Sometimes, when you least expect it, a truly memorable experience awaits around the corner… Literally.
Today on our way home from a no-name suburban box store we noticed a large celebratory gathering in front of Ottawa’s St. Tekle Haimanot Ehiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Wanting to take a picture of what we thought might be a wedding, as people were dressed in very beautiful traditional clothing, we parked around the corner, dug out the camera from the trunk of the car, and walked towards the church. Standing on the door-steps of a house beside the church fence, we took a few pictures of the gathering, hoping our photographic endeavors would not be noticed and objected to. Well, photo sleuths we are not.
Within seconds, a man, dressed in white vestments, walked across the church lawn and asked us to join in the celebration of St. Tekle Haimanot. This was an offer a Boomer Traveller would never refuse.
St. Tekle Haimanot was an Ethiopian Saint who lived around 1300 A.D., who according to tradition played a role in restoring the Solomonic dynasty/House of Solomon. This lineage claims patrilineal descent from King Solomon of old testament fame and the Queen of Sheba, whose liaison resulted in the birth of a son, Menelic I , who is credited with bringing the Ark of the Covenant with him to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims the ark still resides in Axum under guard near the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion.
The ceremony bore many similarities to those practiced in Judaism, from whom Ethiopian Orthodox Church may have evolved.
On entering the church we were asked to remove our shoes.
During the service, the women had their heads covered with a scarf and sat on the right while the men sat on the left side when facing the altar.
A fabulous youth choir and a large drum accompanied the service. A congregant, who kindly took us under his wing, explained that the ceremony was focused on the showing of a replica of the ark which contained the covenant of Moses.
At the end of the ceremony, the men went to one side and the women the other for a libation.
We were then asked to join the church for lunch. Before we ate, the Bishop for Canada, who had come in from southern Ontario for the event, said prayers, then he cut a large bread that was in front of him and distributed it among the happy congregants.
Lunch was traditional Ethiopian bread, Injera, made from teff, which is a type of grain. It is mixed with water and fermented for a few days, then cooked like one-sided crepes. Spicy stews ladled on top of the Injera are eaten by tearing off a piece of injera and using to scoop up a bite of stew.
We chatted with a lovely woman, who had driven all the way from Halifax to join in the festivities. She kindly explained some of the church’s traditions; for example, she told us that the dietary rules were similar to the Jewish Kashrut laws with regards to how an animal is slaughtered and the prohibition of pork.
Many of the congregants came to wish us well.
It was a warm exotic Canadian cultural experience.
We thank the St. Tekle Haimanot congregation for their warm hospitality and letting us into their community.