Epiphany in Ethiopian and Elsewhere
The three-day festivities begin with the procession of priests from every church bearing the Holy Arks (Tabot) to baptismal sites a day before Timket. The day aptly named Ketera, meaning “the cutting off,” reenacts an important Old Testament event involving the Holy Ark: Israel’s crossing of the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua en route to their inheritance.
The second day, Timket or Epiphany, commemorates, testifies to and reenacts Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist paving the way for the faithful to become children of God. The two days mark two events that heralded liberation and inheritance of earthly and heavenly estates God promised.
The third day alone contains two events from the Old and the New Testaments.
Colors, gifts and parades characterize Epiphany festivities across continents, which follow the end of Christmas; but there are differences. For starters, the dates differ: elsewhere, on January 6; and here, on January 19. Still, Epiphany is celebrated here as elsewhere 12 days after Christmas!
Also, we have differences, as similarities, in what we celebrate. For instance, the colorful parades in Spain commemorate the journey that the three Kings or Wise Men took to see the baby Jesus and present him with gifts. In other Western countries, such as the UK, Epiphany commemorates the official end of Christmas and the taking down of the Christmas tree and decorations.
Then we have the Eastern Orthodox Churches who celebrate their Epiphany marking the manifestation of the Holy Trinity, as the Father and the Holy Spirit testified to the divinity of Christ right after He was baptized on the River Jordan.
Ethiopia celebrates and reenacts this most important manifestation.
However, that is not all that happens during the three days of celebrations.
Day One: Jan 18
On the eve of Timket, the procession of priests carrying Holy Arks to rivers or other baptismal spots reenact ከተራ, meaning “the cutting off,” of the River Jordan referred to in Joshua:
“And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth shall rest in the waters of Jordan, [that] the waters of Jordan shall be cut off [from] the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.” (Joshua 3: 13)
“The cutting off” precedes Timket, just as the Old Testament precedes the New and Israelites’ crossing of the river on their way to the promised land preceded Jesus’ baptism in the same River Jordan. The Holy Arks spend the night on the baptismal sites, with the priests executing spiritual ceremonies to consecrate the waters.
Day Two January 19
The faithful of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church gather in the morning at the baptismal places where the Holy Arks spent the night and are sprinkled with the holy water. The events reenact the baptism of Christ as well as the subsequent manifestation on the River Jordan of the Holy Trinity, with the Father and the Holy Spirit testifying the divinity of the Son.
Jesus’ baptism was attended by unique testimonies and witnesses:
• The testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus’ messianic role, when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God (Jn 1: 36), a sacrifice for the sin of many.”
• Then, the testimonies of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit to the divinity of the Son: When Jesus got out of the water and prayed the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove. And God the Father spoke. He said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Late in the morning, all of the Holy Arks, except those consecrated in the name of the Archangel St Michael, start their journeys back to their seats at respective churches. And the people, just as their Old Testament counterparts, return home clean singing and chanting the names of their God and His saints and angels. Only the Holy Arks of St Michael remain in all the baptismal sites across the nation, to spend another night there, the next day being the day of the festival of St Michael the Archangel.
On the third and final day, two events are commemorated, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. According to the Ethiopian Synaxarium, January 20 marks the day St Michael the Archangel saved Jacob from the wrath of his brother Esau (Gen. 32:24-32) Priests bear the Holy Arks dedicated to the Archangel Michael proceed back to their respective seats.
Also, the same day is celebrated as the festival of Cana of Galilee, commemorating the day when Lord Jesus did his first miracle of turning water into wine and manifested his glory, according to the Gospel of John (2:11)
The Young Roll out Red Carpet For the Holy Arks of the Lord
The young followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have made a significant addition to the ever-colorful Timket processions: they have been rolling out the red carpet for the high priests carrying the Tabots to walk on from each church to the baptismal spot and back. It has been at least fifteen years since the feet of the high priests carrying the Holy Arks have walked on nothing but the red carpet for several kilometers. This is a recent addition to the Epiphany processions that has spread across the nation and further to the reaches of the Ethiopians in diaspora.
Photo Credit: Kinfe Sahlu
Blog Credit: Markos Rett