Paschal as a Pillar of Mystery: A Reflection from Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Orthodox catechetical tradition, which has been developing since the 15th century, is expressed through “The Five Pillars of the Mystery” or “Amstu Aemade Mistrate.” The pillars include the Holy Trinity, Incarnation, Baptism, Eucharist, and Resurrection. In a commentary on this creed, known as “Tselote-Haymanot,” the meaning of the resurrection is articulated as follows:

“While we hope for the resurrection of the dead means we trust that, having died, we shall rise. It means He [i.e., Jesus] stood upon the cross just as one stands in the lake [i.e., of baptism]. It means, He resided in the belly of the tomb for three days [and] three nights just as one is baptized three times. As we trust that as He died and then rose, [so] after we have been baptized we shall perform heavenly and not earthly deeds.”

Icon of the Resurrection by Rev. Dr. Johannes W H VanderBijl, used with permission

At midnight during the Easter celebration, the faithful kiss the hand-cross offered by the priest. A dialogue between the celebrant and the faithful follows, concerning the effects of the resurrection:

Celebrant: Christ rose from the dead,

Faithful: with great power and authority.

Celebrant: He enchained Satan.

Faithful: He liberated Adam.

Celebrant: Peace!

Faithful: Peace!

Celebrant: From now onward,

Faithful: there is joy and peace.

Another reading from the liturgy highlights the role of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Gospel:

“To receive the Holy Spirit is to take on a great commitment to announce the resurrection of Christ: ‘Receive the Spirit, my Spirit, and proclaim my resurrection’.”

The Anaphora of St. Dioscorus, #58

The eucharistic liturgy repeatedly instructs the people to say: “We proclaim Thy death, Lord, and Thy holy resurrection.”

An Ethiopian hymn from the 6th century goes like this:

The Holy Lamb slaughtered,

for our sake He become sick and died.

Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah, the people said to each other.

Woe, woe, our Lord died for us. Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah!

… Let us go and die with Him. Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah!

Simon said He was crucified for us.

Let us go to kiss His body. Halleluiah! Halleluiah! Halleluiah!

Disciples cried like His mother. Woe, woe, woe.

Let us cry for we are not be abandoned in His resurrection.

St. Yared of Ethiopia

Remembrance of Christ’s resurrection is intertwined with the hope and joy of believers. His death is for our sake. The paschal mystery is an event of jubilation, for Christ conquered the sickness of sin, death, and the devil. In this season, let us remember to pray for suffering Ethiopians, particularly Orthodox Christians, that they may know this hope.

And as the priest proclaims: May the Lord empower us to make known the mystery of the resurrection!

Happy Easter! Melkam Fasika! መልካም ፋሲካ!

Tekle Belachew Nigru

Tekle is pursuing a PhD in Historical Theology through Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri). Focusing on Patristics (the study of early Christian theologians) and the History of Exegesis (biblical interpretation), Tekle hopes to build on the insights of the Early Church in order to foster a sense of continuity and tradition among Evangelicals, encourage Christian unity, and enrich ecumenical dialogue and cooperation in Ethiopia. Prior to his studies, Tekle taught Theology and Church History at Mekane Yesus Seminary in Addis Ababa and worked for several Christian organizations, such Food for the Hungry, Tearfund, and World Vision.

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