willows

In this spring like no other, this will be a Holy Week and Passover like none other.

No palms? No problem.

For  centuries, Orthodox churches in Ukraine, Russia and Slovakia have used a substitute to celebrate Palm Sunday.

In western Christian churches,  palm fronds are traditionally blessed and distributed. But in eastern Christian churches, such as Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic, pussy willow branches are blessed. In other parts of the world,  branches from olive and other trees are blessed.

“Back home,” said the Rev. Andriy Rabiy, “the tradition is to bless the pussy willows.”

Rabiy, the priest at Nativity of BVM Ukrainian Catholic Church in Reading, conducts services at St. Andrew the Apostle Ukrainian Catholic mission parish at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Manheim Township.

Rabiy, a native of Lvov in western Ukraine, said the pussy willow catkins are typically the first to blossom in that region in the spring. The willows symbolize new life, just as Jesus’ resurrection signified new life.

Typically, the pussy willows are bundled with bright string or ribbon.

Although palms are available to Orthodox churches today, Orthodox churches continue to bless pussy willows.

“In the U.S., we still return to the tradition,” he said.

That is, providing they are available. This year’s harsh winter, he said, has delayed pussy willow blossoms.

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