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"Let not your heart be troubled: Ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my father's house are many mansions"
- St. John 14:1-2
BELIEFS AND TEACHINGS OF ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHURCH
8. THE CHRUCH- ቤተ ክርስቲያን (BETE-KIRISITIYAN)
The word Church has three meanings. One of these means a community of the faithful who are baptized believing in Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos, (Fet. Negest Art. 1; Mt. 18:17; Acts 20:28). As people of God in the times of the Old Testament were called House of Israel (Bete Israel); so are God’s people in the New Testament times called Church. This means Christians; the community of Christians. The second meaning denotes our body, the bodies of any baptized Christian is a church (1 Corinthians 3:16). The third meaning denotes the building in which believers congregate to offer worship to God. The Ark of Noah, the Tent of Abraham, the Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon had been examples of churches where offerings and worship to God were made. During the times of the New Testament Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos, who is the Head and foundation of the Church established the Church with his own blood. The church as laid down by the church Fathers in “Tselote Hymanot” (Creed) is known as the One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic”.
The Church is:
The abode of God
Place of teaching, prayers and worship (Mt. 21:13; Jn. 2:7, Ps. 68:9)
Place for the forgiveness of sin and intercession
A place where the Gospel is preached, the Holy Communion is administered and Baptism is conducted.
The final resting place of Christians
A place where spiritual service is conducted for all irrespective of age, race and gender.
a) Structure of Ethiopian orthodox Tewahedo Church
The attributes which make the Church different from all other structures are:
Bishops consecrate it.
It is anointed with Myron.
It is the place where the Ark of the Covenant (Taboti (ታቦት)/ Tsilati (ፅላት) is kept.
The sacraments of the Church are conducted there.
According to the rites and tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the construction of a church follows a particular pattern, though the mode could vary. The pattern has three partitions:-
a. Qene Mahlet - ቅኔማህሌት (Outer Ambulatory)
A place where choir men (debitera-ደብተራ) present worship and chant songs of praise to God.
b. Kidest - ቅድስት (Surrounding Ambulatory)
This is the central part of the Church and is also the place where the faithful receive the Holy Communion.
c. Mekdes- መቅደስ (Sanctuary/Holy of Holies)
This is the place where Liturgy is conducted and a revered area where the altar of the Ark of the Covenant is kept. Only ordained men are allowed to enter here.
According to the rites of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church the “Mekdes” has three main doors and one door to the east towards Bethlehem.
West: - Glory to God is recited and the Holy Communion is given here.
North: - the faithful men attend liturgy here and the priests perform horology.
South: - the faithful women attend liturgy and pray here.
A cross is fixed on the cupola of the Church- a cross being a distinctive symbol of a Church. Without a cross on it, it cannot be called a church.
On the eastern side of the church lies the “Bethlehem- ቤተልሄም” while on the western side lies a hall called “Deje Selam - ደጀሰላም” which literally means “the gate of peace”.
b) The Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant (Taboti -ታቦት) is the repository of the Holy Plate (Tsilat- ፅላት) on which the Ten Commandments were written in and given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. In our Church, the Holy Plate or Tsilat is called the Ark (Tabot). The Ark is a means for the manifestation of God. We bow and pray in front of the Ark because the name of God and the Ten Commandments are written on it and God shows His mercy through it. (Ex. 25: 20-25). Tabot was not abandoned after the Old Testament. Since the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia, our country had long before Christianity accepted the Old Testament and offered worship to God. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church had accepted and preserved the Old Testament and the rites contained therein. As the Lord said in the Gospel “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these Commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:17-19). Accordingly, one of those that have been taken from the Old Testament and is practiced by the Church is the Ark (Tabot) which has God’s name on it. The Ark is the means by which the covenant made between God and man is kept. The ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church combines and uses the tradition of the Old as well as the New Testaments in Christian spirit.
Several miracles have been performed for the Israelites whenever they embarked on voyages or stayed at dwellings having the Ark of the Covenant with them. They emerged victorious in all battles where they had taken the Ark with them. When they sinned, they were defeated for the grace of God was not with them. (1 Sam. 4:11). The Ark is also the source of victory and Divine help. Hence, whenever foreign enemies arose, the Church has always been in the forefront with the Ark and has helped in carrying the day and defending the country. Thus, those who failed to pay respects to it and touched it without priestly ordination perished while those who believed in its laws and accepted and respected it were rewarded. (1 Sam. 4:6; 2 Sam 6)
In the New Testament in our Church, the Ark is used for the worship of God and the offering of the flesh and blood of Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos which is the real food. That is why we bow before it and honour it. St. Paul, in 2Cor 6:15-16 teaches “what harmony is there between Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos and Belial. What does a believer have with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the Ark of the Covenant of God and idols?” Moreover, John the Evangelist says in Rev. 11:19 “Then God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and within His temple was seen the Ark of the Covenant.”
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, therefore, gives honour to the Ark of the Covenant and bears witness publicly and openly in God’s name. The Ark (Tabot) is for our Church the main manifestation for its faith and order. Arks are made in the names of the Holy Trinity, Our Holy Mother Virgin Mariam, Holy Angels, Prophets, Apostles, Saints and Martyrs.
Arks are made from time to time as per the instructions given to Moses to make new ones in the mold of the originals (Ex. 34:1).
Worships are offered before the Ark for it has the name of God written on it. (Phil. 2:10).
According to the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Arks are made from precious stone and from special wood resistant to pets and termites.
The name of God is written on the four sides of the Ark.
The pictures of cherubim (ኪሩቤል), the Trinity (ሥላሴ), Our Holy Mother Virgin Mariam and St. John the evangelist are made on it.
It is consecrated by a bishop’s prayer, and is honoured being anointed with Myron and rests in its place.
No liturgy can be conducted at a church where the Ark is absent and it is not called a church.
Those who have the authority to carry the Ark are bishops and priests.
c) ECCLESIASTICAL OBJECTS
The ecclesiastical objects are those with which the priests administer the sacraments of the Church. There are different objects used for administering these sacraments.
- The Paten (Tsahil): on which the Holy Body of Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos is sacrificed.
The Chalice (Tsiwa): in which the precious blood of Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos is poured.
The Cross-Spoon (Erfe Meskel): by which the Precious Blood of Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos is given.
The Corporals (the coverings) (Mahfed): the cloth with which the Holy Communion is covered symbolizing the shroud over Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos’s Body.
The Golden Basket (Mesobe Werq): in which the bread of the Communion is carried from the Bethlehem into the Church.
Censer (Tsina): used for burning incense.
The Bell (Kachil): the bell is rung at the beginning of the Liturgy, when the deacon says, Go forth, ye catechumen; when the priest says “Lord have Mercy upon us,” when the clergy come out from the Holy of Holies to offer the Body and the Blood of Our Lord and Savior Eyesus Christos to the people and on other occasions of Solemn prayers and services.
All these ecclesiastical objects are used for the above mentioned services after they are consecrated with prayer, Holy Oil and blessings. The order of prayers and the anointing of the Holy Oil for blessing the ecclesiastical objects is found at the beginning of the Book of Liturgy.
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