Hundreds of orthodox priests and deacons donned in ceremonial regalia, were joined by ordinary Ethiopians to usher in the Meskel festival, a religious holiday marking the eve of what they term as Jesus’ ‘true cross.’
The festival which brought Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to a stand still , is also known as the ‘Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross’ in other Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant churches.
“Meskel has a special meaning for me, beyond its national and religious features, it signifies coming to the light from the darkness. It is a beginning of hope. We believe in it,” said Zewdie Mekonnen and Orthodox faithful.
According to Ethiopian Orthodox Church history, in 326AD Queen Helena, the mother of Rome’s first Emperor, Constantine prayed for guidance to find the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
The answer came to her in a dream.
“Queen Helena was so concerned about the whereabouts of the Christ’s cross that she lit a bonfire and added incense to it. The smoke from the incense went up and then came down to one of the mountains. This showed where the true cross was buried. She was directed by the smoke and she dug out the cross from where it had been buried for years,” said Gerawork Jembere, an Orthodox priest.
Tourists also had a chance to experience the feast.
“For me this is unique. I have never seen anything like it and I travel a lot, and I have never seen anything like it and I am so glad I experienced it and I wish everybody would see it, said Steiner Knudsen a Norwegian tourist.
The festival starts mid afternoon and ends after sunset with people holding candles. Apart from its symbolism, Orthodox Christians believe Meskel is a time of great sacrifice and hope.