Ethiopian Christians celebrate Demera, the discovery of Jesus’ cross

By Tinishu Solomon

Millions of Ethiopian Orthodox church members on Wednesday celebrated the  Demera, the eve of the discovery of the cross on which Jesus Christ is believed  to have been crucified.

Celebrations began in the afternoon with tens of thousands of followers  gathering at Meskel Square to celebrate the holy day, together with hundreds of  pilgrims, tourists and foreign diplomats.

In Addis Ababa, all roads leading to the city’s famous Meskel Square were  closed for the day to avoid traffic jams.

Demera, the eve of the discovery of the cross, one of the main religious  ceremonies of Ethiopia’s most dominant religion, is celebrated colorfully  throughout the country.

More than 100,000 people, including hundreds of priests and deacons  attired in Ethiopia’s traditional plain white clothes, gathered to mark the day  with a grand bonfire ceremony, lit by the leader of the Orthodox  Church.

Demera, also known as Meskel Festival, is also celebrated in remembrance of  Empress Helena, who according to tradition was led to the cross after smoke from  incense she was burning during her prayers drifted towards the direction of  three buried crosses, one of which was the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was  crucified. She gave pieces of the True Cross to all churches, including the  Ethiopian Church, with parts of it said to be in Israel.

The ancient festival, dating back 1,600 years, is celebrated with yellow  Meskel daisies placed on top of huge bonfires as priests, carrying silver Coptic  crosses and flaming torches, dance with their followers around the fires singing  and chanting.

This year, however, marked the first time in 21 years when the celebration  was observed in the absence of the late Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox  Church, Abune Paulos who died in August.

The celebration also marks the end of Ethiopia’s three month long rainy  season. The Horn of Africa country uses its own calendar, which has 13 months,  or Pagume. Like a leap year, Pagume has either 5 or 6 days depending on the  season.

According to Ethiopian tradition, the Meskel cross was reburied on the  mountain of Gishen Mariam monastery in Wollo region after a powerful light  emanating from it stripped naked anyone who approached.

The monastery of Gishen Mariam, one of the country’s main tourist  attractions, has records of the story of the True Cross of Christ and how it was  acquired.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has more than 50,000 churches and 1,200  monasteries with about 50,000 monks and nuns for an estimated 40 million plus  orthodox Christians, about half of the country’s total population.

Ethiopia is lobbying that the Meskel Festival be granted UNESCO World  Heritage status.

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