Ethiopian Orthodox Church Tradition and culture

የኢትዮጵያ ኦርቶዶክስ ተዋህዶ ቤተ-ክርስቲያን ትውፊትና ሃይማኖታዊ ባህል


Ethiopian Orthodox Church Tradition (Tewfit)

Tradition (Tewfit) means that which has been told and which continues to be passed by the Church from ancient times either in writing or word of mouth from generation to generation. Tewfit (Tradition) records the doctrine, education and history that are not recorded in Scriptures but have been handed down from the early fathers by word of mouth.

St. Basil the Great also says, as written down in the Acts of Basil, that “the wearing of the cross, to cross oneself facing east and standing erect when praying, blessing the baptismal waters, marking the one being baptized, bowing in all four corners, anointing the one baptized with Myron, and making him say “I reject you” to Satan and his ilks are all acquired through tradition. (The Works of Basil 27:26). Some of the traditions according to the teachings and rites of our Church are:

The above traditional action are all done according to norms derived from tradition (Tewfit). Our church, being an ancient, historical and Apostolic Church has not only maintained but kept alive the tradition that has been handed down from our forefathers.

The Cross and its symbolic meaning

The Cross: - the emblem of our salvation and Christian faith. It reminds us of the sufferings and death of our gracious and ever-loving Lord Jesus Christ. It is thus the sign of peace, deliverance, victory and eternal hope of resurrection. The symbol of the cross is omnipresent in Ethiopia, the island of Christianity, with a variety of shapes and rich symbolism. Some of the blessings it conveys for us are: bodily health, spiritual grace and divine protection from evil spirits.

It is remarkable to note that Orthodox Christians sometimes carry a special kind of small neck icons for private devotion and protection. Neck Crosses, worn on a cord around the neck, are the most numerous and best known of Ethiopic crosses. A cord tied around the neck of baptized Christians, called Matab, has been the outward symbol of faith since early Christian times. The neck cross has a small hole or ring and is suspended from this cord, thus separating Christians from pagans. Most Ethiopic Christians even have crosses tattooed on their body.

Interestingly enough, Ethiopic tradition maintains that the fragment of the Holy Cross was brought to Ethiopia and is preserved at Egziabher-Ab Church (i.e., named after God the Father) in the awe-inspiring mountainous Monastery of Gishen. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church annually celebrates the Feast of the Holy Cross called Masqal on 27th of September. Ethiopian Christians venerate the Cross of Christ our Lord and Savior with a magnificence religious solemnity.

Ethiopian Church feasts


Major Feasts of Our Lord

In Accordance with the cannon of the Church, there are nine major feast days of Our Lord.

Minor Feasts of Our Lord

Apart from the major nine feast-days, there are other nine minor feast-days.

  1. Sibket (the First Sunday before Christmas)
  2. Birhan (the second Sunday before Christmas)
  3. Nolawi (the Third Sunday before Christmas)
  4. Genna (Christmas Eve)
  5. Gizret (Circumcision)
  6. Lidete Simeon (Presentation of the Lord)
  7. Kana Ze Gelila (Feast of Canan of Galilee)
  8. Debere Zeit (Mt. Olive)
  9. Mesekel (Finding of the True Cross)

Monthly Feasts

The believers joyfully celebrate the commemoration of the Annunciation, Nativity and Resurrection of Christ on the 29th of every month, the commemoration of St. Mary on the 21st and the feast of Archangel Michael on the 12th.

Weekly Feast

Every Sunday stands as a true Sabbath (rest), in which we find our rest in the resurrection of Christ. There is no abstention from food on Sundays after the celebration of the Eucharist, even during Great Lent.

Feasts of the saints

There is almost a daily feast, so that the believers may live in perpetual joy and in communion with the saints. In addition there are other special fasts and occasions. Some of the feasts are presented below.

A. The Feasts of St. Mary: The Church venerates St. Mary as the "Theotokos," i.e., the Mother of God, whom the Divine Grace chose to bear the Word of God in her womb by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Since she is considered to be the exemplary member in the church, and the interceding mother on behalf of her spiritual children, she is exalted above heavenly and earthly creatures. Therefore, the church does not cease glorifying (blessing) her, and celebrating her feasts in order that we imitate her and ask her intercessions on our behalf Her main feasts are:

  1. The annunciation of her birth (Nehassie 7, August 13);
  2. Her Nativity (Ginbot 1, May 9);
  3. Her Presentation into the Temple (Tahsas 3, December 12);
  4. Her Dormition (Tir 2 1, January 29);
  5. The Assumption of her body (Sene 21, June 28);
  6. Her apparition over the Church of Zeitoon (Megabit 24, April 2);
  7. And the apparition of her body to the Apostles (Nehassie 16, August 22).

B. The Apostles' Feast (Hamle 5, c. July 12): This is the feast of martyrdom of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul.

C. The New Year Feast (Meskerem 1, September 11)

D. The Two Feasts of the Cross: The first feast is on Meskerem 17, (September 27): It commemorates the dedication of the Church of the Holy Cross which was built by Queen Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine. The second feast, is on Megabit 10 (March 19) and commemorates the discovery of the Holy Cross on the hands of the same empress in A.D 326.