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Ethiopians to celebrate Meskel this week


Demera celebrations at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa

Followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church will mark the ancient festival of Meskel this week.  Meskel or the Finding of the True Cross is celebrated in Ethiopia to commemorate Queen Eleni of Ethiopia who was able to locate the true Cross in Jerusalem.  According to Ethiopian Orthodox Church manuscripts, Queen Eleni, who died in 1522, lit a bonfire and prayed in order for God to show her the way to the true Cross – the Cross on which Jesus was crucified.


It is believed that the Queen set out to find the Cross after receiving divine instructions in her dream to make a bonfire and to follow the smoke from it and that the smoke would show her where the true Cross was buried.

The Queen ordered the people of Jerusalem to bring firewood and make a huge bonfire in accordance with the instructions she was given.


After adding frankincense to the bonfire, it was lit and the smoke rose high up to the sky and returned to the ground, pointing exactly to the spot where the Cross had been buried.


The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims that a part of the true Cross was brought to Ethiopia from Egypt and is kept in the northern Ethiopian mountain of Amba Geshen, located in the south of the Wello province.



While Meskel falls on 27 September, the festival starts the night before with the tradition of burning bonfires, or the Demera as they are known locally, in towns, villages and cities across the country.


Ethiopians prepare the Demera by tying several chunks of firewood and eucalyptus tree branches together and bundling them in the shape of a tipi with a Cross on top.  The Cross is usually decorated with Ethiopia’s iconic spring yellow flowers.


In city areas, Demera celebrations occur in open spaces where thousands of worshippers and clergymen of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Church choirs congregate together virtually transforming the scene to the ancient days of the Orthodox Church rituals.


But in small villages and in suburbs of the many regions of the country – including the suburbs of the capital Addis Ababa – Ethiopian families hold their own Demera celebrations within the vicinity of their residential compound.


In the capital Addis Ababa, the focus of the Meskel Demera celebrations is Meskel Square, where thousands of the city’s residents gather to mark the festival.


As the bonfire burns out, the central cross collapses and elders predict the events of the New Year according to how it falls.  The following morning, people draw a cross on their forehead with the ash from the bonfire.


This year, for the first time in the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Meskel is celebrated without a Patriarch.


The fifth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos, died suddenly on 16 August 2012 and he has not been replaced.  Abune Paulos, whose original name was Gebre Medhin Wolde Yohannes, replaced Abune Merkorios in 1991 after Merkorios was forced to flee Ethiopia upon the EPRDF's ascent to power, sparking controversy from day one. The death of Abune Paulos occurred at a time when the late prime minister Meles Zenawi's unexplained disappearance from office left a power vacuum for over two months.


After Meles Zenawi’s death, Ethiopia has now a new Prime Minister, but the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is still without a leader.


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