As many will know the big fasting season in Ethiopia started this week on Monday. Fasting is appears in many religions around the world. But in the west its has lost its rigour for most people. However in the Ethiopian Orthodox church there are many fasting days through the year. In fact a strict observer of all fasts would be vegan for half the year. The longest of the fasts is Hudadi or the Abiy Tsom, as the lenten fast leading up to Easter is variously known, and the majority of followers of the Orthodox church fast these 55 days every year.
Why is it 55 days when in the western church it is 40 days? There are specific reasons for the addition of 2 weeks to the 40 day fast that many people are not aware of.
Medieval painting of King Eraclias
The first week of Hudadi is known as the fast of Eraclius, a Byzantine Emperor who lived in 614 A.D. During his reign the Persians invaded Jerusalem and took the Cross of the Lord. Eraclius made an expedition to Persia and having defeated the Persians he took the Cross back to Jerusalem. The Christians in Jerusalem who were very happy because of Eraclius’s victory and the return of the Cross, dedicated the first week before Lent to be the fast of Eraclius and included it in their canons. The last week of Lent: Passion Week during remembers the Apostles who fasted in commemoration of Christ’s Passion.
To the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Hudadi is a period of fasting when the faithful undergo a rigorous schedule of prayers and penitence. This fast is observed with greater rigour than any other fast and it is a test of one’s spiritual strength and resolve. Properly observed it is believed to nullify sins committed during the rest of the year.
The fast if strictly followed :
- is applicable to all persons older than 13 years of age
- involves abstinence from: meat, dairy products and eggs (and many will abstain from fish too)
- instead, cereals and vegetables will be consumed
- only one meal (vegan) a day is eaten, taken in the evening or after 3:00pm (when church services end). Before that no food, drink nor even water is to be consumed
- starting on Good Friday to Easter Sunday (i.e. late on Saturday night), there is total abstinence nothing taken maybe eaten nor drunk.
- on other Saturdays and Sundays during Lent, eating breakfast is allowed.
- Daily Services are conducted in all churches from morning to 2:45pm.
- Priests regularly attend night services starting at midnight up to 7am.
Fasting selection with Ethiopian beer
For the visitor to Ethiopia a wonderful array of fasting foods is served up on enjara – just ask for: – ‘ye tsom bayenetu’. You may also get a wonderful fired fish (probably Tilapia) ‘asseh‘. Enjoy!
Tesfa Tours will happily recommend good fasting restaurants in Addis, and take you there as part of a city tour.
Photo by Anthony Pappone Photography (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ronnyreportage/)
Best wishes to everyone celebrating Easter this weekend.
Easter in Ethiopia, known as Fasika is celebrated according to the Orthodox or Eastern church calendar. Some years it falls on the same day as in the western church, but this year it is as far apart as it can be.
Fasika is a Ge’ez (the ancient liturgical language of Ethiopia) word and also the word in Amharic and Tigrinya for Easter. Easter is sometimes called Tensae a Ge’ez word meaning to rise). It is one of the most important holidays in Ethiopia marking the end of a long 55 day Lenten fast. On Easter Sunday chicken, cheep, goats and cattle are dispatched for the pot as the fasting comes to an end in no uncertain terms.
There is a lot of fasting in Ethiopia with 180 days of fasting through the year (almost half the year is fasting) and more for priests and monks and the like who fast for 250 days a year. Fasting means abstaining from and meat or dairy produce. Fish was traditionally allowed but it is now common for many to exclude fish too.
Following Easter there is no fasting for one month until the regular Wednesday and Friday fasts restart.
Priests reading the Bible by the light of a taper
Yesterday was Palm Sunday or Hosanna. It is a very special day in the Orthodox church commemorating Jesus’s march into Jerusalem on a donkey with Palm fonds laid before him. It is marked with palms (worn by many worshippers on hands or head), processions and special services.
And now we are in Holy Week, the “Week of Pains” or the Himamat. For some strict worshippers, from Thursday afternoon until Easter morning (late on Saturday night/Sunday morning) they will not eat any food nor drink even a drop of water for the three days are known as “Qanona”. The priests neither eat nor drink but remain in the churches singing and praying incessantly. During Himamat no absolution is given.
Hailay (Tesfa Tours driver) peeling a prickly Pear – Beles fruit!
As Baloo sings in the Jungle Book –
Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don’t pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear Try to use the claw
But you don’t need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw.
The peeled Beles fruit – no more prickles!
The season for these tasty fruit starts in May, but you are best advised to let someone who knows how to peel it (as you do not have Baloo’s claws!). So why not come up after Fasika (Ethiopian Easter) and walk through the beautiful Agame mountains around Adigrat, famed for their tasty ‘Beles’ fruits.
It is also the season of priest parties (for two weeks after Fasika)- when householders entertain their local priests to congratulate them on getting through the rigours of another fasting season. Local beer and spicy ‘Teh’lo’
Tehlo ceremony in Tigray
(meat in red sauce with balls of barley) is served and everyone celebrates the season. You will undoubtably be invited in as a guest of honour.
So come and be a guest of the local villagers in the Agame mountains this May.
The Cactus in flower in the Agame mountains,
Fasika – Easter, is over for another year. Sunday saw the piles of sheep skins on street corners, to be picked up by small dealers in trucks. For the days leading up to Easter flocks of sheep and goats as well as herds of oxen were driven by herders into the city, chickens were driven in trucks and pick ups. They are sold at impromptu markets all over the city to be slaughtered in back yards. Prices of livestock easily double for Easter, with sheep were costing over $100 USD, chickens over $10 USD. Sheep come to Addis with drovers bringing them across country from several hundred miles away, across Shoa and even as far as Wollo.
So the fasting is done, in fact there is no fasting now, even on Wednesdays and Fridays until after Pentecost (this year that means until June). In the countryside the end of the fasting is celebrated in different ways. In Tigray priests are feted with parties held by different households from their parish. In Wollo I have seen the girls making swings from rope to hand off trees and play on them singing songs, while the boys have javelin contests. Its also a second wedding season as people like to get married before the rainy season and after the fasting.
As you know this year there were two Christian Easters with the Orthodox Easter (Fasika) falling one week after the western Easter. The dates for both the Orthodox and Western Easters move around March and April and can even appear in May, but quite often they also coincide. Next year however, in 2016, the two Easters will be far apart with western Easter falling on 27th March and the Orthodox celebration will be on 1st May. Yet in 2017 both will be on the same day.