ORDER OF CHURCH FEASTS
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church has its Order of celebration of church feasts. Above all, it celebrates Saturdays and Sundays. The celebration of Saturdays is the Order of the Old Testament. (Ex. 20:8).
In the era of the New Testament, the Orthodox Church teaches that the observance of Saturdays should not be as strict as that of the Jews. "Christians should not be idle on the sabbath like the Jews." But they should work as Christians. (Fetha Negest 19).
Sunday is the day on which Christ rose from the dead. It is, "The Day of Our Lord" in the New Testament. (Rev. 1: 10; 1Cor. 16: 1). "He celebrated it (Sunday), adored it, made it the day of light and of all days he glorified it." (Saint Yared's Degua Ze Fasika).
" And our rest is not to sleep like a suffering one in his disease, but to watch day and night that we may show our love for this day." On this basis, the Church teaches the people to celebrate or observe Sunday by going to church to pray, give alms to the poor, visit the sick, and settle quarrels, as written in the Liturgy of Athanasius.
In accordance with the canon of the Church, there are nine major feast days of Our Lord. These are:
1 Tsinset: (Annunciation -Feast of Incarnation)
This holiday is celebrated on Megabit 29 E.C. in observance
of the announcement of Saint Gabriel that the Virgin Mary shall bring forth a Son who will save His people from their sins. So, this is a day of forgiveness of mankind.
2. Lidet: (Christmas)
The annual festival of Christ's birth, is celebrated on Tahisas (December) 29 E.C. and on leap year on Tahisas (December) 28 E.C. This is in fulfillment of the prophecy that the Virgin Mary shall gi ve birth to God the Word who will save His people from their sins.
3. Timket: (Epiphany)
Jesus Christ started his Messianic ministry after being baptized at the age of 30. The Lord was baptized in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. When Jesus stepped out of the water the heavens were opened and God the Father spoke' 'this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the fonn of a dove." (Mt. 3:1-17; Mk. 1:4-12; Lk. 3:22; In. 1:29-34).
On the eve of the Epiphany, the Ark of the Covenant (Tabot) is carried from the church to a river where it is luade to stay in a tent or a shade for the night. During the night, the praise of the Lord and hymnal services are performed and liturgy is conducted. In the morning, at the edge of the river prayers are recited, verses from the four Gospels are read, the water is blessed and sprinkled on the people not to repeat Baptism but to commemorate the Baptism of Jesus Christ and receive spiritual blessing. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church celebrates this feast every year in order to teach and bear witness to the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ performed to fulfill the prophecy, to give power to Baptism, to bless the water, to manifest the humbleness he displayed and thus serve as an example to us. Epiphany is celebrated on Tir (January) 11 E.C.
4. Transfiguration: (Debre Tabor)
This is the day in which Our Lord Jesus Christ during his
ministry, manifested the light of his God-head on Mount
Tabor. It is celebrated on Nehase (August) 13 E.C. (Mt.
5. Hosanna: (Palm Sunday)
It is the Sunday that comes one week before Easter. Its history is written in the Bible. (Mt. 21:9-15). Hosanna n1eans salvation. On this day Jesus Christ Our Lord entered into temple in triumph. On His way people praised him by saying Hosanna, Hosanna, in the .highest!
On Palm Sunday, Palm leaves are blessed and distributed to people who in turn tie them around their heads and place them in their houses. People chant Hosanna, Hosanna, in the highest! by waving palm
fronds. On this day the hymn of Saint Yared is sang and verses from the four Gospels are read at the four directions of the Church.
This is the day on which Jesus Christ Our Lord was
Crucified to redeem mankind.
It is celebrated in commemoration of the resurrection of
Jesus Christ from the dead after His crucifixion on the
cross in order to sa ve mankind from sin. Easter for Christians is a day of spiritual victory and freedom.
In the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Easter is celebrated with great joy and deep spirituality. On the eve of Easter, on Saturday, the children, elders and youth gather at churches and prayer services are conducted. After the performance of prayer services and covenant, in accordance with the canon of the Church, the priest carrying his cross and the faithful say the following:-
Priest - Christ is risen froin the dead!
People - By the highest power and authority!
Priest - He chained "Satan"!
People - Freed Adam!
People - Henceforth
Priest Joy and Peace shall Prevail!
Thus after the above good tidings and witness heralding Easter is made, the kissing of the cross continues. The Liturgical service which starts at the middle of the night is wound up at 3 a.ln. The days of the week between Easter and the next Sunday are considered as Easter days.
After Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He appeared to the Apostles and taught them for 40 days. On the 40th day of His rising, as He had told the Apostles before, He gain told them of the descending of the Holy Spirit and ascended to Heaven. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Twahedo Church, the day is celebrated with prayers and hymns.
9. Paracletos: (Whit Sunday)-
It is the day after the 10th day of Ascension and the 50th day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is also the day on which the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. Paracletos means comforter.
The Jews celebrate Paracletos after their Passover. Pentecost means fiftieth day and this day was known as the Jewish harvest festival day_ Since the Paracletos descended upon the Apostles on this day, it is celebrated as the Feast of Pentecost.
After the 10th day of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, at 9:00 a.ln. in the morning, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, and what the Lord told them was fulfilled. The Apostles, after receiving the Holy Spirit, becanle witnesses of His death and resurrection. Following the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, a new chapter was opened for the Christian Church. As John Chrysostom said, "this is the birthday of the Christian Church."
Pentecost is celebrated on the 50th day after Easter. The origin. and celebration of the nine major feast days is as described above and they are observed by refraining from any physical activities. Among these, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost have rotating days of observance in the calendar. However, Palm Sunday, Easter and Pentecost fall on Sunday; crucifixion on Friday and Ascension on Thursday_ On the other hand, the others such as the Day of Annunciation, Christmas, Transfiguration and Epiphany have no fixed days of observance.
Apart from the major nine feast-days, there are other nine minor feast-days, these are:
1. Sibket - (the First Sunday before Christmas)
The feast to comlnemorate the preaching of the prophets that the Messiah will come to redeem his people from bondage of sin.
2. Birhan (the 2nd Sunday before Christmas)
The feast to commemorate Our Lord's coming to give light to the world.
3. Nolawi (the 3rd Sunday before Christmas)
The feast of Our Lord as "Good Shepherd."
This feast is observed on the eve of Christmas to celebrate the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This day is observed on Tahsas (December) 28 E.C. as an annual feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His mother, the Holy Virgin Mary.
5. Gizret (Circumcision)
This feast is observed on Tir (January) 6 E.C. as written in the Laws of Moses (Lev.12:3) in comluemoration of Christ's circumcision on the eighth day of His birth. (Lk. 2:21).
6. Lidete Simeon
This is the feast to commemorate the presentation of Our Lord in the temple 40 days after his birth. The day is called "Lidete Silueon" in remembrance of the rejuvenation of Silueon when carrying the baby Lord Jesus in his arms. It is observed on Yekatit (February) 8 E.C. (Lk. 2:29, 32; Lev. 12:6).
7. Kana Ze Gelila - (Feast of Cana of Galilee)
It is the feast when the Lord turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana. (In. 2:1-J2).
8. Debere Zeit
It is a fest commemorating the second coming of our Lord and where the resurrection of the dead is taught. (Mt. 24 and 25).
9. Mesekel (The Day of the Holy Cross)
Meskel holiday is celebrated on Meskerem 17 (27th of September) and Megabit 10 (19th of March). The word Meskel means cross and the feast commemorates the finding of the the True Cross by St. Helena. The story in brief is that after the crucifixion of the Lord, the sick were healed by touching it and rubbing their bodies against the Cross. Attracted by these miracles, many became Christians. Seeing this, the Jews threw the Cross into a rubbish disposal pit and after a long time this place grew into a hill. Christians knew the area despite their inability to dig out and retrieve it.
During the invasion of Titus, (70 A.D.) all Christians left Jerusalem and long after the site of the city was changed, it became difficult to locate the place where the Cross was buried. Because of this it remianed buried for more than three hundred years.
In the 4th century, (327 A.D) the mother of King Constantine, Queen Helena, made a trip to Jerusalem to find the Cross. But she could not trace the place for no one could tell her the exact location. Since the finding of the Cross was God's Will, a certain old man by the name of Kiriakos (Kirakos Yared's Hymn Book of Helena) sympathizing with her search, advised her as follows: - "You need not tire out yourself and others in vain. Make people gather wood and pile it. Put incense on it and burn it. Following where the smoke drifts, dig and you will find out the Cross." (Synaxarium Megabit (March) 10 E.C.). She did all that she was told. The incense smoke rose upward and bowed down indicating the site where the Holy Cross was buried (Yared' s Hymn Book of Helena). She then dug and found, out the Cross. The Ethiopian Hymnologist, St. Yared has praised this event with the verse, “The Wooden Cross which was buried at Golgotha by the Jews is found today” (Yared's Hymn Book of Helena). This event is also celebrated everywhere in the Christian world.
But in Ethiopia it is celebrated with great spiritual feeling and traditional sentiments. The Meskel Holiday falls during the beginning of the Ethiopian spring and this makes it very colorfuL On Meskerem 16 (September 26th), in the cities, villages and the surrounding areas, people bring torches of twigs called 'Chibo' and wood to 'Meskel Square', to form the 'Denlera' (bundles of branches of wood and twigs). The priests perform prayers in front of the Demera and sing," Meskel has illuminated, and it decorated the sky with stars and showed everything like the sun! “Saying this, they circle the Demera followed by a huge procession which circles it singing, "Iyoha Abebaye Meskerem Tebaye.' (Behold, Meskerem has dawned and the flowers have blossomed). Peopl~ at home also light 'chibos' and make merry. On the 17th morning the Demera is lit. However in Addis and in some other places, it is lit on the evening of the 16th. Since prayers have been said over the demera, people make a sign of the crosss on their forehead with the ashes and spray it over their cattle. Since Helena started digging on Meskerem 17 (September 27th) and found the Cross on Megabit 10 (March 19th) these holidays are observed as the same holiday.
In addition, thirty three feast days of the Virgin Mary have been observed in Ethiopia since ancient times. Every month also on the 29th the Holiday of the Lord and on the. 12th of S t. Michael as well as the days of death of of the Apostles are observed.
Yearly holidays in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are celebrated by taking out the Ark of the Covenant from the Holy of Holies and carrying it on the head of a priest and going around the Church three times in procession (oudet) to the accompaniment of songs and hymns fitting each particular occasion. The celebration is wound up after a sermon is given.
This happens when the church service is conducted in the morning. However, on other feast days, the liturgy is performed after the Ark of the Covenant is returned to the temple where, again the ceremony is concluded after a sermon.
The days on which feasts and holidays fall are calculated by a set of rules as laid down in a book called" Bahre Hasab" or "Merha Iwur."
Regularly recurring holidays are declared on the first day of the Ethiopian New Year which is also known as St.John the Baptist's Feast Day. Ethiopian New Year falls on Meskerem I (September 11 th) except in a leap year when it falls on September 12th. The beginning of the New Year is believed to be the beginning of the abating of the flood of destruction and the covenant God made with Noah that there shall be, from then on, winter and summer and that they shall come in cyclic succession. (Gen. 8:13-22; Jubilee 7:19-30). The Hebrew and Copt New Year’s also fall in September. Since our Church is ancient and follows the tradition of the Old Testament, she observes and maintains the order of reckoning the New Year in accordance with this tradition.