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Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
The Resurrection and the Willow - Flowery Sunday and pussy willows


THE RESURRECTION AND THE WILLOW

In Slavic lands the willows grow,
By streams and bogs and waters low.
The ancient Slavic peoples saw,
That willows bloom before the thaw,
When warm winds end the frigid cold,
And break, at last, the winter's hold,
To greet the spring and celebrate,
The vernal advent's advocate,
Of growth, renewal, life and light,
And set the cosmic order right.
The Slavic peoples gathered in,
The flow'ring willow branches in,
Their homes to decorate anew,
To cure their ills, their lives renew.
Then one day there came from far,
A new religion which would bar,
The grasp of ancient evils' hold,
Upon the Slavic souls as told,
By True Glory's saving creeds,
To grant men life and serve their needs.
The Word Made Flesh who lived and died,
And rose again as verified,
By Holy Writ and voices old,
Who testified as was foretold.
Christ is risen from the dead,
And by His death as truly said,
He trampled death and life He gave,
To those who lie within the grave.
And thus the lowly willow came,
The Resurrection to proclaim,
Bear witness to the Great Event,
For which the Holy One was sent.
So when the cold of winter ends,
The message that the willow sends,
And that the flow'ry branches say:
NEXT WEEK IS RESURRECTION DAY!


Icon - Palm SundayPalm Sunday, which is called Flowery Sunday or Willow Sunday in the Eastern Churches of Byzantine/Slavic liturgical tradition, is observed by many customs unique to the Slavs. The most important of these is the ritual use of flowering willow branches (pussy willows) in the processions of that day. Conventional wisdom has it that the Eastern Slavs used pussy willows because palm trees do not grow in northern Europe. While it is true that palm trees do not grow in northern Europe, that fact has no bearing on the Slavic customs associated with Flowery Sunday. The pre-Christian Slavs endowed the pussy willow with energizing properties. The willow haralded the end of harsh winter and the renewal of spring, while protecting people and livestock from diseases, the homes from lightening and misfortune and by fostering the fertility of man and beast.

With the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity, their willow customs were often adapted to the requirements of the new faith, finding application in the processions of Flowery Sunday to recall Our Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but more properly going beyond Great and Holy Week as a unitive symbol of the renewal of life fully revealed in the Glorious Resurrection. Thus we see in the folk art and customs associated with the Resurrection the use of flowering willows as a decorative item on pisanki cloths and on the Easter baskets and table, and for the remainder of the year they were placed behind the icons and crucifixes. Crosses made of blessed willow branches were buried in the ground to protect the crops for hail. Children swallowed the catkins as remedy for colds and the branches, which contain acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) were boiled and the infusion drunk to treat pains and fever. The faithful were encouraged to plant the willow branches used in the processions of Flowery Sunday around their homes and outbuildings to protect man and beast from harm. Many of these quasi-sacramental uses of the willow persist to this day.

More important to Eastern Christians of Byzantine/Slavic liturgical tradition are the quasi-liturgical customs, many of which found their way to America with the migration of Slavs from Europe. Those customs like many other religious traditions derive from and support important doctrines of the faith and, interestingly, are found among most Slavs whether Orthodox, Greek Catholic or Roman Catholic. When one sees Ruthenians, Russians or Ukrainians striking one another on the shoulder on Flowery Sunday with the willow branch and reciting the verse: "It is not I but the willow branch which strikes you to remind you that in seven days is the Great Day", we are all reminded by the willow branch as symbol of life that Christ is risen from the dead, that by His death He trampled death and to those in the graves He granted life.

There are many folk verses associated with the ritual use of willows on Flowery Sunday and below are a few.


UKRAINIAN VERSE

It is not I who beat you,
It is the willow.
In seven days is the Great Day.
The red painted eggs are very near.
Be mighty like a willow,
Be healthy like water,
And rich like the earth.

POLISH VERSE

The willow hits but does not kill,
And cuts the flesh once a year.
The Great Day is one week away.

BELORUSSIAN VERSE

I do not beat you; it is the willow that beats,
In a week it will be Easter;
Let disease flee to the forest, into the swamps,
And health return to the bones,
Be healthy like the water,
And grow like the willow,
Be healthy for the whole year,
Be happy like the spring,
Be hardy like the winter.

  Icon - Resurrection of Christ


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Copyright 2001-2003 by Robert L. Schwind. All rights reserved.