day Lent period ends on Sunday with an Easter mass. It is a period when the faithful remember the life of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion and then celebrate his resurrection.

“Easter for us Christians is rising to a new life, when we become children of light and not darkness, and we rise to a new life as children of God. It is our hope for the future of returning to God, from whom we have come,” said Rev Palapathwala.

The Holy Trinity Church is part of the chaplaincy of Dubai, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates, and allows 141 other congregations, including Coptic, Evangelical, the Ethiopian Orthodox and Eritrean Orthodox, and those from the Korean and Indonesian churches, to worship in halls within its compound in Oud Metha Road.

Parishioners such a Anshu Vakil look to the church for community gatherings, but also for solace during personal crises.

“I got married here two years ago so this church is important to me,” said Mrs Vakil.

“When I was disturbed about my health recently I went to the reverend and he helped console me.”

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