Voices from Russia

Friday, 27 September 2013

Ethiopia Celebrates Meskel, a Christian Holiday All Its Own, With Yellow Flowers and Blazing Bonfires

00 Ethiopia. Meskel. Orthodox Christian with cross. 27.09.13


On Thursday night, a massive bonfire blazed in the central square of Ethiopia‘s capital city, Addis Ababa. However, by Friday morning, they swept the mess away, leaving nothing but a giant spot of soot on the asphalt. Thousands of people flocked to the arena, called Meskel Square, to watch the ceremonial lighting of the fire for the eve of Meskel, a national holiday also known as the Finding of the True Cross. Ethiopians from across the country… and visitors from around the world… carried yellow daises, wooden crosses, and wax candles as the pile of wood burned down to the pavement.

After sunset throughout the city, people lit smaller bonfires in backyards and on street corners, and celebrations continued throughout the night. On Friday morning, the square was still buzzing; Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, many with soot on their foreheads in the shape of a cross, congregated at Meskel Square or paid a visit to the nearby Estifanos Church. After the spectacle of Meskel eve, the holiday itself is a time for rest, family togetherness, and feasting… however, since 27 September fell on a Friday this year, a fasting day, Orthodox Christians had to abstain from meat. Johannes, 34, who’s pursuing his Master’s degree in Addis, said, “Families come together for the ceremony. It’s a celebration to join people together, hand to hand. For the people, for God, for the government, and for prayer”.

Legend has it that on this day around 330 AD, St Helena… known as Nigist Eleni in Ethiopia, the mother of Rome’s first Christian emperor, Constantine… found the cross on which the Romans crucified Jesus. In accordance with a revelation she’d had in a dream, Helena burned a giant pile of wood and frankincense. The smoke rose into the sky and then arced back down to earth, showing her the spot where the cross was buried. One can find fragments of the cross in churches around the world, and one found its way to Ethiopia, where it’s now said to be buried under Gishen Mariam Monastery on the mountain of Amba Geshen in the northeastern Debub Wollo Zone. Ethiopia, which has one of the most devout Orthodox communities in the world, is the only country that celebrates the finding of the cross on a national level.

The Meskel festival is about 1,600 years old, but Ethiopians didn’t always celebrate it this grandly. During the 1970s and 80s, when Ethiopia was ruled by the Derg, a Marxist faction, religion took a backseat to politics and the giant bonfire was banned from Meskel Square. During that time, the government often killed those suspected of supporting the resistance. Johannes himself was only 16 when the Derg arrested him and threw him into prison for one year. He said, “At that time, there was no religion”. The Derg fell apart as the USSR, its biggest benefactor, withdrew from the world stage during the late 1980s. Ultimately, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, a coalition of rebel groups that’s since become the present ruling party, defeated it. Today, 63 percent of Ethiopians identify as Christian, two-thirds are Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox, and worshippers pack churches on holidays like Meskel.

Even non-Christian Ethiopians have reason to rejoice on Meskel; the festival marks the end of the rainy season in Addis Ababa. Since June, the city… which sits at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet (2,133 metres), much higher than the rest of the country… was cloudy, wet, and cold. Yet, sure enough, the sun shined brightly all day Friday, and people expect to keep shining for nine more months until the rains come again. It’s also the time of year for Meskel daisies… bright yellow blossoms bloom all across the country. Families collected them all this week in anticipation of the festival; they used the flowers to decorate stacked wood for the bonfires, and women and children all over the square on Friday carried little bouquets to celebrate the changing of the season.

As the only country on earth to celebrate Meskel, Ethiopia’s petitioning UNESCO to register its annual celebration in Addis Ababa as a cultural heritage experience. The Foreign Ministry said that the holiday “deserves this designation because of the ancient nature of the celebration, its colour, and significance, and the attraction it has for a growing number of tourists, as well as the enormous participation of society and of people of all ages, which adds to its inimitable quality”.

 27 September 2013

Jacey Fortin

International Business Times



Thursday, 28 February 2013

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Elects New Patriarch

00 Abune Mathias. Ethiopian OTC. 28.02.13


On Thursday, church officials said that the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church elected Abune Mathias Asrat (see bio here) as its new patriarch to replace its previous First Hierarch, Abune Patriarch Paulos Yohnannes, who died in August 2012. Daniel Sefermikael, a church official, said, “Abune Matthias… Archbishop of Jerusalem (for the Ethiopian OTC) was elected with a majority of the votes cast”. He said that Mathias got about 500 out of 806 votes cast. Mathias, 71, has lived abroad for over 30 years, initially fleeing Ethiopia following a military coup by Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1974. He has since travelled throughout Europe and North America, and will now settle in Ethiopia to serve as patriarch.

About 63 percent of Ethiopia’s 83 million people are Christian, with the majority following the Orthodox faith, according to official figures. Mathias will be sworn in at an official ceremony in Addis Ababa on Sunday, which tens of thousands of people are expected to attend. The office of the patriarch has been vacant since August after Abune Paulos died of an undisclosed illness. He had served as head of the Ethiopian OTC since 1992. Ethiopian patriarchs have the title Abune, which means “father” in Amharic. Ethiopia is home to some of Africa‘s oldest Orthodox churches, including a cluster of 11 ancient rock-hewn churches in Lalibela designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

28 February 2013

Agence France Presse

As quoted in Global Post


Friday, 7 September 2012

7 September 2012. A Photo Essay. Yes, Virginia, There IS an Orthosphere… Places, People, Things…

Tamiš River near Pančevo (South Banat Okrug. Autonomous Province of Vojvodina) SERBIA 


House in the middle of the Drina River near Bajina Bašta (Zlatibor Okrug) SERBIA


Lake Baikal (Irkutsk Oblast. Siberian Federal District) RF


Contemporary Coptic icon of Christ


VDV Day in Gorky Park. Moscow (Federal City of Moscow. Central Federal District) RF


Reading a newspaper in Addis Ababa (Chartered City of Addis Ababa) ETHIOPIA


Indian Malankara Orthodox married couple


Christ Pantocrator

Unknown Artist

Church of the Mother of God Pammakaristos

Istanbul* (Istanbul ProvinceMarmara RegionTURKEY

*formerly Constantinople New Rome

Early 14th century


Melissani Cave. Kefalonia (Ionian Islands Periphery) GREECE 


In the mountains of Ethiopia


Armenian-American journalist with Armenian soldiers


The Orthosphere… a place of stunning beauty… of homely domesticity… of honest heartfelt patriotism… a place of every good thing, both man-made and natural… it’s all ours… po-nashemu. If you want the heavenly, you must approach it through the earthly and earthy… that’s the way that God intended it to be. Beware all those who want to excise the Faith from its lived incarnations… such people are creating soulless zombies. Like it or not, that’s the way it is…

Yes… I know that the Oriental Orthodox “aren’t in communion”… but they’re part of our civilisational bloc; they’re part of our culture, they share our ethos and world-view (the Uniates are only superficially similar… they’re traitors with an Orthodox ritual masking Western “internals” and subservience to alien authority). There’s an Orthodox “visage” that we all share… that’s because we share so many of the “internals” as well, despite not “being in communion” (and that’s why some who seem to externally resemble us aren’t of us).


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Ethiopian Patriarch Abune Paulos Dies in Addis Ababa


The government announced that the First Hierarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Paulos Yohannes (Patriarch and Catholicos of EthiopiaIchege of the See of St Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum), died in Addis Ababa at the age of 76. There was no announcement of the cause of his death. According to some sources, the patriarch received medical treatment over the past few weeks. Abune Paulos became patriarch in 1992, a year after the fall of the totalitarian régime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. In 2007, the patriarch was able to overcome a 40-year-old rift with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa, and, in 2009, participated in the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of Africa, held in the Vatican. In Ethiopia, almost two-thirds of the 83 million people are Christians.

17 August 2012 (MSK)

Voice of Russia World Service


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