Hosaena: Eighth Sunday of Lent

April 8, 2017
By Kassa Nigus
Hosa’ena:  is one of the moveable feasts of our Lord that falls on Sunday prior to Easter. The feast commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in His path, before His arrest on Thursday and His crucifixion on Good Friday. It thus marks the beginning of Passion Week, the final week of Lent. According to (Mathew 21:1-16), the story of Hosa’ena (Palm Sunday) was narrated as follows: 
The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem
Jesus had spent many times traveling through the towns and villages around Jerusalem. He preached about the kingdom of God and healed the sick wherever He went. As they came near Jerusalem, Jesus told two of His disciples to go into a nearby village and bring a donkey that would be waiting there. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. Crowds of people spread their coats on the ground in front of Him. The holy city of Jerusalem was crowded with pilgrims who had come for the annual Passover celebration. 
 
Some waved branches of palm trees, a sign of victory. The people shouted, Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel! (Psalm 118: 26)
 
The Ethiopian churches decorated with palms and the Arch deacon  distribute palm branches to the fellowship in memory of the greetings Jesus received from the pilgrims as He rode into Jerusalem. It is customary in Ethiopian churches for the worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. The walls of the temple ornamented with emblems of the palm. Believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses used as rings and tied on their heads in preparation for the procession on Sunday.
 
Why Jesus carried on the donkey?
 To fulfill the prophesy of Zachariah, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He [is] just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon a donkey, and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.”(Zachariah 9:9 KJV)
 
The symbolism of the donkey may refer to the ancient tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. A king come riding upon a horse when he was bent on war and rode upon a donkey when he wanted to point out he was coming in peace. Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem would thus symbolize His entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war-waging king.
 
In many cultures, donkeys are among the lowliest and have almost no value in our eyes. He comes in peace and humility and rides in on a donkey. According to church’s tradition,  in ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory, for example, Abraham praised His Lord holding palm branches when he gave birth his first Child Isaac, and his descendants, Isaac and Jacob had done the same. During their departure, Israelites also praised their Lord using palm branches.  
 
Source: Holy Bible King James Version, 1769. 
The Ethiopian Gospel Commentary 1983E.C (pp.233-236)

Nicodemus: Seventh Sunday of Lent

April 5, 2017
By Kassa Nigus 
The seventh Sunday of the great lent is known in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church as Niqodimos (ኒቆዲሞስ). The day is named after a member of the Jewish ruling council who took special interest in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ as recorded in the third chapter of St. John the evangelist. Throughout the week of the seventh Sunday, the Church narrates story of Nicodemus and the lesson of rebirth he learned from our Lord Jesus Christ. The story is recorded in John 3:1-8 as follows:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” He was impressed with the signs that Jesus performed in Jerusalem.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old?" Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”. This meant that God is above and therefore to enter His Kingdom we must all be born from above.
 
 What does being ‘born of water’ mean?
We understand in the phrase ‘born of water’ a reference to baptism, either that of John the Baptist, or Christian baptism. The phrase describes our Christian baptism which unites us with the Holy Spirit. Through this wonderful sacrament, we become children of God. Nicodemus desired to become a child of God and was baptized. He believed in the Words of Jesus, was born from above and became one of God’s children.
 
Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus at night?
Based on our Church’s interpretation, Nicodemus chose to come to Christ during the night time for fear of being seen by the Jews; he was a scholar and member of the Jewish ruling council. The other reason was probably to get enough time to converse with the Lord and ask Him whatever questions he might have had.
 
Nicodemus bearing fruit
After our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross, Nicodemus got a chance to collect and bury the body of His Lord. He and Joseph had lived as secret disciples of the Lord and thus buried His body together. 
 
Before that fateful time, Judas sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver; the chief apostle Peter denied Him and swore that he never knew Him; the other disciples too forsake Him; the chief priests accused Him of blasphemy and the council condemned Him to death.
 
The only people who took risk of the ridicule of the Romans and persecution from the Jewish religious council for following the Lord till the end were Nicodemus and Joseph – the hidden disciples. The two men came to collect and bury the body of Jesus at their own expense. Here we witness the word Nicodemus received from Jesus in private bearing public fruit.
 
What can we learn from Nicodemus?
Nicodemus held a high position of trust in the Jewish nation. He was highly educated and possessed talents of no ordinary character, and he was an honored member of the national council. Though rich, learned, and honored, he had been strangely attracted by the humble Nazarene, our Lord Jesus. He did not talk with Christ about state affairs, though he was a ruler, but about the concerns of his own soul and its salvation.
 
If we are to grow, like Nicodemus, we need to admit and seek Jesus for the grace to make the change. Education, culture and science may change us but only the grace of God can transform us. The word of Jesus has the power to transform and release us from every hold of egotism, pessimism, criticism and worldly mindsets.
 
So let us not boast in our authority, wealth, knowledge, …. that God gave us. Let’s rather learn from the life of this giant saint and seek the rebirth that ushers us into eternal life.
Sources:  Holy Bible, King James Version.
                 Tesfaye Mitiku, 2006 E.C. ሰብዐቱ አጽዋማት (The Seven Fasts) 

Debre Zeit: the 5th Sunday of the Great Lent

March 23, 2017
By  Kassa Nigus
Debre Zeit (ደብረ ዘይት): the Ge’ez phrase for Mount of Olives is one of the nine minor feast days of the Lord observed halfway in the fifth week of the great lent. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates the feast with special consideration based upon the second coming of Christ, which was announced by our Lord on the Mount of Olives. Biblical verses and the hymn of St.Yared pertinent to our Lord’s second coming are read and sung on this day.

The signs of the end times spoken by our Lord will culminate in final judgment and resurrection of the living and dead, believers and unbelievers, righteous and sinners. It is in the knowledge of this truth of the second coming of Christ that all people must repent, believe and baptize in preparation for the arrival of God’ Kingdom.

The church advises us to be spiritually prepared for judgment at any moment and to put our trust in God that He will make everything right in the end. The final phase of the process of redemption began with the first coming of Jesus and will culminate in the events surrounding His Second Coming. There will be a final judgment of all people, living and dead. There will be a final defeat and destruction of all evil — Satan, sin, suffering and death. The kingdom of God will come to its fulfillment at last.

                              Signs of the end
Jesus, Himself, said no one would be able to predict exactly the end of the time but He informs that many events will occur before the Second Coming and which will be signs that the end is near. There will be wars, famines, earthquakes, false prophets, persecutions and an increase in wickedness, rebellion against God, worship of demons, idolatry, murders, sorceries, sexual immorality, and thefts. (Matthew 24:3-14; Rev. 9: 20). The Gospel of the kingdom must be preached to all nations for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.  (Matthew 24:14-28).

                         Resurrection and Final Judgment
Everyone who has ever lived will be brought back to life in some form to face the final judgment along with those still living. When the end time comes, all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth and   can be in front of two different Judgment Seats (righteous in the right hand of Jesus and sinners in the left) — those who have done good will be granted eternal life; and those who have done evil, will be condemned to eternal punishment. (Matthew 5:29-30, 25:31-46, Mark 9:43-48 ; John 5:25-29)

While we are still living, or until Jesus comes again, we have every opportunity to repent. We can change our ways from evil to good. But in the end we will all be judged. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. You do not know when that time will come. The event, when it happens, will be swift and unexpected. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him. (Mark 13:32-33; Matthew 24:43-44)

                                            Be alert! Be Prepared!

The Feast of Abune Gebre Menfes Qidus

Abune Gebre Menfes Qidus was entitled “the Star of the desert” and “the Head of Anchorites”

March 12, 2017 

By Kassa Nigus

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Abune Gebre Menfes Qidus [means the salve of the Holy Spirit] was born on Tahisas 29 in 829 E.C; his date of birth and conception coincided with the day of His GOD, JESUS CHRIST. His father’s name was Simeon, and his mother’s name was ‘Aklesya who were righteous before GOD.  

  They remained childless in moan and prayer for a period of thirty years because they had not got a son. However, later God heard their prayer and gave them this child.
According to his Gadl (Hagiography), the saint was appeared from the city of Nehisa, in Egypt and lived there 300 years in the desert of Egypt. Then, he came to Ethiopia by the order of God and wandered about the wildernesses of Ethiopia.   He, then, departed to the land of Ziquala, that later on became the great monastery of the saint and lived there 265 years as if naked and drinking no water and eating no food, exceeding many prophets of old and unlike a man upon earth, but likened to the angels. 
 So his holy life began and was accomplished, now on the third year of his birth, GOD commanded the angel Gabriel and said unto him, “Go to the house of Simeon, and take the child from the breast of his mother, and bring him into the desert where there are many monks, and lay him down in their courtyard.” And say to the abbot, “Take the child from the courtyard, and bring him into the sanctuary”
Due to this divine order, the abbot raised him according to the Church’s rule, teaching all the scriptures and other religious learning. Later, he got ordination from the bishop called Abba Abraham and he dwelt in the Egyptian desert called ‘Gebota’ [most probably in Upper Egypt] three hundred years. 
Later on, he came to Ethiopia via Axum in 1129 E.C. during the reign of Qidus Harbey (also called Gebre Mariam), and expanded evangelistic activities in north and central Ethiopia. Then, he went to the next reigning king ‘Lalibela’, said to be in 1168 E.C., to discuss church issues. King Lalibela was excited and bowed to the saint many times and requested of him to stay with him.  But the saint did not accept the king’s request, instead he promised the king saying, “I will live in mount Ziquala and I will not depart from your country.” 
He is one of the most renowned Saints in Ethiopia along with St. Tekle Haymanot in evangelistic activities and is known as the founder of Zequala monastery.He is known by performing incredible miracles throughout his age and afterwards and is recognized by his exceptional quality, here are some of his miracles;    
 on the third day of his birth, the child rose up, and came down from his mother’s breast, and he stood up and bowed three times to the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY SPIRIT, and who also said, “Glory be to the FATHER, Glory be to the SON, Glory be to the HOLY SPIRIT, Who has brought me out of the darkness into the light.”
The saint did not eat the bread of earth, or drink water, or wear raiment and he never prepared anything for his body, but he lived naked in the desert. However, he was arrayed by his beard and the hair of his head that covered his whole body like a thatch and swept the ground.  He was like the fowls of heaven, for he thought nothing about the food of this world, but he hungered and thirsted for God; his sustenance was offered from heaven.
 One day, the three saints (Abba Samuel of Waldebba, Abba Anbes of the land of Hazalo and Abba Benyam of the upper land of Egypt) came to the land of Kabd, carried on their lions, to ask and see Abune Gebre Menfes Qidus ’s celebrity. When they reached there they couldn’t get him and they stayed there for seven days in search of him.  Then a certain lion came to the three saints and devoured their lions. Then, the saints felt bitterly sad, and their sorrow was revealed unto our father, Abune Gebre Menfes Qidus.  Then after he came to them with the great power accompanied by his lions and leopards  , the saint rebuked the lions, and he rose up the dead lions from the belly of the lions and sent them away to their former owners.
During his combat, Satan came to him in the form of a black raven, pecked at his eyes, and dug out his eyeballs. Consequently, the saint remained blind for ninety-eight years, till the angles (Michael and Gabriel) healed his eyes through their breathing.   
  He lived 100 years in solitude in Lake Ziquala, praying for Ethiopia and the world as well. He lived in the desert escorted by 60 lions and 60 tigers that served him. The saint lived 300 years in Egypt and 262 in Ethiopia with a total life span of 562 years on earth and died on Megabit 5 /March 13. Due to his spiritual struggle, he was entitled with these names: “the Star of the desert” and “the Head of Anchorites”.
The Ethiopian church commemorates the feast of the saint on the 5th date of every Ethiopian month, of which Megabit 5 /March 13 is the day of the death of the saint), and Tikmit 5 /October 15 is the great annual feast of the saint. The reason for his commemoration on the 5th date of every Ethiopian month is: 
The entry of the saint from Egypt to Ethiopia; the day on which he went out from the lake where he received the covenant from God; the day on which he raised the dead lions; the first mass of his church built in his name was also celebrated on this day.  His departure is commemorated on Megabit 5/March 13.  Consequently his Gadl states that, he died in Ziquala and rested in Medre Kebd.
             May the prayer of Abune Gebre Menfes Qidus be up on us!
 Source:
• ገድለ ገብረ መንፈስ ቅዱስ : 1992 E.C :: (The Hagiography of Abune Gebre Menfes Kidus) 1992 E.C.
• Synaxarium:The book of saints of the Ethiopian Church
• የዝቋላ ደብረ ከዋክብት አቡነ ገብረ መንፈስ ቅዱስ ገዳም ዐመታዊ መጽሔት ጥቅምት: 2007::  (Annual Journal of Ziquala Debre Kewakibt Abune Gebre Menfes Kidus, October, 2007).

The Covenant of St. Mary (Kidane Mihret)

Februray 22, 2017
By Kassa Nigus 

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Saints enjoy greater grace before God for forsaking the world and receiving hardship for the love of God. They have received spiritual powers to perform miracles while in this world such as making the dead rise, healing different ailments and driving out demons.

Likewise, one who implores by invoking their names, commemorates them and believes in their role of intercession shall be rewarded as has been confirmed by God.Our Lord says in the Gospel of Mathew 10:41-42 “that if any one receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple; verily I say unto you, he shall in nowise lose his reward.”

Saints intercede not only in the realms of the flesh as the scriptures testify for they are alive in soul. (Ex.32:2-15; Enoch 12:33-40, Luke 20:37-40). The word of God is living, and it works on the living. His covenant never changes and He Himself has said that saints are also living.

The church believes in the covenant and honor bestowed on holy Apostles, martyrs and the righteous. Covenant has been given to them that those who forsook all and followed him by carrying his cross and received hardship for the name and glory of Christ shall sit upon the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel when the son of man sits on his glorious throne. (Matt. 19:28)

If the Lord said this about the apostles, then how much more effective would be the prayers of the Mother of God for the salvation of her children? We have seen St. Mary receiving the motherhood of the Incarnate Son of God. This motherhood is not merely an honorable title but a responsibility of unceasing work. Being a superior member of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, she responds to the need of the other members seeking the salvation of everyone.

The story of the wedding of Cana of Galilee shows how great the intercession of Virgin Mary is. When St. Mary saw that the wine at the wedding had run out, she informed her Son, “they have no wine” (Jn 2:3). Of course the Lord was aware of that and surely he does not need to be reminded with the need of his children. But He who is full of love is pleased to see the mutual feeling of love in His mother and His children.

Her request was only made once, which shows clearly her confidence in Her Son’s reply, for she did not repeat her request but with every assurance she said to the people, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  (Jn 2:5)  Through her conversation with the people of the wedding, we can visualize her role in intercession. For she presents our needs to her Son and then directs our hearts to diligently carry out His comandments and to do whatever He tells us.
Accordingly, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church commemorates  the covenant of St. Mary by the name Kidane Mehret.

Kidane Mihret (ኪዳነ ምሕረት) is a Ge’ez phrase which literally means ‘covenant of mercy’. The phrase is used to refer to God’s promise to St. Mary that he would forgive the sins of those who seek her intercession – a fact that underscores the enormous grace of Our Lady before the Almighty.  Kidane Mihret also refers to Yekatit 16 (February 23), the day on which St. Mary received the promise.It is also observed on the 16th day of each month though not as colorfully as on February 23. The day marks one of the 33 feasts of St.Mary.

According to the Ethiopic Synaxarium (pp.365), God has promised St. Mary that he will bless those who celebrate her commemoration, call upon her name, or give alms to the poor even if it were only a cup of cold water. He also promised to bless those who build churches in her name, give cloth to the poor; those who visit the sick, feed the hungry, comfort the grieving, or write the history of her strife.
 
May her prayer and intercession be with us!!!
 Source: 
• The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church Faith, Order of Worship and Ecumenical Relations (1996: 60-62).    
• The book of the saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (Synaxarium).

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

February 15, 2017

By Kassa Nigus

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church celebrates the entrance of Our Lord Jesus Christ into the Temple on Yekatit 8 (February 15) carried by His mother, Saint Mary. The Ethiopian Church calls the feast, ‘Lidete Semon’ to remember the anticipation of Semon with the Holy family at the Temple.

The event is described in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:22–40).  St. Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after His birth to complete the ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn son, in obedience to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12–15, etc.).

Saint Mary and Saint Joseph kept this law, even though, St.Mary would not have had to go through ritual purification since she remained a virgin after the birth of Christ. They did this to fulfill the customs of their nation as Jews. This was according to the law which God had given to Israel, and Jesus also abided by that very rule. Luke explicitly says that St Joseph and St Mary took the option for poor people offering "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons" as they couldn’t afford a lamb. (Leviticus 12:1–4)

Upon bringing Jesus into the temple, they encountered Simeon, an old man who had been promised that "he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ" (Luke 2:26). According to church manuscripts, Simeon was one of the 70 scholars who were chosen by a king called Betlimos (Ptolemy II ) to translate and interpret the book of the prophets from Hebrew to  Greek (Tsir’e). The translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek language is known as the Septuagint (the LXX). The name “Septuagint” comes from the Latin word for seventy. 

Simeon was in charge of translating the book of Isaiah. As he reached the sentence that read, “behold the Virgin becomes pregnant and gives birth” (Isa. 7:14), he was confused by the discrepancy as women cannot be virgin and pregnant at the same time except St Mary. 

As he feared that a direct translation of the text will cast a shadow of doubt over his translation skills and he could face punishment due to that, he replaced the word ‘virgin’ with ‘woman’.  But after a while he witnessed a miracle: the word ‘woman’ was replaced by ‘virgin’. He erased that and wrote ‘woman’ instead of ‘virgin’. But the word was erased again miraculously.  Then an angel came to him, told him not to erase the word ‘virgin’ and said, “you shall not see death before you see the Lord’s Christ (whom the Virgin gave birth to)" (Luke 2:26). 

Simeon lived for 500 years was bed ridden. But when he met the Holy Family at the temple and carried the Child Jesus Christ, he regained his strength and was full of energy like a young man. That is why the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates the day and named it ‘Lidete Simeon’ (Birth of Simeon).  

At that time, Simeon offered a prayer which came to be known as the prayer of Simeon, or Canticle of Simeon, which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant departs in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.”  (Luke 2:29–32).

Simeon then said to Mary: "Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34–35).

Source: 
• ወንጌል ቅዱስ ዘእግዚእነ ወመድኃኒነ ኤየሱስ ክርስቶስ ዘዜነዉ ማቴዎስ ወማርቆስ ሉቃስ ወዮሐንስ::( The four Gospels commentary), written and interpreted by Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church scholars, 19 88 Eth.Ca, pp. 382.
• Ethiopic Synaxarium on February 16. 

The Fast of Nineveh

 “O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.” (Jonah 1:6 – KJV)
  By Kassa Nigus
February 3,  2017
The fast of Nineveh is a three-day lent recognized by the Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which lasts from Monday to Wednesday, two weeks before the beginning of the Great Lent. This year’s Fast of Nineveh begins on Monday, February 6 and ends February 8.

The dates of this fast vary every year according to the date of Easter. It rotates within 35 days of variance between Tir 17 (January 25) of lower limit and Yekatit 21 (February 29) of upper limit). The Fast of Nineveh is ritualistically similar to the Fast of the Great Lent. As with all other fasts of the Holy church, the fast of Nineveh is observed by refraining from the intake of all dairy and meat products.

During this fast, we remember the three days Prophet Jonah spent in the belly of a large fish as penance for his disobedience to God and the atonement of the sinful city of Nineveh. This fast teaches us how a sinner can inherit the kingdom of God through repentance and realized God’s love and concern not just for His own people.

During these three days, we should look at our lives and show remorse for our disobedient natures and follow in the footsteps of Prophet Jonah and the people of Nineveh. This fast is about getting rid of our bad habits, just like the mariners threw most of their cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load and to make the ship sail safe. This fast is about to cast off our worldly desires and cultivating virtues. Just as the captain awakened Jonah from his sleep, let us also awaken ourselves from spiritual sleep and call upon God during this three-day Fast. 

Note: As the fast of Nineveh is the herald of the Great Lent, the Great Lent (55 days of fast) will begin on Monday, February 21. 

A blessed fast to all of you!

The Commemoration of the Death of St. Mary (Astereyo Mariam)

 “… Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done to me great things;” (Luke 1:48-49)

January 30, 2017

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The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido church commemorates the death of St. Mary on Tir 21 (January 29). The day is known as ‘Aster’eyo’ to mean appearance/Epiphany. It is one of the most colorful festivals of St Mary 

celebrated across Ethiopia. It coincides with the season the church devoted to celebrate the different manifestations of Christ’s glory and Divinity, especially the Nativity, the Baptism as well as the miracle at Cana.

The term ‘Aster’eyo’ is more related to the commemoration of the death of St. Mary in view of the fact that God came with thousands of His angles to comfort her, as is recorded in the Synaxarium.

The years of St. Mary’s life on earth were 64 years. She grew up in her parents’ house and lived there for 3 years and 7 months. She was then given to the priests in the temple to grow there serving in God’s house. She left the temple when she reached the age of 15. She spent 34 years and three months in Joseph’s house until the Ascension of the Lord, and spent the rest of her life (i.e. 14 years) with St. John the Evangelist, according to what the Lord said when He was on the cross: "Behold, this is your son," and to St. John, "Behold, this is your mother."

Her intercession and blessings be with us. Amen.

Source: Synaxarium – The Book of the Saints of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

 

 

The Festival of Timket

January 18, 2017
By Kassa Nigus 
 Baptismal pool in Jan – Meda, Addis Ababa

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‘Timket’ is a Ge’ez word meaning “immersion in water” similar to the Baptism of Jesus Christ. The word also denotes epiphany which is driven from the Greek word epiphaneia meaning “appearance”.  The annual Timket celebration is held across Ethiopia on Tir 11 E.C (January 19 G.C) 
with processions of priests carrying replicas of the Ark of Covenant, locally known as ‘Tabot’, escorted by thousands of believers. The day is observed in commemoration of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. Timket is not only one of the major feasts of the Ethiopian church but it is also a public holiday when offices and schools across the country are closed.
 
The festive lasts two days, the 18th (the eve of Timket) and the 19th 0f January, even extending to a third day where there is Tabots dedicated to Archangel Michael whereby celebrated the feast of the miracle of Jesus at the wedding of Cana.  
 
Though Timket is celebrated on January 19, the season, according to the church’s tradition, covers the period from the eve of the festival to the start of the three-day fast observed in  commemoration of the fast the people of Nineveh observed to avert God’s wrath.  
During the Timket season, the church praises the Lord reciting chants and readings pertaining to the Birth, Circumcision, and Baptism of Christ as well His miracle at a Wedding in Cana of Galilee. (Luke 2:21; John 2:1-11) 
 
The Origin of Timket Festival in Ethiopia
As land of God, Ethiopia has been following the teachings of the apostles and started celebrating epiphany at the national level in 530 AD during the reign of Emperor Gebre Meskel. In 1140 AD, king and priest Lalibela made an amendment to the existing tradition of the Epiphany celebration by which he made a decree that urged all Arks of covenant (Tabots) to be carried to a river or pool together to bless the waters. (Megabe Mstir Welde Rufael Fetahi and Kesis Samuel Eshetu, 2014)
 
In 1426 AD, following a proposal from scholars, Emperor Zer’a Ya’ekob declared that the Tabots be taken to nearby pools on the eve (January 18) and stay the night there blessing the nation. In 1486 AD, Emperor Naod also made an order that the Tabots be escorted by the faithful in colorful processions. (Ibid.)
 
The Eve of Timket 
Baptismal pool of Fasiledes in Gondar 

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The eve of Timket is known by the two major events: Ketera and Gehad. Following those traditions, the Tabots are taken to rivers and pools early afternoon on the eve of Timket, which is known as “Ketera” meaning ‘making a reservoir for the celebration’. Each Tabot is carried overhead by a high priest to the nearby body of water accompanied by thousands of church members chanting hymns. The celebration is also augmented by spiritual dancing (known as Shibsheba), drum beating, horn blowing, prayer stick waving and sistra rattling.  
 
Alula Pankhurst (2010) state that the eve of Timket is known as Ketera, a reference to damming a stream to make a baptismal pool, known as Timkete Bahir. He recounted quoting from early literature that James Bruce, the 18th century Scottish traveler, describes how the streams are in Adwa was dammed for several days to reach a depth of four feet. In some cities pools were purpose – built, the most famous being Fasiledes’s pool at Gondar and the queen of Sheba’s at Aksum. The 16th century Portuguese writer Francisco Alvares describes how water was diverted at Emperor Lebne Dengil’s court through an intricate system of channels and pipes and filtered through cloth.
 
The celebrations begin with a procession leaving each church in the early afternoon after a service and a prayer which is known as Wazema have been performed as it has been done during other major church holidays. 
 
Around 3 Pm, the chiming of church bells signals the appearance of the Tabot and excitement mounts among the awaiting crowds. The head priest emerges bearing the Tabot on his head secluded from public view by a velvet cloth embroidered with gold and silver. Other priests hold ceremonial umbrellas above the Tabot for adoration as well as to protect it from sun and rain. Women ululate, youths cheer, and crowds applaud to the rhythm of drum beat. The procession circles the church and sets off, preceded by Sunday school choirs. Priests carry swaying censors, deacons beat drums, and groups of youths sing and dance, while musicians blow trumpets and play string instruments. (Ibid.)  
 
The festive procession is said to symbolize the journey of Jesus from Galilee to the River Jordan described in Mathew chapter three and has also been linked to Biblical scenes of David dancing around the Ark described in Samuel chapter six. On the journey more and more people join and onlookers fall to their knees in reverence, some kissing the ground, some rubbing their bodies with soil and grass from under the feet of priests carrying Tabots to ensure blessings. (Ibid)
 
The procession turns into a massive human river in which participants are swept along with the joyous tide. Once the Tabots are safely installed in their tents the service begins with the patriarch’s (head priest’s) benediction. Choirs form two parallel lines and perform their rhythmic swaying dances, moving towards each other and parting again raising and lowering their sistra in one hand and their prayer sticks in the other, to the beat of the drummer in the middle who gradually increases the tempo, finally reaching a frenzied climax. (Ibid)
 
The eve of Timket is also locally known as Gehad, meaning ‘manifestation’ in relation to the appearance of Jesus Christ. It is a one day fast assuming that if the feast of the two great holidays – Christmas and Epiphany falls on Wednesday and Friday, the laity shall fast the days before epiphany in replacement of the fast of Wednesday and Friday to celebrate these great feasts in joy and happiness. If the eve of Epiphany falls on Saturday and Sunday, one can consume early in the morning but only prohibited from dairy products. Priests and devout Orthodox Christians do not taste any food or water until the Tabots installed in their temporary tents around sunset.
 
Throughout the night sermons in relation to the Baptismal of Jesus, singing, dancing and praying to continue. The Kiddase (Divine Liturgy) is administered near the pools early in the morning. Passages from the story of the Baptism of Jesus Christ recited from the four Gospels at the cardinal points of the pool.
The Patriarch (head priest) dips his cross to bless the water. Three candles are floated on a water of wood in the baptismal pool, symbolizing the Holy Trinity.  The water is then blessed and sprinkled towards the assembled congregation, some of whom immerse themselves in the water, symbolically renewing their baptismal vows.
 
The blessing of the water is the signal for jubilation and great excitement as anticipation spreads through the crowds. Priests spray water on expectant onlookers. Sprinklers reach those further from the perimeter fence. Joy radiates on the face of those with drops of water glowing on their faces. Some jump into the pool and help shower others. Others fill receptacles with holy water for those too old or infirm to take part. (Alula Panhurst, 2010)
 
Afterwards, a festive and relaxed mood sets in. men and women form dancing groups. Horsemen play Gugs, a contest with wands thrown in lieu of spears and warded off with shields. Youths play Genna, the Ethiopian hockey or stick fighting. Youths sell peanuts, roasted grain, sweets, and poles painted with the national colors. Families enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the celebrations are characterized by a delightful air of informality. (Ibid.)
 
Return from Timkete Bahir  

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However, the festival does not end at a baptismal pool on the afternoon of January 19; the crowd escorts the return journey of Tabots, which circle their respective church before entering the Mekdes, the Holy of Holies. Only the Tabots of St Michael remains a further night there, since its feast is on the following day, associated with the first miracle of Jesus, the Wedding of Cana. 
 
The central role of the Tabot throughout the ceremony, from the triumphant procession to waterside to the jubilant journey back to the church is unique. The Tabot is essentially an Ethiopian phenomenon not shared by any other Christian church. It is the only consecrated object anointed with Holy Oil, conferring its sacred nature on the church. Tabots are kept in the Holy of Holies and cannot be touched and seen by the laity. (Ibid.)
 
 

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Whatever its historical and religious connotations Timket is also the most important festival of rejoicing, coming at a time of plenty after the harvest. People dress in their best new clothes; according to a popular saying in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, ‘ለጥምቀት ያልሆነ ቀሚስ ይበጣጠስ’ – a dress not used for Timket deserves to be torn to tatters.’  (Ibid.)
In addition to the fasting and feasting , the jubilant processions and the baptismal ceremony, coming as it does in the wedding season, Timket is also known as an occasion for romance and betrothal. It is said that in the countryside a young man would throw a lemon to girl he choose to be his fiancee at Timket and by accepting his gift she would signal his interest in him. (Ibid.)
 
Though Timket is a religious festival, many ethnic groups in Ethiopia celebrate it in line with their cultures. This adds to the appeal of the festival for foreign visitors and makes it one of the national celebrations which attract many tourists to Ethiopia. Currently, there has been a campaign to record this culturally deep-rooted Ethiopian holiday in UNESCO’s intangible world heritage list next to Meskel (True Cross) celebrations.  
Source:
• Megabe Mstir Welde Rufael Fetahi and Kesis Samuel Eshetu, 2014 (tra. Dr. Merkeb Mekuria), Betimketu Dagmenga Weleden, pp.132, (Special publication by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, Addis Ababa: Tinsae Zegubae). 
• Alula Pankhurst, (January – March 2010). The Festival of Timket in ‘Selamta Journal’ – the In – flight Magazine of Ethiopian Airlines, Volume 27, Number 1, Pp. 34-36. 

Circumcision of Jesus Christ (Gezret)

January 14, 2017
By Kassa Nigus

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The Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus is observed on the 6th of January in the liturgical calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church.

Jesus was circumcised eight days after His birth in keeping with the Old Testament law which holds that males should be circumcised eight days after birth on which they are also given their names. (Luke 2:21)

In the Old Testament, circumcision was a sign of the covenant made between God and Abraham’s offspring of promise. It represented a symbol which set apart those who believed in God from those who didn’t. (Leviticus 12:3) Isaac, the only son of Abraham chosen by God to be the heir of the covenant, was circumcised on the eighth day according to God’s order. From that time circumcision became a most important rite during the Old Testament. 

In the New Testament, circumcision has been replaced by baptism which came to symbolize entry into the new covenant and becoming an heir to God’s eternal promises. Our Lord Jesus Christ was taken to the temple eight days after His birth because He came to accomplish the law of prophets and Torahs. (Mathew 5:17, Luke 2:21) He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived. 

According to a tradition in the Ethiopian church, when the man who carried out circumcisions approached Jesus, his knife almost melted down and so he was afraid. Then Jesus opened His mouth and said, “My blood shall not be shed on earth except on [Good] Friday”. Later Jesus was found circumcised Divinely. 
Source: 
• Ethiopic Synaxarium,on January 14. 
• Hiruy Ermias 2006E.C, Mezgebe Tarik part 2, pp.141.