Levi and I just finished up the biggest festival of the year in Ethiopia—well, the eve of the feast. More tomorrow.
Timkat is Theophany (sometimes called Epiphany) when Christ was baptized by John the Forerunner. Millions turn out all over the city to head to a water source to recreate the drama and also the event of the Ark of the Covenant being brought into the Jordan River to cause it to recede and allow the children of Israel to proceed into the promised land.
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius.”
This famous quote about America in 1835 could be written about Ethiopia in 2018.
For the next several days, we will be visiting those churches.
French scholar Alex de Tocqueville’s words about America pinpoints pulpits, and while many Ethiopian leaders speak out for righteousness, it is the 2000 year traditional practices of the church that so inflames the populace of Ethiopia with righteousness.
Their churches are everywhere and they are large, and they are filled with enthusiastic young people. In a day when the West has lost it’s way, not knowing what a man is, what a woman is, what marriage should look like, that a young child in the womb should be protected, that families and nations should grow as people fruitfully multiply, or that God the Father should be honored while evil and demons and witchcraft be condemned—Ethiopia shines as a light in it’s historic vibrant church and in the laws of its land which reflect those moral beliefs.
One might admire Ethiopia for her vast wild lands, exotic animals, her rich resources. One may be particularly enamored by her unmatched religious tradition—both Jewish and Christian—on the continent of Africa. One may love the rich narratives about Eden in Ethiopia or Noah, Sheba and Solomon, and the Ark of the Covenant housed in its ancient religious city of Axum. Many adore the country’s ancient monarchy, only recently ended. Today Ethiopia is the permanent headquarters of the African Union, this continent’s base for the United Nations, and this too is admirable.
But one will not understand the greatness of Ethiopia until he and she visits her churches. This culture is deep and powerful. The word itself derives from “cult,” a people’s religious rituals, traditions, and beliefs. And while the West’s cult has slowly drifted toward things masonic and pagan and even occult, Ethiopia’s cult remains strongly Christian, vibrantly so, with prayers and fasting and festivals and dancing, art and music. Every aspect of the heart, mind, soul, and spirit is employed in the worship and love of Jesus Christ. That is the secret to her “greatness and genius,” as de Tocqueville might have said about Ethiopia were he alive today.
In 1835, America was a few decades away from her emergence as a leader of the nations. So, too, Ethiopia is poised to shine a light for the rest of us in the near future.
It is too soon to say much. We arrived at 2 a.m. their time, found our AirBnB, slept a bit and are just now emerging.
The morning started with asking “Momma Gennett” to make us coffee. Levi and I wanted to cut out of this small apartment and find some wi-fi so I can connect with my people here by email (phones not working yet), and wanted some caffeine first. But in Ethiopia, coffee means a ceremony, a ritual, and “let’s kick back and take forever and roast and brew coffee for a long time and then drink it” mentality.
So we did. Her son Yared, who looks to be about 17, then awoke to join us. He speaks decent broken English. Momma Gennett almost none. They have turned their two bedroom apartment into a hotel to make extra money. And they don’t use the other bedroom. An English couple were in there, and they left early this morning for Gonder, an historic city where the big upcoming festival Timkat is famously celebrated. We celebrated Timkat here tomorrow and Friday, Ethiopia’s biggest event.
It’s third world, where we are staying. We shared their bathroom, which isn’t stellar.
Yared walked us five minutes to a hotel, which is where we are now. It’s first world. Those two worlds live constantly side-by-side in this emerging country.
I sat next to an Italian woman on the flight. She also lives in Switzerland with her partner, but has worked for years in Ethiopia as an “economist” for the U.N. After a year with the Swiss, she wants to come back to Ethiopia “because of the energy of the people.” I asked for details, and it is related to their historic faith and their simplicity and direct connectedness to life, love, and earth. She is very worried about the lightning-speed development of the country and what the effects will be.
Levi and I met Salaam on the layover in Turkey. She is a very devout Ethiopian Christian woman who married a Dutch man and moved to the Netherlands. She is coming back for two weeks to celebrate Timkat and then spend a week at a woman’s monastery. She is stunned by Levi and my story of becoming Orthodox and visiting Ethiopia to embrace the historic Christians here and learn.
“I am only used to people coming to Ethiopia to get things,” she said.
She is very concerned about the godless education her children are getting in the Netherlands and says she would not have moved there had she known. She feels trapped in terms of being able to move back, because now her kids—who used to be crammed into a small apartment like Momma Gennett and Yared—are happily enjoying the European countryside and playing by the creek. Yet they are dying spiritually.
She wants her husband to read my articles about the Orthodox Christian faith.
During our flight tonight, Levi could have been getting his first experience with Ethiopia. I’ve flown Ethiopian airlines several times, once or twice overseas. Great airline. Great people. Great experience.
But tonight we are on Turkish Airlines. It’s Turks for Levi, and our assessment for this cultural experience will have to come in a later post.
It’s been a stormy road with the Turks over the centuries. Our great Orthodox Byzantine empire fell after 1000 years of Roman greatness when the Ottoman Turks sacked Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453.
We have a lot of saints who are honored for being martyrs, for being tortured and impaled for the cause of Christ. Perhaps the greatest cathedral ever built, Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, was taken over and turned into a mosque.
Today, things aren’t so swell with the Turks either. They used to be a solid NATO ally, but their leader has been dancing too much lately with the Russians. Then an attempted coup happened there about a year ago and President Erdogan blamed it on U.S. intelligence operatives. He purged the place of Western intelligence, and American did something bad back in return. I can’t remember what it was, but now Turkey doesn’t honor U.S. passports.
Too bad, because Levi and I have an eight hour layover in Istanbul on the way back (it’s one of the reasons we booked this particular flight and accepted the idea of a Turkish cultural experience). We had hoped to visit the Hagia Sophia, which has now been turned into a museum, some of the Christian icons recovered from being painted over centuries ago, and available for tourists to visit.
However … just a few weeks ago there was some news about Trump and Erdogan having some nice nice talk. I’ve been watching the Turkish and U.S. state department sites like a hawk, hoping something thaws for us just in time.
Yes, tomorrow Levi and I fly out of Dulles airport in D.C. toward Ethiopia. We leave Monday night but don’t arrive until early Wednesday morning. So it’s pre-day one for leaving but still three days from actually arriving. Whatever. I’ll try to get you a blog every day regardless. Maybe I’ll start using fractions.
It’s only a 20 hour flight. But when you add in the time zones, it takes over 48 hours by the clock. The good news is, it will take about one hour by the clock on the way back. I wonder if you just flew that direction non-stop, could you defy time and never age?
Anyway, regarding times and dates: the Ethiopian Church is on the old calendar. They celebrated Christmas just a week ago. Our Orthodox Church in Chattanooga celebrated Theophany (sometimes called Epiphany—the celebration of Jesus’s baptism by John the Forerunner) just last week. But The Ethiopians celebrate it 13 days later, which is this coming Friday. They call it Timkat, and it’s their biggest celebration of the year for the entire country. Pics definitely coming your way.
Ethiopians have a different year count as well. They say it’s the year 2010. And they keep daily hours the way they did in the Bible. The “first hour” is around 7 am, when you might first wake up and care about hours. The third hour is closer to noon.
So, the long and short of all this is that we’re entering into a bit of a time warp, for all sorts of reasons. And when time stops, good things usually happen. Pray for us.
Today’s blog post will focus on the average Ethiopian.
In terms of appearance: – They are beautiful people. Truly striking. – They are generally tall and thin, with sharp features. – They are a bit lighter skinned, more resembling their Egyptian neighbors. – They have large families – They wear western clothing (actually Chinese made), although in church they are more traditional. Old people in the country may sometimes wear traditional garb—something you are likely to see in Western reporting, because what’s so interesting about a guy in jeans and a polo shirt?Continue reading “Ethiopians are beautiful people (pre-day 4 – Dean in Ethiopia)”
One goal for this trip next week—and I don’t know if I’ll pull it off—is to spend a half a day or so at a town in Ethiopia that has no electricity and no cell phone coverage, and never has had it. In the small and large cities, power and Western amenities are generally available. But I’m told there are many of these unplugged towns, easy to find and access. We’ll see.
Such was my experience the day I decided to visit a small church and laid my eyes on a cool walking stick-like cane the men use to help stay standing for hours during the services.
They were of course stunned that a “farange” (white man) even walked in to their humble church. The building only held 30 people or so. About 100 were outside. Unfortunately I could not capture the service on video (didn’t want to be disrespectful having not met anyone yet), but it was by far my best worship experience. No microphones, and the singing was loud, powerful, and quite melodic. They invited me up right near the priests next to the action.Continue reading “The Great Council to approve my cane (pre-day 6 – Dean in Ethiopia)”