From 4/20: What’s the spiritual season? Post-Pascha celebration, Ridvan, Holocaust Remembrance, Earth Day … and much more

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(April 20 to 26, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

week, the natural world is a major theme—with Earth Day and Arbor Day coming up, plus the anniversary of the Hubble telescope. It’s a festive week for millions who have celebrated Orthodox Easter. But it’s also a time of serious reflection for Baha’is and Jews. There’s a Rastafarian festival, a salute to a dragon slayer and a birthday of a literary hero in the mix as well:

ON MONDAY, April 20known as Bright Monday or Renewal Monday—many Orthodox Christians move into a week that extends the celebration of Pascha (Easter). (Here’s another good overview, specifically focused on Orthodox Americans.) Termed “Bright Week,” Orthodox Christians often visit friends and family and indulge in foods forbidden during the long Lenten fast. During Bright Week, the Holy or Royal Doors on the Iconostasis are kept open, which symbolizes the stone rolled away from the tomb at Pascha. This open view through the icon screen at the front of Orthodox churches (the photo above is an example) occurs only during Bright Week each year.

    Even the post-Pascha feasting is distinctive. Easter eggs, traditionally died red to symbolize Jesus’ blood, are blessed at the Paschal Vigil and eaten throughout the week especially in Greek Orthodox families.
    Another treat is Kulich, a Russian Easter cake that is eaten between Pascha and Pentecost. Here’s a great recipe for Kulich
—with one extra piece of advice to make it look like the photo: Let this cake rise and bake in a greased, empty, 2-lb. coffee can. A coffee can will help this cake to achieve its tall stature.

TUESDAY, Baha’is refrain from work during this first of 12 days of Ridvan (“Ridvan” means “paradise”). The annual festival—the most important of the Baha’i year—commemorates the 12 days that the founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u’llah, inhabited an Iraqi garden in 1863 and announced his mission as the Promised One. Baha’u’llah renamed this garden “Ridvan,” and publicly declared that he was God’s messenger for modern times.
    On his first day in the garden—and thus the first day of Ridvan—he declared three things: one, that religious war was abolished; two, that another manifestation of God would not come for another millennium; and three, that all names of God were apparent in all things.
    Prayer is an important part of this joyous festival, and some Baha’is embellish their homes with white muslin drapery (to represent an outdoor canopy) and cushions.
    Also during this time, Baha’is hold elections and meet to consult on Baha’i affairs. While the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States will take place in Illinois, more than 1,000 cities and towns across the nation will hold their own Local Spiritual Assemblies.
    The first, ninth and twelfth days of Ridvan also are important holy days in the Baha’i calendar when followers refrain from work. Here’s an overall look at the Baha’i calendar. And, also from the U.S. Baha’i Web site, a look at why Ridvan represents the birth of this faith.
    Or, here you can hear a presentation by DePaul University Professor of Religious Studies Robert Stockman on Baha’i holy days and traditions.

TUESDAY also is Yom Hashoah—Holocaust remembrance day, observed worldwide by Jews as well as many others who share a commitment never to forget this vast crime against humanity. Common observances are prayer, lighting candles, focusing on Holocaust-related educational programming and attending services.
    Here’s an excellent educational resource: a “Holocaust Encyclopedia” through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
    The date was established in the 1950s in Israel to promote awareness. Throughout the world, little effort was made to include the Holocaust in public-school lesson plans even as late as the 1970s. Eventually, ongoing campaigns of remembrance converged to produce milestones like the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993.
    This observance is especially moving in Israel, where sirens blow all over the country to mark the beginning of Yom Hashoah. From the Jewish Virtual Library article on Yom HaShoah: Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout the State of Israel for two minutes of silent devotion. … Theaters, cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are closed throughout Israel.

ON TUESDAY, if you’re from Jamaica, you may be turning up your favorite reggae song in honor of Groundation Day, a national Jamaican holiday (recognized especially by Rastafarians) that marks the anniversary of Haile Selassie’s only visit to Jamaica in 1966. Of course, reggae is closely associated with Rastafarians and, although there are many interpretations on how the musical genre got its name, Bob Marley once said the name, to him, meant “king’s music” and one major strain of reggae is deeply spiritual. Marley was one of the most famous Rastafari followers, and he surely was the one who brought the religion a great deal of international attention.
    Begun in Jamaica in the 1930s, the Rastafari religion has 1 to 2 million followers who regard Selassie, a former Ethiopian emperor, as God incarnate and the returned Messiah promised in the Bible.
    Music, chanting and prayer often accompany the anniversary. The Jamaican government declared April 21 a national holiday in 1966, weeks before Selassie even made his visit.
    For more background: The Smithsonian featured an exhibit, “Discovering Rastafari!” An interview with the curator and links to Rastafarian music are still online. Or, check out this Rastafarian site’s tribute to Selassie. The BBC offers an overview of Rastafarian holidays.

ON WEDNESDAY, millions around the world see: GREEN! Earth Day 2009 marks the beginning of the Green Generation Campaign, an effort to raise awareness of sustainable practices as well as the new global climate agreement coming up in December. The Green Generation Campaign holds that the future should be carbon-free and based on renewable energy; it also wants individuals to become responsible for their actions and commit to Earth-friendly consumption. Supporters argue that a “green economy” can create millions of new jobs.
    The Earth Day Network’s Communities of Faith Climate Campaign works vigorously to educate leaders and members of religious communities on environmental issues, and this year, thousands of Catholic parishes across the nation will once again be encouraged to participate in Earth Day Sunday. In honor of God’s gift of creation, clergy are asked to devote homilies to the preservation of God’s creation and begin civic “green” projects in their communities, among other things. Here’s more on the Catholic phase of the campaign.

ON THURSDAY, millions of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians honor the world’s most famous dragon slayer: St. George.
    Most of his fame stems from the myth about killing a dragon that arose about 1,000 years ago as a tale of good triumphing over evil—but Christian tradition holds that he truly was a Christian martyr born in the 3rd century. He was depicted in icons dressed as a soldier centuries before the character of the dragon showed up in the storyline. In the 3rd century, the real St. George enlisted in the Roman army under Emperor Diocletian but was soon at odds with his imperial leader during a period of Christian persecution. St. George, a devout Christian, publicly announced his devotion to his faith, even in the face of physical torture. Prior to his death, St. George gave his possessions to the poor; afterward, many Christians regarded St. George as a figure of great courage.
    Check out his extensive Wikipedia entry
that details many different countries’ connections with St. George. He remains the patron saint of many countries, including England. Earlier this month the Bishop of York requested that St. George’s Day become a national English holiday in an effort to unify England. (Read the coverage in Christianity Today.)
    For a different point of view on his history, check out the Royal Society of St. George.

ON THURSDAY, oh to celebrate—or not to celebrate! It’s the Bard’s birthday. Although his exact birth date is unknown, it’s widely accepted that William Shakespeare was born and died on the same day—April 23. He was baptized on April 26, 1564, in the small English town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and it was customary for families to baptize their children a few days after birth.
    One of the greatest English writers of all time, Shakespeare composed nearly 40 plays, over 100 sonnets and several poems. Debates continue to arise over the credentials of Shakespeare’s works, despite the remaining fact that these pieces have greatly influenced world literature and fine arts for centuries. 
    Here’s a fact-filled site, produced in the UK, with lots of information about the great man’s life.
    But, if you’re already a Shakespeare fan, why not try one of our most popular ReadTheSpirit articles of all time: a quiz we published more than a year ago called simply “Is It the Bard or the Bible?”

FRIDAY, take in a deep breath and credit your fresh oxygen intake to trees on National Arbor Day, marked in America on April 24. Unfortunately, a historical peak in wildfires in recent years has endangered national forests. Fragile ecosystems have been altered, requiring reforestation. Find out how you can help at this Arbor Day replanting page.
    Exact observance dates vary depending on a region’s optimum tree-planting season, but you can find out when your state celebrates by visiting this page.
    To find out when countries around the world recognize Arbor Day, visit this overview of international observances.

SATURDAY: Nineteen years ago on April 25, the Discovery shuttle placed the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit. Since 1990, colorful and awe-inspiring photographs taken by the Hubble have revealed a “scope of the heavens” to scientists and the public alike. Upon its launch, the Hubble possessed an innovative repair plan: rather than bringing the telescope back to Earth each time it required a tweak, astronauts would fix this machine while the telescope was in orbit.
    What are the latest photographs and finds of the Hubble Space Telescope? Visit this NASA Web site.

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