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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Timkat: A celebration of Ethiopian Christianity

Philip and the Ethiopian (by Rembrandt)
Christianity is a vibrant part of Ethiopia’s heritage and has been so since the first century AD. 

Numerous theories exist as to how Christianity was first introduced into this Sub-Saharan African land.  Acts 8 tells us that Philip the Evangelist was told by an angel of the Lord to travel south to Gaza.  There he met a royal-court Ethiopian who was sitting in his chariot reading these words from the prophet Esaias:  He was led as a sheep to the slaughter…  Philip “preached unto him Jesus” and afterwards baptized the Ethiopian.  This is viewed by many as the start of the Ethiopian Church (although Wikipedia also mentions that Matthew the
Apostle was thought by historian Nicephorus to have preached the Gospel in what is now Ethiopia).

Ezana became the first ruler (320s to c. 360 CE) of the Axumite Kingdom (which included present-day Ethiopia, Yemen and Eritrea) to not only “embrace Christianity,” but to also make it the official state religion.  His childhood tutor, Frumentius (aka Kesate Birhan, “Revealer of Light” – Abba Salama, “Father of Peace” – and presently Saint Frumentius), was appointed the first Abune (“head”) of the Ethiopian Church.  Centuries later, when Islam expanded throughout North Africa, Ethiopia was the only area within the region that remained a Christian state.

Timkat (aka Timket and Timqat, and meaning “baptism” in Amharic) “celebrates the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.”  Following the Ethiopian calendar, it is also “the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany.”  The Timkat festival traditionally includes a “ritual reenactment of baptism,” and the Tabot (“model of the Ark of the Covenant”) being borne on the head of a priest during the procession.  Very early in the morning, “the Divine Liturgy is celebrated near a stream or pool.”  Near dawn, a “nearby body of water is blessed” - and then either entered into by the participants or sprinkled upon them.  By noon that same day, the crowd reassembles at the site to enthusiastically escort the Ark back to its home church.     


Copyright January 18, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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