Thursday, February 17, 2011

The people of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

 As promised in yesterday's post about Jerusalem's Ethiopian Church, here are photos of some of the Ethiopian Christians and  icons there.

I think the little one was taking a break from the 4:00 p.m. prayer service going on inside.

Monks and nuns live inside the church complex.
It is called Dabra Gannat, which in the Ge'ez language means Mount of Paradise.
The  high wall surrounding the compound was added in 1897.
An Israeli website says that the Ethiopian monks (in this church and those who live on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre)   " live, as it were, on an island where their lives change very slowly--an island to which they have been drawn through faith and where they have found a degree of contentment. Asked why he had come to Jerusalem, one elderly monk at first seemed to fail to grasp the question. Then he burst out 'because it is Jerusalem' -- an answer he felt quite sufficient, as indeed it is."

The  FolkArt Gallery site says
"The purpose of Ethiopian art is to describe in color, the drama of the gospels. The icons have been used for devotional purposes, both as objects of power and as votive offerings. They are believed to be permeated with the spiritual presence of the saints and in particular of the Virgin Mary. Prayers made to an icon are offered directly to a specific saint or to the Virgin herself. The icon can elicit either a blessing on the righteous or punishment to wrongdoers."

 Some of the church's icons are hundreds of years old.
Many of them show Ethiopian saints like this one, an old desert monk called Abba Samuel.
He lived among large wild animals and learned their language.   He is usually pictured being transported on the back of lions.
I read that Ethiopians  believed that it is possible to receive a promise of protection for anyone who invokes Abba Samuel's name.

Saint Aregawi (Argawy) founded a monastery on a high butte surrounded by steep cliffs, which to this day is accessible only by rope.
A friendly python helped the saint ascend and descend. 
Or so I read online today.  I think this is the painting of them.

St. George, Ethiopia's  national patron saint, is  frequently depicted rescuing a princess from the dragon,  which represents evil.
Do you think that's a princess on the back of his saddle?
George is considered the special friend and messenger of Mary, so their icons are often  positioned to face one another.
A good article to read about the story of the Ethiopian Christians in Jerusalem is at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
If  any of you in the USA would like to visit an Ethiopian Orthodox church, Betsy Porter gives this partial list:

- New York City:  Church of the Savior (meets at Riverside Church,
- Washington, DC:  St. Mary of Zion Ethiopian,
- Los Angeles:  St. Mary of Zion,
- Oakland, CA:  Mekane Selam Medhane Alem Cathedral,
- Dallas, TX:  St. Michael Ethiopian Church,
If you do, let me know!


Francisca said...

Another post rich with information, Dina. Yes, that does appear to be a diminutive princess behind St George. "Because it's Jerusalem" does seem like a self-evident answer to the question why one would come there. It made me smile. The folk art gallery link got me to a site under construction.

Reader Wil said...

I didn't know anything about the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. They have a lot of saints and I understand that their icons have the power to work miracles. Interesting!

Dina said...

Francisca, I fixed the link. Thanks for alerting me.

Wil, Jerusalem has a little bit of everything. Come and see!

Reader Wil said...

Jerusalem is a wonder city, very important for history, for religions, for humanity! I certainly lke to see Jerusalem.

Pietro said...

Really interesting icons, Dina.
The Virgin Mary is very important indeed. She, and John (who symbolizes the Church) stood by the cross, where Jesus made her the mother of all Christians: "Jesus said to his mother, 'Woman, this is your son.' Then to the disciple he said, 'This is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home." (Jn 19:26–7).

VP said...

A wonderful post, I have learned many things I didn't know. Now I am curious to visit an Ethiopian church and I think the nearest would be Santo Stefano degli Abissini in Rome.

Leif Hagen said...

Looks like you had a feast of a visit to that church!!

JM said...

That pink is so unusual in churches. Glad you posted some more pics.