The night air before Easter Sunday was saturated with anticipation. Two months of fasting by members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was about to come to an end.
Blaring loud speakers perched outside the church broke the quiet space with chanting that sounded more like a call to prayer from a Mosque.
Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity dates back to the fourth century and has a set of beliefs that make it unique.
One of the more interesting aspects of the church is its roots with Judaism. In each church is a tabot or replica of the Ark of the Covenant. Each church has one replica of the two tablets the Ten Commandments were written on. They are unveiled only on the holiest of days.
Easter is a large celebration for the church with a mass that lasts throughout the night into early Easter morning.
Around 11 p.m. with a fellow traveler from Austria I had met earlier, we walked up a long hill that had nightclubs blasting music from their open doors (apparently the fasting ended early for some) until we came to St. George Cathedral. At the entrance of the church was a gate where a woman sat on the ground selling long, narrow, yellow candles. After purchasing a couple of candles we walked into the churchyard.
The entire area was filled with people dressed or wrapped in white cloth, most holding burning candles. A beautiful sight of burning lights penetrating darkness filled the space. Some knelt and bowed, others sat, while others curled up on the top of mats, as the chanting blared out from the speakers.
A group of young people spotted us, and waived their hands to join them on their mat. They smiled and welcomed us into their space. One of them began asking us questions in the tone of a whisper to learn about the two who looked a little out of place. They were pleased we came to learn about this special day in their religion.
It was refreshing to be inside the peaceful space. After sitting quietly, we decided an hour was enough and left the devoted to spend the night.
At the end of the service the fast is broken and the party begins. Goats, cows and chickens are slaughter and beer is drunk, as family and friends gather to celebrate Easter.
Although the Monday after Easter Sunday isn’t a holiday, many take it off to recover from the festivities.
I asked Tina Bekele, the young entrepreneur who runs the Internet cafe I frequent what Easter meant to her. She replied, “It is a happy time to spend with family and friends where we laugh and talk, and to celebrate a special day in our religion.”