Category Archives: Orthodox

The great Lenten fast draws to a close and Easter approaches

Fasika in Lalibela

Enkwanaderasachu

Best wishes to everyone celebrating Easter on either the 1st or the 8th of April. Easter in Ethiopia, known as Fasika is celebrated according to the Orthodox or Eastern church calendar this year on 8th April. Some years it falls on the same day as in the western church, some years it can be far apart, but this year it is one week after western Easter.

Fasika is a Ge’ez (the ancient liturgical language of Ethiopia) word and also the word in Amharinya and Tigrinya for Easter. Easter is also sometimes called Tensae a Ge’ez word meaning to rise). It is one

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

of the most important holidays in Ethiopia, marking the end of a long 55 day Lenten fast. On Easter Sunday chickens, sheep, goats and cattle are dispatched for the pot as the fasting comes to an end in no uncertain terms. Sunday sees piles of sheep skins on street corners, to be picked up by small dealers in trucks. In the days leading up to Easter flocks of sheep and goats as well as herds of oxen are driven by herders into the city, chickens are 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 more than double for Easter. Sheep come to the capital with drovers bringing them across countryside from several hundred miles away, from Shoa and even as far as Wollo.

Local shepherd boys in Wollo

After Easter there is no fasting not even on Wednesdays and Fridays until after Pentecost on 27th May (Parakilitos). 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 hang from trees and sing songs while swinging, 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. These are enjoyable times in the countryside, and if you have the chance to spend a week or so up in the countryside on a Tesfa Trek in Wollo, Tigray or the Simiens you will be a very welcome guest and

Hosanna palm rings

participant at the celebrations. Its still not too late to book your trek in early April!

The lead up to Fasika starts now with Palm Sunday or Hosanna this Sunday (1 week before Easter, 1st April this year).  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 in the church.

Following Hosanna is the last week of the Great Lenten fast or Hudadi.  This final week of Hudadi is commonly known as Holy Week, or the “Week of Pains” or in Ethiopia Himamat and it is the strictest part of Lent. During Himamat no absolution is given, and during this week the fast becomes yet more rigorous. For some strict worshippers, having broken the fast after mass on Thursday they will not eat any food nor drink even a drop of water until Easter morning. So they totally abstain for all of Good Friday (or Sekelet) and Saturday, breaking this fast after the church service that goes through the night on Saturday, finishing at around 3am on Sunday morning. These three days are known as “Qanona”. The priests neither eat nor drink but remain in the churches singing and praying incessantly.

As far as I am aware no other major religion has such penitential fasting. For the strict observers of the fast, the 55 days of Lent are very tough on the body. Fasting in Ethiopia not only means a vegan diet but also means many hours of no food or drink. Each fasting day the observer will not eat of drink anything from the time they wake up until after the mass in the middle of the day is finished in church for many that means 3-4pm. Two simple meals may then follow, a late ‘lunch’ or more properly ‘break-fast’, and a light supper in the evening. What is staggering is that there is no drinking – not water, not coffee, nothing – during those fasting hours.

For vegetarians the end of Lent means no fasting food, even on Wednesdays and Fridays – so make the most of the last week of fasting.

 

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Melkam Timkat

The community at Mequat Mariam parade the Tabot out at TImkat with Ethiopian flags flying

The community at Mequat Mariam in Wollo parade the Tabot out at Timkat

Today one of Ethiopia’s big holidays has started, it is the eve of Timkat and if you are in Addis the roads are closing as the Tabots are paraded out of the churches on their way to the field where the Baptism of Jesus will be commemorated tomorrow morning.  Timkat – meaning ‘Baptism’ is a festival that seems to encapsulate Ethiopia’s unique place in the world. It is frequently referred to as Epiphany, which while technically correct undersells what is a very special and Ethiopian day. Epiphany is a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearance, and it celebrates the events in Christ’s life that showed him to be the son of God. In the early church (before Rome got into it) this was the major feast in the church after Easter. In Epiphany was encapsulated all the major events that manifested Christ’s Godhood to man: his birth (Nativity) , the visit of the Magi, the turning watering wine at the wedding in Canaa, and his baptism in the Jordan river. With the appearance of Christmas in the developing church as a new festival, his nativity was taken out of Epiphany.

Holes are cut in the Ice in Russia

Bathers queue to dip in the freezing water in St..Petersburg

In the Eastern Orthodox churches Epiphany, in Greece often called Theophany (meaning shinning forth/appearance) is celebrated to commemorate the Baptism of Jesus as it is in Ethiopia. In Russia people cut a hole in the ice on a body of water and jump in. In Greece a cross is thrown into water and men dive for the honour of bringing it back. In Ethiopia, the holy Tabot is the heart of the church and what in fact makes a church holy, is processed to a place where water will be blessed. The tabot is in fact a replica of the Tablets of Stone that Moses carried down from Mount Sinai (although many state that they are a replica of the the Ark of Covenant).

In fact it is really spread over 2 or 3 days. This year – (leap years are different next one is 2020), it will start on the 18th Jan (Ter 10). In Addis the Tabots will leave the churches at around 2pm with a big procession, singing of hymns and chants, drumming, horns being blown and dancing to the chants. Icons are processed and most especially the tabots wrapped in brocaded cloth carried on the heads of the high priests under umbrellas. The procession will makes its way over several hours to the special resting point for the tabots. In north eastern Addis Ababa this place is Jan Meda (the Imperial horse racing fields). At Jan Meda about a dozen tabots spend the night with tents for shelter, and priests and devoted followers. The fields become the centre of the festival for the evening and next day, and for tabots from St Mikael churches the next day too.

Tens of thousands of people will gather at the fields in the evening, hundreds sell refreshments and nicknacks. The roads around are packed solid.  During the processions roads are closed across the city (and the country) and no cars can pass. Houses beside the route the tabots pass are blessed. Young lads lay down carpets on the road in front off the tabot. They rapidly roll them up behind and run them round to the front again, extreme hard work and a devotion that illustrates how deep seated are the beliefs and culture of the Orthodox church even in the capital city.

Where to see it? Head to your nearest Orthodox church, and plan to be there by 2pm. Then you can join in the procession to the fields. Don’t be worried by the crowds, everyone is joyful and will be happy to see you, but do show respect for the priests and the tabots, dress appropriately (women should cover heads and neither men nor women should wear short clothing – if you have traditional white cotton clothes all the better). At the convergence points of the tabots there could be pick pockets at work so be careful of possessions and do not carry unnecessary valuables.

The followers play the church drum “Kabero” and dance the tabot across town

These Timkat processions are through-out Ethiopia where ever there is an Orthodox church. Procession make there way across towns in urban areas and over the fields in the countryside, to a place where in the morning the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan river is commemorated. Water will be blessed and the multitudes will be splashed with the holy water and try to take some home with them in bottles. Following this ceremony the tabots (with the exception of Mikael tabots) will be processed back to their church with similar joy, noise, colour and reverence to that with which they were processed today. These processions bring to mind the biblical accounts of King David’s processing the Ark of Covenant to Jerusalem: “So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.” although Ethiopia’s instruments are drums and horns.

So where should you go to see it (in Ethiopia). In Addis Ababa, head for your nearest place where tabots have congregated, and try to get there quite early (8am). There will be big crowds near the major places such as Jan Meda, and beware of pickpockets! In the countryside similarly head for the tabots resting place early in the morning. Local people will tell you when.

Worshippers jump into the Fasilides baths

In Gondar you will need to seek out a place early in the morning at Fasilidas’ baths. It becomes extremely crowded. Your guide will advise you. The moment of the joyful splashing is the high point. In Gondar youngsters jump into the pool, in Addis the clergy spray the crowd from the water in the pool in the midst of the field. In parishes up and down the country water is splashed from the blessed pool, spring or river in a joyous celebration. Then you can follow the joyful processions back up to the churches.

The 20th January, Ter 12, is one of the big St Mikael days in the year, and also commemorates the Wedding Feast at Canaa when Jesus turned water into wine. The St.Mikael tabots remain in the field on the 19th and on the morning if the 290th a special mass is celebrated and the procession then begins back to the Mikael church. This is the biggest procession of them all as followers of other nearby churches will join in. In many places there is Gooks: racing of decorated horses around the procession. With a lot of dancing through the morning the Tabot is processed back to its church bestowing blessings on all whose house is passed. Most processions will be finished by around 2pm.

Melkam Timkat!

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Melkam Gena – Happy Christmas

Priest holding traditional taper

The churches are all celebrating mass this morning across Ethiopia and the Orthodox world. It is Christmas morning and the fast that started 42 days before in late November is now over. Today is a feast day and all kinds of meat will be prepared for the celebrations.

Lalibela is the place to celebrate Gena, with thousands of pilgrims walking into the holy town from great distances to participate in the Christmas morning celebrations above Bete Mariam church. Many hundreds of tourists will be there to witness this spectacle.

Tesfa Tours wishes all who are celebrating today and very happy Christmas.

Gena ceremony in Lalibela

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Ethiopia prepares for Timkat

Flags put up on the streets of Addis in preparation for the Timkat processions on 18th - 20th Jan

Flags put up on the streets of Addis in preparation for the Timkat processions on 18th – 20th Jan

Preparations are underway for one festival that seems to encapsulate Ethiopia’s unique place in the world: it is Timkat – or ‘Baptism’. It is frequently referred to as Epiphany, which undersells what is a very special and Ethiopian day. In fact it is really spread over 2 or 3 days. And it start tomorrow- Wed 18th Jan (Ter 10).

The programme:   In Addis the Tabot will leave the churches at around 2pm with a big procession, singing of hymns and chants, drumming, horns being blown and dancing to the chants. Icons are processed and most especially the tabots wrapped in brocaded cloth carried on the heads of the high priests under umbrellas. The procession will makes its way over several hours to the special resting point for the tabots. In north eastern Addis Ababa this is Jan Meda (

A Tabot  being paraded

A Tabot being paraded for Timkat

the Royal horse racing fields). At Jan Meda about a dozen tabots spend the night with tents for shelter, and priests and devoted followers. The fields become the centre of the festival for the evening and next day, and for St Mikael Tabots  the next day too. Tens of thousands of people will gather at the fields in the evening, hundreds sell refreshments and nicknacks. The roads around are packed solid.

During the processions roads are closed across the city (and the country) and no cars can pass. Houses beside the route the tabots pass are blessed. Young lads lay down carpets on the road infant off the taboo. They rapidly rolls them up behind and run them round to the front again, extreme hard work and a devotion that illustrates how deep seated are the beliefs and culture of the Orthodox church even in the capital city.

Where to see it?  Head to your nearest Orthodox church, and plan to be there by 2pm. Then you can join in the procession to the fields. Don’t be worried by the crowds, everyone is joyful and will be happy to see you, but do show respect for the priests and the Tabots, dress appropriately (women should cover heads and neither men nor women should wear short clothing – if you have traditional white cotton clothes all the better).  At the convergence points of the tabots thee could be pick pockets at work so be careful of possessions and do not carry unnecessary valuables.

See tomorrow for details of the rest of Timkat!  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas is coming .. in Ethiopia

Melkam Gena / Happy Christmas

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

Sheep are bought into Addis for sale for holidays

Christmas is coming and sheep is for the pot.
Onions need cutting and enjara pan is hot.
If you can’t afford a sheep a chicken will do.
If you can’t afford a chicken then God bless you.

This adaptation tells a few home truths about festivals in Ethiopia such as Gena:
mountains of onions are peeled, chopped fine and put in the pot. Enjara bread (pancakes) is baked on the eve of Gena with a big pile ready for the feast. People using electricity in the cities are nervous of power cuts or low power meaning the pan does not

Chickens for sale on street corners

Chickens for sale on street corners

get hot enough. And after the long fast that precedes Gena, everyone wants to eat meat. Best is to buy a sheep, but prices of sheep ahead of festivals has soared in recent years. A small sheep would not cost over $100 USD, for many that is a months salary or more. But a Doro wot- spicy chicken stew – is a favourite for the holiday. Yet even a chicken would cost around $10-15USD. So there are many families who will not be able to afford a chicken this holiday.

In most of Europe and the West, Christmas is the big family day, with presents, special foods, traditions to be followed. For many they will go to church and remember that it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for many more it has become a feast of consumerism and consumption.

In the Ethiopian Orthodox church, the traditional church in Ethiopia and the one that forms the framework of much of the culture of the country, there are several very important festivals throughout the year: Easter, Christmas, Timkat (the celebration of the baptism of Christ) and Meskal being the most important. Add to this new Year, which falls on 11th September in most years, and is very important to many although it is less of a religious day, and you can see that there are a good number of festivals through the year.

Bale Wold church in Addis, crowds gather to see the Tabot

Bale Wold church in Addis, crowds gather to see the Tabot on Gena/ Christmas day.

Feasting is part of all these holidays. It is also family time, with people returning to their mother’s home to enjoy real home cooking. Church is often attended during the night on the eve of the holiday, although with days like Timkat the church procession is a big part of the day’s events.

So where should you go to see Gena?  If you attend any Orthodox church the night before you will witness the service and the mass. In Addis the church of Bale Wold by Selassie celebrates

Gena ceremony in Lalibela

Gena ceremony in Lalibela, the most famous place to spend Christmas in Ethiopia.

Christmas on Christmas morning.  If you have Ethiopian friends they will undoubtably invite you round to partake in the feast. Do bring round gifts of food: coffee, biscuits, fruit, cake, bottle of wine and the like are all acceptable presents.

Gena is most famous in Lalibela. But if you have not booked it you are too late. Accommodation fills up, (so there will be no room at the inn) and flights become full.  Hotels and guides inflate their usual fees, so in addition it does become expensive.

 

 

 

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Melcam Fasika – Happy Easter

Photo by Anthony Pappone Photography (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ronnyreportage/)

Photo by Anthony Pappone Photography (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ronnyreportage/)

Enkwanaderasachu

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.

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