Achen(Father/Priest) with the censer
Achen moving around the cemetery praying for each of the departed family members
Achen passing on blessings on culmination of the prayers
I am a Syrian Christian and being one exposes you to rituals and customs which are very typical to the church. One such ritual, called the Hoosoyo, is associated with the ‘Holy Communion’. The Holy Communion is a sacrament where the ‘body and blood of Christ’ (bread and wine/water) is shared with believers who see it as eternal life being bestowed upon them through the union with Jesus Christ.
In the Syrian Christian tradition, one must have not had food or water for at least 6 hours prior to receiving the communion and it is mandatory to undertake Hoosoyo to be able to partake in the Holy Communion. Though the term sounds complicated it involves the priest touching your forehead, saying a prayer of forgiveness on your behalf and making the sign of the cross. The entire process takes 5-10 seconds. The process of handing out the Holy Communion, on the other hand, is a more elaborate process with the Church curtains opening and ‘Achen’ coming down the ‘madbaha’ (altar) to give out bread and water to the believers who are standing in a line with there hands folded in prayer and reverence
As a 4 year old, the elaborate process of communion never ceased to amaze me. The entire church joining together in singing praises while Achen (the vicar), would pick a piece of the brown bread and toss it into the receiver’s mouth. The receiver would then go onto have water and gulp the bread down. (It is believed that not even a single morsel of the ‘body of Christ’ should remain in the mouth). What intrigued me more was that everybody I knew seemed to get a chance to taste that seemingly delicious bread (I didn’t know it was bread at that time) while I would stare and gape at them, puzzled.
A few Sundays of gaping helped me make up my mind. I had to have that elusive bread and it seemed easy to obtain it. I just needed to stand in the line, fold my hands in prayer and open my mouth in front of Achen. My parents did not need to know of this covert operation and everyone would go home happy.
And so the day came when it was to be my turn. the curtains parted and Achen came down the stairs. Looking around and seeing none of my folks around, I slipped into the line, unnoticed. As the line progressed, I became increasingly nervous of facing Achen. Achen knew me and my family quite well and I hoped that he would stick to the business of tossing the bread into my open mouth rather than ask me questions in front of the entire church.
That was not to be. As I arrived in front of Achen, I saw a glint of suspicion in his eyes. He proceeded to ask me ” Have You taken Hoosoyo?”. The Key senses activate their own defense mechanism when they feel that the subject is incapable of handling a situation. My ears refused to hear that question and instead, interpreted the question as ‘Which School are you From?”, a question with the ready answer ‘St. Columba’s School’.
Achen wanted to say more but eventually had to succumb to the pressure of feeding many more needy, open mouths and I made a dash for the safety of the church crowd….A great escape indeed.
ps: The incident was eventually conveyed to my parents, who being responsible Sunday School teachers themselves, ensured a sound scolding followed by a strict warning was implemented.