Monthly Archives: September 2019

An Orthodox Ethiopian encounter

First I heard drums. Then the chanting. I followed lines of people in ethnic clothing streaming through the park toward the island where the chanting and drumming came from.

I assumed they were Somali but I was wrong. They were Ethiopian, attending an Ethiopian Eastern Orthodox liturgical rite celebrating the finding of part of the true cross by St. Helena (the wife of Roman emperor Constantine who moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium in 324 AD). She was apparently informed of its whereabouts by a bonfire.

The chants are Byzantine in origin. A knowledgeable gentleman from one of the churches assured me the chants were “very, very old.” Six local Ethiopian Orthodox parishes provided the chorus. “The man with the round hat,” my informant said, “is the Pope of the diocese,” and that reminded me that one of the reasons for the schism between the Church of Rome and the Eastern Church was submission to the Pope of Rome, as well as doctrinal disagreements such as the meaning of filiusque in reference to the Holy Trinity. The Eastern Church held that it was heresy to proclaim the Pope of Rome the singular Vicar of God on Earth and believed the heads of other branches of the church had equal standing.

The Eastern Church extended into Ethiopia at a very early date, the tradition is a long one, and the chants, Byzantine in origin, are also distinctly Ethiopian. The chanting lasted for at least an hour after I arrived. The crowd was festive and respectful of the liturgy.

I didn’t stay for the lighting of the bonfire. The speeches after the liturgy went on far too long, I was hungry, and dinner was ready at home.

Liturgical robes.
The bonfire waiting in the wings.
Young and old.
Strolling the island.
Heading home.

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