January 7: An Orthodox Christmas, 2016

It is today Christmas in the Orthodox world.

The fast before Christmas in Christian Ethiopia is broken at midnight in the night between January 6 and 7 when the birth of Jesus is announced.  Vast numbers of people are in the churches, in church compounds, touching the outside of the walls of the church compound.  Genuflecting. Praying. With lighted tapers. Covered from head to foot in white woven Ethiopian cotton

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Axum, night pray. A photograph taken by Afrikit and made available for non-commercial use. (Thank you!).

The city  of Addis Ababa pullulates with the sounds of joy.  Everywhere in northern cities and in the mountains and valleys, the heartland of Ethiopian Christianity.  The only gift-giving is in the form of food which is shared among family members, friends, and those in need.  And participation in a game – called ganna  – with curved sticks and a wooden ball.

The joy  of this day and its sound is exceeded only at Easter, understood as the purpose and meaning of the life of Jesus Christ, when the Lenten fast is broken.

The style of Ethiopia’s liturgical art changed over the 1700 years of the Church’s existence with the influence of the many visitors from outside Ethiopia to the northern highlands.

Until recent times, the paint was from vegetable and mineral sources.  Parchment, paper, animal skin, metal, stone church walls, were and are all used for these paintings.

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Mary and her Son.  Parchment, Tigray, Ethiopia.  Early 15th.Orthodox Christmas-03

Mary and her Son, parchment, Tigray, Ethiopia.  Early 15th.Orthodox Christmas-07

Painting on parchment; unknown exact place in northern Ethiopia. 17th century.  Christ raising Adam and Eve from the dead; St. George; the crucifixion of Jesus.

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Painting on the wall of Uhre Kidane Mehret Church (Convent of St.Mary), Zegnie Peninsula,  Lake Tana. Ethiopia  Possibly 1850.

 Uhre Kidane Mehret Church, Lake Tana, Ethiopia

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Mary and her Child with the archangels Michael and Gabriel and three worshippers. Late 18th century.  State Museum for Folk Art, Munich, Germany.Orthodox Christmas-02

Virgin and Child. Painting on parchment. Early 19th century, removed from Magdala by a member of the Napier punitive expedition to the Emperor Theodore in 1868.  Archives of the Royal Geographical Society, London.

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Painting of the Virgin and Child on a metal alloy icon, hinged to allow the icon to be closed.  St. George on the left.  21st century.


Flight to Egypt

Ethiopia and Egypt have very old life-bearing links of environment and culture:  the Blue Nile rises in northern Ethiopia and the countries share their two major religions: Islam and Christianity.  Egyptian Copts were the patriarchs of the Ethiopian Church until 1959.  If you have to fly,  fly to Egypt.

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The Wildness of Quesquam on the Flight to Egypt. Painting on parchment, early 18th.  Ethiopia

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Flight into Egypt, 1923, oil on canvas.  Henry Ossowa Tanner, 1859 – 1937, American.  Metropolitan Musuem of Art

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