Millennia old Ethiopian church with its originality ,in all its forms, and emphasis in the service of God has, or rather had,unfortunately, been a strength to Ethiopia in the struggle to defend its freedom. Revisionists and politically charged interpretations aside, history recorded that Ethiopia’s aspiration for and commitment to freedom inspired entire Africa, and beyond,during the struggle for freedom. Perhaps Ethiopian church movement in southern Africa at the end of the 19th century – which was partly informed by Biblical teaching ; “Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth its hands unto God” Psalm 68:31 – is not mere coincidence. Outside of Africa, spirituality and struggle for freedom are two important noticeable elements in Jamaican Reggae tradition.
In some sense, and in the past, Ethiopia tend to be seen as, even in Ethiopia, a spiritual concept ; a yearning to connect with and serve God. Over the course time, and with what can be described rather as destructive politicization, Ethiopia came to be perceived as politics and be demonized by different groups of “Ethiopians” for all sorts of reasons -mostly by Ethiopians who were manipulated foreign interest.
As a consequence, Ethiopian church itself became a victim of politics ; worse,currently,ethnic politics. The result is that ,for the first time in thousands of years of history, there emerged a serious schism within the church. Understandably, and evidently, the division brought about huge negative implication in the service to God. For example, Ethiopian churches in the diaspora have virtually become battling grounds where political differences are fiercely fought out but on the surface they seem to be related to administrative issues. For that reason, laity is a little disappointed, and concerned, in the situation of Ethiopian church.
It is partly because of that that one could notice a totally different experience at Medhane Alem Church in Toronto – which is run by Jamaicans. With focus on spirituality and Ethiopia being viewed as a symbol of worship of God, as it used to be viewed by Ethiopians as well, the service is extremely humbling which is relevant for better spiritual experience. A facebook friend actually tipped me that Medhane Alem Church is in fact the first Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church in Canada.
Unlike certain groups of Ethiopians ,initially manipulated and organized by enemies of Ethiopia from near and far, who tend to see the urge to radicalize along tribal line with anti-Ethiopian sentiment as the ultimate expression of revolutionary character, Jamaicans seem to have the advantage of not being distracted by the enemies of Ethiopia. The focus on spirituality is noticeable. And Ethiopia still seem to represent spirituality.
This past Saturday, Medhane Alem was celebrated. Service is perfected to original form of worship in the tradition of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo church. Sermon was both in English and Amharic. Choir (Children and youth)sung hymns in Amharic and geez,Ethiopian church language. Ark of Holly Saviour procession within the church by a Jamaican priest resembles one that you find in other Ethiopian churches in Toronto, or elsewhere in North America or Europe.
After service, there was “Tsebel -Tadik” ( Enjera) at Bete Selam. There, big Emperor Haile Selassie’s coronation portrait- very familiar to many in the Rastafarian tradition – is pinned to the wall in a way to be seen when you come in. It was packed to capacity and many had to stand.
Turn out from Ethiopians in Toronto for the celebrations was good but it could have been better.No follower of Ethiopian church in Toronto should miss out celebrations like that. It is truly a wonderful experience.