Cultures & Traditions

Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Liturgy

The structure of the Ethiopian Christian liturgy dates back to the 15th century. The priests celebrate mass in a veiled sanctuary, so that the rites of Eucharist are not visible to the worshippers. Further, mass is delivered in Ge'ez, an ancient language which is mostly unintelligible to the community (despite it sharing a common root with some contemporary Ethiopian languages). Although the worshippers may not understand each word of the liturgy nor observe the activities of the priests, they partake in the sensory experiences of music and collective movement, while meditating upon the elaborate designs of the processional crosses. Psalms and hymns are sung collectively, while the remainder of the liturgy is chanted by the officiating clergy in a participatory call-and-response format. The sounds of the lyre (a stringed instrument), sistrum (a rattle used for religious services), and drum accompany vocal performance. Meanwhile deacons use processional crosses, mounted on poles, to bless the congregation, baptismal water, sacraments, and the four corners of the earth.

Drawn from

  • Csilla Fabo Perczel, "Art and Liturgy: Abyssinian Processional Crosses," Northeast African Studies 5.1 (1983): 19-28.

  • Csilla Fabo Perczel, "Ethiopian crosses: Christianized symbols of a pagan cosmology," in Ethiopian Studies: Proceedings of the sixth international conference, Tel-Aviv, 14-17 April 1980, ed. Gideon Goldenberg (Tel-Aviv: Tel-Aviv University, 1980), 427-446.