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Image by Greg Rosenke


The Holy Cross and its Celebration

     The Cross is highly venerated in the life of the Church, and it is foretold and symbolically represented in various prophecies. These prophecies state, "The grapevine, cut from Hasisson and planted in Golgotha, became my cure," (Psalm of Solomon 5:1-2) and "Thou hast set up a banner for those who fear thee, that they may flee to it from the bow, that thy beloved may be delivered" (Ps. 60:4). The Cross is symbolized through the wood with which Noah built his ark (Gen. 7:1), the staff of Moses (Ex. 4:2-9), and the bronze serpent (Num. 21:9).

Before the crucifixion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Cross was a symbol of the death penalty, curse, and humiliation (Deut. 21:23; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). However, after the crucifixion, the Cross has become a symbol of spiritual freedom, peace, and victory for all Christians (Ps. 2:15-17).

     The Cross, which Constantine the Great saw in the form of light, endures as a symbol of victory. As St. Paul stated, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 3:18). The Cross of Christ has become an instrument of punishment for death and Satan. As St. Yared stated in his hymn for the departed, the Son who created the world drove away His enemy by His Cross. The faithful, believing in Christ and making the sign of the cross, overcome demons and evil desires. The Cross has also become a symbol in all Christian art.


Holy Day of Meskel (Cross)

     The Meskel Holiday is celebrated on Meskerem 17 (September 27) and Megabit 10 (March 19). The word Meskel means 'Cross,' and the feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena. The crucifixion of the Lord healed the sick, who were cured by touching and rubbing their bodies against the Cross. Attracted by these miracles, many became Christians. Seeing this, the Jews threw the Cross into a rubbish disposal pit, and over time, the site became a hill. Despite their inability to excavate it, Christians knew the area where the Cross was buried.

During the invasion of Titus in 70 A.D., all Christians left Jerusalem, and the site of the city was altered, making it difficult to locate the place where the Cross was buried. As a result, it remained buried for over three hundred years.


     In the 4th century (327 A.D.), Queen Helena, the mother of King Constantine, embarked on a journey to Jerusalem to find the Cross. Unable to locate it, she followed the advice of an old man named Kiriakos, as recorded in Kirakos Yared’s Hymn Book of Helena: "You need not tire yourself and others in vain. Gather people, pile wood, and burn incense on it. Follow where the smoke drifts, dig, and you will find the Cross" (Sinksar of Megabit (March) 10 E.C.).

She followed these instructions and discovered the Cross where the smoke led her (Yared’s Hymn Book of Helena). St. Yared, the Ethiopian hymnologist, praised this event with the verse, "The Wooden Cross, buried at Golgotha by the Jews, is found today" (Yared’s Hymn Book of Helena). This event is celebrated worldwide in the Christian community, but in Ethiopia, it is observed with profound spiritual feelings and traditional sentiments.


     The Meskel Holiday, marking the beginning of the Ethiopian spring, is vibrant and colorful. On Meskerem 16 (September 26), in cities, villages, and surrounding areas, people bring torches called 'Chibo' and wood to 'Meskel Square' to form the 'Demera' (bundles of branches of wood and twigs). The priests conduct prayers in front of the Demera, singing, "Meskel has illuminated, and it decorated the sky with stars." A large procession circles the Demera, singing, "Iyoha Abebaye Meskerem Tebaye" (Behold, Meskerem has dawned and the flowers have blossomed). People also light 'chibbos' at home and celebrate. On the morning of the 17th, the Demera is lit, though in Addis and some other places, it occurs on the evening of the 16th. As prayers have been offered over the Demera, people mark their foreheads with the ashes in the shape of the cross and sprinkle them over their cattle.


     Since Helena began digging on Meskerem 17 (September 27) and found the Cross on Megabit 10 (March 19), these holidays are commemorated as the same holiday.

Given the icon and the cross's prominence in the spiritual lives of Christians, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church furnishes the faithful with consecrated icons and crosses. In church services, the cross is used for blessings. Priests always carry the cross, blessed with it, and it is venerated by the Christians. Following this, the church sings and prays:


"The Cross is our power,
The Cross is our strength,
The Cross is our ransom,
The Cross is the salvation of our souls,
The Jews denied, but we believed,
Believers are saved by the power of His Cross."


As the Psalmist said, 'We will worship at His footstool' (Ps. 132:7). Therefore, it is fitting to prostrate, kneel, and bow before the cross in reverence and grace. This reverence is also based on the Hymn of St. Yared (Tshome Digua), which proclaims, 'O Master, we prostrate before Your Cross and praise Your Holy Resurrection.' This is in harmony with the teachings of our Church."


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