The Cross is the emblem of our salvation and Christian faith. It reminds us of the sufferings and death of Eyesus Kristos our Lord and Savior. It is thus the sign of peace, deliverance, victory, eternal hope of resurrection, spiritual grace and divine protection from evil spirits. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church venerates the Cross of Eyesus Kristos our Lord and Savior with great magnificence and religious solemnity. For this reason a cord tied around the neck of baptized Christians, called Matab, is the outward symbol of faith since early Christian times.
After our Lord and Savior died on the Cross and resurrected, the sick were healed by touching the Holy Cross and rubbing their bodies against it. The Jews who saw this, dumped the Holy Cross at a landfill out of ill will. Through time this place became a small hill from the accumulation of debris. Although they were unable to dig out the Cross, the Christians had an idea where it was laid. However, as the Christians left the city of Jerusalem after Titus’ siege in 70 A.D. as well as due to the overall change in the city’s landscape and urban surroundings. It was impossible to locate where the Holy Cross was buried and as a result it was left covered for 300 years.
Afterward, in the fourth century, mother of the great Emperor Constantine, Queen Helena went to Jerusalem and made relentless efforts in quest of the Holy Cross. Finally, following what an elderly man named Kyriakos(ኪርያኮስ) told her, she asked for the gathering of some wood to bundle and create a bonfire(Demera). The bundle was scattered with frankincense on it, and as she lit it, the smoke rose to make a rainbow-like shape over the area where the Holy Cross was buried, as one would point at something with their finger. Without wasting time, she had the excavation started on Meskerem 17(September 27) and found the Holy Cross on Megabit 10(March 19). The Cross did a lot of miracles after it was unearthed. The building of a Church by Queen Helene was also finished on Meskerem 17(Sept. 27).
After Queen Helena found the cross, it was kept in Jerusalem for centuries and was later shared with some of the monarchies of the era. Four Monarchies divided the Holy Cross into four to take for themselves and the right segment where the right hand of Our Lord, God and Savior Eyesus Kristos rested is found at Gishen Debre Kerbie Mariam yet the whereabouts of the remaining three pieces is unknown. This right segment of the Cross was eventually brought to Ethiopia during the reign of Atsie Dawit(አፄ ዳዊት), The Ethiopian Emperor of the 14th century. After it came to the land of Ethiopia, there was an attempt to build a Church to house it; however, the ground would shake relentlessly so it was brought to several Churches looking for the right place until God told to the King "rest My Cross on a cross-shaped landscape". The only place found with such a shape was Gishen Debre Kerbie, where the right segment of the Cross is kept to this day.
According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the discovery of the True Cross is believed to have been in March(Megabit), but Meskel was moved to September(Meskerem) to avoid holding a festival during Lent.
1. Meskerem 10(Sept. 20) - Atsie Meskel(አፄ መስቀል)
The Patriarch of Alexandria got hold of the right hand segment of the true cross (Gimade Meskel - ግማደ መስቀል), gave it to the Ethiopian Emperor Atsie Dawit with the Icon of The Holy Virgin Mariam in return for protection afforded to the Coptic Christians. This portion of the Holy Cross that was brought to Ethiopia from Egypt on Meskerem 10(September 20).
2. Meskerem 17(September 27) - Meskel(መስቀል)
Meskel is observed on Meskerem 17(September 27) and is celebrated with a great bonfire(Demera), Divine Liturgy(Kidassie) and Hymns(Mahlet). Ash from the remains of the fire is afterwards collected and used by the faithful to mark their foreheads with the shape of the Holy Cross.
3. Meskerem 21(October 1) - Gishen Debre Kerbie Mariam(ጊሸን ደብረ ከርቤ ማርያም)
The monastery of Gishen Debre Kerbie Mariam located about 70 kilometers northwest of Dessie in northern Ethiopia is the place where right portion of the Cross on which Eyesus Kristos was crucified is kept. The Holy Cross is preserved at one of the churches built by Atse Zerayakob(ንጉስ ዘረያቆብ) which is called Egziabher-Ab, meaning God the Father.
4. The Book of the Holy Cross - Met͟s’ihafe T’efuti(መፅሀፈ ጤፉት)
The Book of the Holy Cross was written in the 15th century by the Patriarch Jacob(Yakob), and is read to the believers every year especially on Meskerem 17 (September 27), Meskerem 21(October 1) and Megabit 10(March 19), to interpret the rules, the covenants, and the promises of the Holy Cross to the Church of Gishen and King Zerayakob.
The Book of the Holy Cross is divided into seven chapters:
The First chapter deals with the relationship between the Egyptians and Ethiopians during the reign of Emperor Amede Zion.
The Second chapter says that through Atse Dawit, the Holy Cross came from Egypt to Ethiopia and settled temporarily in the realm of Dawit.
The Third chapter extensively mentions about King Zerayakob and how he came to the Mount of Gishen and brought the Holy Cross there in great glory.
The Fourth chapter includes the letters written by King Zerayakob which explains the honor of the Saint Miriam Gishen Debre Kerbie Church.
The Fifth and Sixth chapters reveal the covenants given from God to the Mount of Gishen Debre Kerbie, where the Holy cross is held in honor and glory.
The Seventh and final chapter discusses the rules and the commandments given to the Gishen Debre Kerbie's Archbishop, Priests and the local authorities, concerning the safeguard of the place of the Holy Cross.