Bible Verse of the day

´╗┐The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? : Psalm 27: 1

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS CONCERNING THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHIDO CHURCH (EOTC)

Ayalew ZeEyessus

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God; Amen

 

 Introduction                              

 

nargasilase.jpgThis paper is prepared for two young university students, Arnold and Andrias, who were studying Anthropology in Iceland back in 2001. These two youngsters came to Ethiopia in November, 2001 in order to study and write their graduating paper on the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. When I met them for the first time in St. Gabriel Church (Bisrate Gabriel), which is located around Old Airport, they were with so many questions and little confusions. I just asked them to write down all their questions and then prepared this paper for them within a week. When I gave them the paper they were extremely happy.  


They took the paper with much delight, told me to sit on their air arm chair, (because they are Arm Chair Field  Anthropologists) and interviewed me before a camera lens for a couple of minutes. When we have finished the interview, they were ready to pay me some fee for everything that I have given them. When I declared that I wouldn’t take their money for a spiritual service that I have given them they were so surprised!
 I think this was the reason which made them to talk something real when they were interviewed on The Ethiopian Radio weekly program, in title “Guest of the meek”, on that same year and month. One of them said: “. . . I still see potential. Because, I mean, for me, I think it is unbelievable how the people received me. Because, even though you don’t have much, you give a lot. You give what you have. And for me, this is priceless . . . they (the people of Ethiopia) don’t have much, but they give. This is something that we both learnt from being here . . . to be more appreciative for what you have and for what you get.”

 

 When I heard the recorded interview of the Icelanders which was delivered to me by one of my spiritual brothers I was so moved and remembered the following two important verses from the Holy Bible. The first verse was told by our Lord Jesus Christ and the second by St. Paul the apostle:-

 1.      “And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And said, Of a true I say unto, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all; For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God; but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.” Luke 21:1-4.

 2.      “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” I Corinthians 6:10::

A. HISTORY, TRADITION & THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS.

 1. How long is the history of mankind?

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And this day was Sunday. On the 6th day, that is Friday, God created man in His own image. This is when the history of mankind begins. Here, if we take for example this year, there are 5500 years before the birth of Christ and 2003 (Ethiopian Calendar) years after the birth of Christ. This equals to 7503 years. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church tradition, this is the exact period of time since the history of mankind had started.

  2. When was Christianity first introduced in Ethiopia?

 Christianity was first introduced to Ethiopia in 34 A.D. This is just a year after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. It was introduced by the Ethiopian eunuch of great authority (Acts 8:26), who later became an apostle to his people after he was baptized by the apostle Philip at Gaza of Jerusalem. Therefore, it is now exactly 1964 years since Christianity first introduced to Ethiopia. (2003-34=1969) This makes Ethiopia to be one of the first countries. Here, we can definitely say the EOTC is ancient, historic and apostolic church.

3. What is Apostolic Tradition?

After Pentecost the Apostles used to be together for prayers and for breaking of the bread. In the New Testament it is written like this: "Then they gladly receive his word was baptized and the same day there was added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and prayers. (Acts 2:41-42)

Apostolic tradition is doctrine, liturgy& feasts of early Christians. There was also a special tradition called Agape. In the EOTC the developed form of this apostolic doctrine or tradition or Agape is now in use. This tradition is mainly focus on braking of the bread. According to this by now there are about four main types of classifications in this tradition. These are:

a) Tezkare Senbet (Association to celebrate Sabbath).

b) Tserike Mebelet (Women's association to celebrate Sabbath).

c) Zikir (Association to celebrate saints’ days once in a month).

d) Mahiber (Association to celebrate saints’ days once in a month every year).

All these celebrations or ceremonies have one similar characteristic. Different groups of people in the church prepare and bring food and drinks to the church and give it to all member of the church in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Our Lady St. Virgin Mary, Holy Angeles and Saints. Mahiber and Zikir can also be held at Christians homes by calling all members of this Maier or Associations.

4.How long is the history of the EOTC?

The history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC) goes back to 325 A.D. This is the year when Ethiopia accepted Christianity as official belief. Therefore, if you subtract 335 from 1964 (i.e. the time Christianity introduced to Ethiopia) it becomes 1639 years. This is the period of the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church.

5. What are the major Theological Schools of Ethiopia today?

There are three major and many minor Theological Schools scattered all over the country. The three major Theological colleges are; Holy Trinity Theological college of Addis Abeba, Kesate Birihan Selama Theological college of Mekelle and St. Paul Theological college of Addis Ababa. These three major Theological Colleges teachs evangelists for the EOTC both in Diploma and Degree programs.

B. ARK OF THE COVENANT & A TABOT.

1. What is the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant is a sacred portable chest which along with its two related items, the mercy seat and the Cherubim. It is the most important sacred object which was first given by God through Moses to the Israelites during their wandering in the wilderness. The Ark of the Covenant also called as the Ark of the Lord (Josh. 6:11), the Ark of the Testimony (Ex. 25:22) and the Ark of God (I Sam. 3:3). From the two Cherubim that were on the Ark of the testimony God spoke to Moses many times. Within the Ark there are two stone tables containing the Ten Commandments. (Ex. 25:16,21), considered to be the basis of the covenant between God and His people. Thus the Ark was often called the Ark of Testimony.

The Israelites were carrying this Ark during their wandering in the wilderness (Duet. 31:9). The Ark caused the river of Jordan to part so that Israel crossed on dry (Josh. 3:6,4:18). It also caused the wall of Jericho to fall (Josh. 6:4-11). The Israelites defeated their enemies so many times by the help of God through this Ark. When the philistines captured the Ark without believing in God and His power in it they faced  disasters so that they returned it back to the Israelites (I Sam. 5-6). There were also many miracles done by the power of the Ark of the Covenant which we can read in the Holy Bible. (Read the Books of Samuel).

2. How and when did it came in the possession of the ETOC?

The Ark of the Covenant became the possession of the EOTC around 982 B.C. According to the Kibre Negest (the Glory of the Kings) the visit of the queen of Saba to king Solomon in Jerusalem caused her to bear him a son whom she named by Menelik. When Menelik grew up he visited his father in Jerusalem and came back home accompanied many Israelites, the sons of Levites and by then bringing with him the Ark of the Covenant. From that day on it became the possession of the EOTC. It is now peacefully placed in its own sanctuary at St. Mary Zion Church which is found in Aksum.

C. HOLY SACRAMENTS, MYSTRIES & CREEDS.

1. Are there any special Sacraments for EOTC?

YES! First of all sacraments  means are religious acts in which the actions and materials used are the channels by which God's grace is actually communicated. The word 'sacrament' is derived from the Latin word 'Sacramentum' (the word for a soldier's oath of allegiance), so that we couldn't find it in most English versions of the Bible.

In the EOTC there are seven religious sacraments. These are:- the Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, Holy orders and Holy Anointing. These sacraments are means of grace or channels through which God imparts spiritual blessedness.

2.What can you tell me about the five Pillars of Mystery?

The five Pillars of Mystery are the basics doctrine of the EOTC. These are; the mystery of Trinity (Divinity), Incarnation, Baptism, Eucharist and Resurrection. In the Mystery of Trinity we learn that God is Trinity (one essence in three persons). The unity of God is not conceived in the sense of an arithmetical digit nor of a solitary condition, but in that of an all-illusive perfection. So the one God is also eternally three. We then say in the Anaphora ''three names and one God, three persons and one essence.''

In the Mystery of Incarnation we learn  how God the Son united Himself real and Perfect human nature. We also learn how He is conceived in the womb of Our Lady the Blessed St. Virgin Mary through the work of the Holy Spirit and how He was born in this world as a real man. We accordingly learn the same with the Mysteries of Baptism, Eucharist (Holy Communion) and Resurrection of the dead.

3. What are the Creeds for the EOTC?

A creed is a statement which clarifies the general faith of the church. It can also be defined as the saying of the confession of the faith. There are two creedal statements in the EOTC. One of these is a fairly long profession which is believed to be of Apostolic origin, and the other is the Niceno-Constantinpolitan Creed. These Creeds are made by the early fathers after the appearance of some heretics in the church like Aries. 

The Creed of  the Apostles

God is one. He is the maker of all things and the ''Father of our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ.'' Although eternal and transcendent, He reveals Himself and exercise’ His supreme authority over all creatures.

With the one God the Father is one God the Son who is born of the Father before all creation and is co-equal with the Father. The Son, in the last days, ''took flesh from Our Lady Mary, The Holy Virgin, without the seed of man, and grew like men yet without sin or evil.'

He suffered, died in the flesh, rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven to the Father who sent Him. He sent to us the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, and who is co-eternal with the Father and the Son. All this He did for our salvation.

All creatures of God are good and there is nothing is rejected. Marriage and propagation of children are pure and undefiled, ''because God created Adam & Eve to multiply.'' There is in our body a soul which is immortal and which dose not perish with the body.

There is resurrection of the dead, the righteous and sinner, and judgment in which everyone will be recompensed according to his deeds.

Christ is not in the least degree inferior because of the Incarnation. He is unchangeably God the word who became man for our salvation in reality. To Him are glory, praise and thanksgiving.

The other Creed is well known and therefore does not need to be given in summary here. Both Creeds are based on an affirmation of faith in God, the incarnation and human salvation.

4. What  will EOTC do when a Christian dies?                                                            

There is a special prayer for the dead in the EOTC. We definitely believe that God is Merciful and mercy is in his hands. It is his only authority to give an eternal life for the dead even if he was a sinful person. Therefore, the EOTC prays to God so that he forgives all the sins of the dead by His limitless mercy. Knowing this the church always prays for those who are righteous or sinful; for the weak or for the strong and for the alive or for the dead. To pray for all is the church's spiritual obligation. After the prayer, which is called "Tselote Fitihat'', the dead will be buried in the church's graveyard. And after the burial, especially on the 40th day, the families of the dead will feed the poor in his name with additional prayer of mercy for the sinful by the church fathers as it is clearly stated in the Scriptures. (James 5:13-20; Acts 9:36).

D. RITUALS, HOLY MASS & THE MESKEL FIRE.

1. Are there any special rituals for the EOTC?         

YES! There are special rituals in the spiritual services of the EOTC. This will happen during mass, marriage, baptism, burial . . . etc. All this have their own distinct feature of rites in the church. There are also holy days or feasts rites during Meskel (the day of the founding of the true cross), Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany) and the like.

2. What happens during Holy Mass.

There are so many things which is happening during the Holy Mass. The leading hymn of the priest, the chanting of the deacons together with the prayer of the congregation by itself is a special ritual which will be completed between 2 or 3 hours. During the Holy Mass prayer of mercy for all will be presented before God. Baptized infants, youths and elder members of the church will take part in receiving the Holy Communion. Kidasse Tsebel (A Holy Water) will be delivered for believers. Spiritual songs by priests and young quire teams will be presented. The Gospel of Our Lord will also be preached. Above all it is during this Holy Mass prayer that the wine and the bread will be changed into the very living flesh and to the very living blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the very important part of the Holy Mass. This is the main reason why the Holy Mass is celebrated.

3. What is the History of The Meskel Fire?    

The story of the Meskel fire goes back to the reign of Constantine I, the first Christian Emperor of Rome. (306-337 A.D.) After the resurrection and ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ the sick used to be cured by rubbing themselves with the cross. This miracle made people join the Christian way of life.

The enemies of the cross, therefore, decided to dismember it and hence secretly buried it in a dumping pit. Such a pile was built on it that there was no news of its whereabouts for more than three hundred years. Deeply grieved over this matter, Constantine's mother, Queen Helena lunched herself on digging mounds and heaps but to no avail. However, she never gave up hope and continued her dig in faith and in prayer.

Inspired by the grace of God, an elderly man by the name Heriacos told Helena to gather wood, add incense into the pile and light it. He advised her to follow the way of the waft of the incense smock traveled and dig up the place on which it touched the ground for it would indicate to her the place were the Cross buried. The Cross was found when dug as instructed by Heriacos.

Therefore, the story of the Meskel fire is a story of a fire which was lighted by Queen Helena in order to add incense in it which its waft of incense smoke indicate her where the Cross is buried for more than three hundred years. In the remembrance of this, every year on September 27, the EOTC believers light a Damara at Meskel Square, in every town, village and house throughout the country.

E. SPECIAL BOOKS, GEEZ, HOLY BIBLE & ETHIOPIA.   

1. Are there any special books for the EOTC?

YES! There are many special books in the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia. Some of these books are; 'Gedle' (different books on the history of different saints); 'Dirsan' (different books on the history and works of different Holy Angeles of God); 'Sinsikar' (the lives of different saints including their birth days, afflictions, miracles, death days . . . etc. classified in the 365 days of the year. It is common to read the story of three or five or more saints life story in any days of the year.); 'Teamire Mariam' (the book of the miracles of the Blessed St. Virgin Mary); 'Teamire Eyesus' (the book of the miracles of our Lord Jesus Christ); 'Haymanot Abew' (Book of the Dogmatic teachings of the fathers); ' Metsehafe kdasse ' (books of the 14 Anaphoras); 'Fitiha Negest' (A book which states the former constitution of the state and the early and current constitution of the church); 'Zena Hawaryat' (the story and the works of the Apostles); 'Negere Mariyam' (the story of the Blessed Virgin St. Mary); 'Kibre Negest' (Glory of the Kings); and numerous books of prayers. These are some of the many special books of the EOTC.

Many of these priceless manuscripts are believed to have been lost either through destructive wars like those of Ahemed Geragne (The Muslim warrior leader) and Yodit Gudit (The Jew female warrior) or were taken by European missionaries, travelers and explorer. In England alone there are about 500 such manuscripts. Emperor Thewodros is said to have collected about one thousand manuscripts and kept them in Makdella. Most of these were looted by the British Expeditionary Force but of the most important books, Kibre Negest (Glory of the Kings), was returned later by the request of Emperor Yohannes IV (1871-1889) made to Queen Victoria to return it.

Today the major manuscripts are to be found in places such as the church of Tsion Mariyam (St. Mary of Zion) at Aksum, Debre Damo and the churches found on the islands of Lake Tana. Here, I want to say something. I don't understand why the white people always stealing our treasures and beautify their museums and square with them and in reward giving us terrible names like 'uncivilized peopleliving in the Dark Continent', 'Ape like men' . . . etc.

2. What dose the Holy Bible Says about Ethiopia?

 

The name Ethiopia was mentioned in the Holy Bible forty three times. Thirty two of these references appear in passages that are more than 2400 years old. There is only one mention of the word Ethiopia in the whole pages of the New Testament. That mention is to be found in Acts 8:27. Some of the verses mentioned in the Old Testament are as follows:-

 

Genesis 2:13; 2 Kings 19:9; Esther 1:1; Esther 8:9; Job 28:19; Psalms 68:31; Psalms 87:4; Isaiah 18:1-3, Isaiah 20:3-5; Isaiah 20:4; Isaiah 37:9; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14; Jeremiah 46:9; Ezekiel 29:10; Ezekiel 30:4; Ezekiel 30:9 ; Ezekiel 38:5; Daniel 11:43; Nahum 3:9; Zephaniah 2:12; Zephaniah 3:10; 2 Chronicles 12:3; 2 Chronicles 14:12-13, 2 Chronicles 16:8; 2 Chronicles 21:16; Amos 9:7 . . . etc. Therefore, out of the total of 33 references to Ethiopia in the bible, 32 of them are confined in the Old Testament. This by itself reveals that the relationship between Ethiopia and the Holy Land is very ancient.

 

''Are you not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, o, children of Israel? saith the Lord.'' Amos 9:7.

 

"From beyond the banks of the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants of dispersion shall bring me tribute." Zeph. 3:10.

 

" . . . Ethiopia soon stretch her hands unto God.'' Psalm 68:31.

 

The above beautiful verses about Ethiopia and Ethiopians are some of the many mentioned in the Scriptures.

 

4. What is Geez.

 

Geez is the original Semitic Language of Ethiopia. All the later Semitic languages of the country derived from this original literal language. There are numerous church scriptures in the EOTC which were written in Geez and not yet translated into the Amharic Language. The Nine Saints who fled from the persecution of the Roman Empire in 480 A.D., contributed greatly to the development of the Geez literature and liturgy. All liturgical services are predominantly conducted by geez language. The liturgy of the 14 Anaphoras is celebrated in this language. The major EOTC School systems has the following divisions.

  

            Nebab Bet (Reading Class)

   Qidasse Bet (Liturgy/Holy Mass Class)

   Zema Bet (Hymn/Music Class)              

   Quinae Bet (Deep and Secretive Poems Class)

  Metsehaf Bet (Scriptures Class of Old and New Testaments).

 

Religion lies at the very core of Ethiopian Civilization and the Ethiopian Church has been not only the store house of the national culture, but also its propagator, instrumental in shaping and modeling Ethiopian culture and art. Scholars of the EOTC agree that the distinctive attainment of Ethiopian history lies in the vast collection of manuscripts, compiled and preserved in the monasteries and churches. Almost all these scriptures and other religious works of the EOTC are done by the Geez language. Therefore, the Geez language is mean more to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church and Ethiopia.

 

F. CHURCH SONG, St. JARED & SONG INSTRUMENTS.

 

1.      What role does music play for the Orthodox Church?

 

First of all, we don't call our church song 'music'. The EOTC doesn't even consider it as one. We call it 'Zema' (hymn) or 'Yaredawi Zema' (hymn of Yared/Jared). This hymn of Yared plays a very important role in all the church religious services. We can definitely say that there is no any church service without a Yaredawi Zema (hymn of Yared/Jared).

 

There is this hymn on liturgy (Holy Mass), Mahlet (evening prayer), Seatat (the Horologium), Fithat (prayer for the dead) and on spiritual weddings, in the Sunday Schools programs, and during holy days or feasts. Therefore, the role of a Yaredawi Zema in the EOTC is of great importance.

2. Who was St. Jared? 

The Ethiopian Re'ese Liqawnt (Head Professor), Yared, was born on 25 April 505 A.D. in the city of Aksum. His father was named Adam and his mother Tauklia. Yared's linage was from the priesthood of Aksum. When he was six year old his parents gave Yared to tutorship. Yared completed the study of alphabet and began to study Psalms. However, he had difficulty of learning his lesson and was sent back to his parents by his teacher.

After the death of his father his mother placed Yared in the hands of her brother Abba Gedeon, who was the parish priest, with the request that he should raise and educate Yared. Yared lodged with Abba Gedeon and began studying along with the other children but for years he logged behind the others in his studies and so was constantly reprimanded and punished by his teacher. Yared was not a briliant student and  however much he studied he couldn't grasp his lesson. Because of this slow-mindedness he became the object of derision and mockery to his classmates.

One day his uncle whipped Yared severely. Yared became bitter about his failure as a student and decided to go elsewhere and start a new life. He therefore fled from the school and while journeying to his uncle's birth place Medehai welel, he was caught by a heavy shower and was obliged to take cover under a tree near a spring called Meikerah, some four kilometers out the city of Aksum. While sheltering under the trees, pondering and feeling remorse about his failure, he witnessed an event that was to change his whole life.

His attention was caught by a caterpillar struggling time and again despite repeated failures, to climb up the trunk of tree to eat of its leaves. Six times the caterpillar failed but on the seventh trial it struggled with all its might and was able to reach its destination. Watching the perseverance of the caterpillar, Yared wept, comparing his weakness with the strength of the gauls. After seeing the stamina of the tiny creature, he decided to return and take up his studies again.

He reasoned that man was a creature superior to a caterpillar and as the caterpillar had, with repeated effort, reaches its goal and eaten of the leaves of the tree so he should bear the consequences such as whipping study diligently and succeeded. Having decided this he returned to his spiritual teacher, Abba Gedeon and begged to be forgiven and to be taken back to continue his studies.

He then completed the study of the Psalm within a very short period of time. In the Ethiopian synaxarium may 2 (lives of saints) is related the full story of how Yared created the chant and the notation system inspired and guided by Holy Spirit. In this same book it is written that when Almighty God wanted to established sacred chants as he was desirous of being praised up on earth, three angels were sent from heaven in the form of three birds to teach Yared heavenly songs in his own language.

And this is how he learned and contributed the heavenly hymn to the earlier church of he world, EOTC, in earlier times. Yared is a priceless jewel for the EOTC and his country Ethiopia.

3. Are there any special musical instruments for the EOTC?

YES! In the EOTC, all the properties of the church used for the religious service are termed as Newaye Kidusat (Holy Treasure). And there is no music but Song. Therefore, we call what others call musical instruments as song instruments. If it is so, there are six major song instruments in the EOTC. These are:-

   Kebero (large drum)

   Tsinasil (sistra)

   Inzira (large flute)

   Masinquo (a one-stringed violin)

   Begena (great harp)

   Mequamiya (standing stick)

All these song instruments play a very important role almost in all church services mentioned F.1. But Begena (great harp) is a musical instrument which is exceptionally used by the church during fasting season only.

REFERENCES                         

 1. Holy Bible (Authorized King James Version).

2. "The Contribution of the Orthodox Tewahido Church to the Ethiopian Civilization." By Kesis Kefyalew Mahari.

3. "Ethiopian Civilization." By Belai Gidey.

4. "The Church of Ethiopia." A Panorama of History and Spiritual Life. A publication of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

5.  “The History of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church.” By Abba Gorgorios (M.A.)

6. Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. By Herbert Lockyer.

7. “The Veneration of the Cross.” By The EOTC.

8. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language.

 
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