Once again I find myself in a blogging backlog situation. And once again it’s because I’ve been so busy being a tourist myself that I haven’t had time to write. Which is actually a happy thing, but now it’s catch-up time. I’ll start with this last weekend and try to fill in the month-long blank over the next couple of weeks.
This weekend was Timket, a three-day religious festival that is one of the most important events on the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar. If you are a Christian you might know the occasion as Epiphany, but what exactly it commemorates and the date of the holiday depend on whether you belong to a Western or an Eastern church, and whether you use the Gregorian or the Julian calendar. For Western Christians, Epiphany is the day the Magi visited the baby Jesus. Most Christians in the West follow the Gregorian calendar, and the holiday is celebrated on January 6 or 7. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, Epiphany celebrates the baptism of Jesus (rather than the visit of the Magi). Eastern churches using the Gregorian calendar (for example, most Greeks) also celebrate Epiphany on January 6 or 7. For those using the Julian calendar (like Greek Old Calendarists and Ethiopian Orthodox), Epiphany falls on January 19. We watched the city get ready with decorations for several days ahead of the holiday.
Because Eastern Orthodox Epiphany is about baptism, rituals usually involve water in some way. On Greek islands, the priest throws a cross into the sea and young men dive in to try to get it. In Ethiopia, Timkat is the time when the tabots go out for a walk to the water. The tabot is a replica of Moses’s tablets. Every Ethiopian Orthodox church has one. It’s normally kept in the church behind a curtain in the Holy of Holies where only the priest can go. But on the afternoon before Timket, the priest carries the tabot out of the church on his head, and an elaborate procession accompanies the tabot to a water source. We followed a procession from the big church near ICS to a roundabout where it met up and joined with a procession coming from a different direction.
Early the next morning the priest blesses the water and sprinkles it on the participants. A very kind and well-connected Ethiopian friend of ours, Selam, arranged front-row seats for me, Andreas, and our friend Sukey at the blessing of the waters at Jal Medda park on Sunday morning, where priests from eleven of Addis Ababa’s churches had carried their tabots on Saturday. This particular blessing of the waters was presided over by not just any priest, but by the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church himself, Abune Mathias. Something like 100,000 people were in attendance.
Later in the day the procession returns the tabot to its home church. We went back to our own neighborhood for this, so we watch the procession negotiate the walking bridge over the Ring Road back to our local church, the same way we go home from school.
Lorna, I think you mean the circumcision of Jesus, not the baptism. I’m an infidel myself, but I’m pretty sure he was Jewish. 😉
Definitely baptism. You know, in the Jordan River with John the Baptist. There’s a big statue next to the pool at Jal Medda. I’ll add a photo to the slide show. The circumcision is on the church calendar too but that’s January 1. (I’m an infidel too, but I’m learning).
Wow, that’s all just fascinating! Our celebrations in the US are so wimpy compared to that. I love the priestly squirt guns! Thanks for sharing.