Meskel – Finding of the True Cross

September 26, 2015
By Tsegeye Girma & Synodos Tesfay
Humanity had suffered a lot due to the grave sin Adam and Eve committed through the temptation of the Devil. The entire human race was rendered slave to Satan until our Lord Jesus Christ, one of the three Persons in the Holy Trinity, came to redeem us.

Christ came to the world in human form to atone for the wrongdoings of humans on our behalf and fulfill the divine justice. He reopened the gate of heaven through His death as all humans, be they sinners or righteous, were not allowed to enter paradise. Between our Creator and us was a big wall that no one could take down but only our Lord Jesus Christ.

As the Lord promised to Adam, He came to the world and endured severe pain and contempt for our sake. He was then crucified on the Cross (Meskel) between two criminals who spent their entire lives robbing and terrorizing people. The Lord took our sin and our death and gave us His life; He called us His sons while everything we have ever done was crucified him and sin. 

 Christ redeemed us through His death on the Cross. The Cross has thus become the sign of victory for Christians. It is the symbol of our freedom from evil and our rebirth for a new life in Jesus Christ. That is why Saint Paul the Apostle said “But God forbids that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Gal 6:14)

Even after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Cross kept on making numerous miracles among believers. But the Jews who lived in those days were envious, and hence buried the Cross and turned the place into a dumping ground for garbage. Through time, the garbage piled up and took the form of a hill. The Jews had made every effort to obscure the place where the Cross was buried. 

After 200 years, Queen Elena, mother of Constantine the Great, set out to locate the place where the cross was buried and excavate it. She prayed hard to request for the will and help of God and then headed for Jerusalem in 319 E.C to accomplish her project.

 Given the lapse of two centuries, it was hard for Queen Elena to spot the exact place of burial of the Cross. She thus sough the counsel of an old man named Kirakos who told her that the Cross was buried in one of three hills located in city of Jerusalem. 

 Elena summoned all priests in the city for mass prayers. She then lit a bonfire and put incense into it. The smoke from the bonfire billowed into the sky and then bent down to the hill where the Cross was buried. She had the place dug, and three crosses were excavated. The True Cross on which our Lord was crucified was identified for the enormous miracles it did. After unearthing the Holy Cross, Queen Helena lit torches heralding her success.

In the Middle Ages, the Patriarch of Alexandria who got hold of part of the True Cross, gave the Ethiopian Emperor Dawit a piece of the Cross in return for protection afforded to the Coptic Christians. This piece is reputedly held at the Gishen Mariam church located about 70 kilometers northwest of Dessie in northern Ethiopia. 

Ethiopians have been celebrating this day for a millennium. There are two occasions on Meskel. The first is Demera (September 26), in which bonfires are built topped by a cross to which flowers are tied. The flowers are Meskel Daisies. The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church orchestrates the ceremony to light a huge bonfire in Meskel Square at the heart of Addis Ababa.  

The ceremony is accompanied by spiritual dancing and singing. Priests in full ceremonial dress sing around the bonfire. While the Demera is set on fire there is an inner feeling of brightness for all those who are around it. Little Demeras are also built at individual houses or villages. On the next day of Demera comes the Meskel festivity. In the morning of Meskel, believers go to the spot of the Demera, and using ashes from the fire, they mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross. The festival coincides with the mass blooming of the golden yellow Meskel daisies. The day is observed with holiday meals and drink. 

Our forefathers have managed to preserve this age-old tradition which has recently been inscribed in the records of UNESCO as one of the intangible heritages of the world. The responsibility to pass on this unique tradition to the coming generations now lies on the shoulders of every one of us.  

    Happy Meskel celebrations to you all!!


  The Book of Synaxarium: September 27. 

  • Hiruy Ermias 2002: Mzgebe Tarik part 1 (መዝገበ ታሪክ ክፍል አንድ).  Page: 32-33.