Finding the True Cross

Orthodox priests lit a bonfire in the heart of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to mark the eve of Meskel (September 27), a festival to mark the finding of the True Cross of Jesus.

Tens of thousands of people, many holding up candles in the failing light as the sun set, crowded on terraces around the square where the ceremony was led by the head of Ethiopia’s Christian Orthodox church. According to tradition, in 326 AD, Helena had prayed for guidance to find the cross on which Jesus was crucified and was directed by smoke from a burning fire to the location. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe she lit torches to celebrate.

The church tradition also records that the then Patriarch of Alexandria gave Ethiopian Emperor Dawit half of the cross in return for protecting Coptic Christians. A fragment of the cross is believed to be held in Ethiopia’s Gishen Mariam monastery, about 100 km (miles) north of the capital.

The celebration, in which hundreds or orthodox priests and deacons take part dressed in white robes, starts in the afternoon and ends after sunset, bringing the capital to a halt around its biggest square, which is called Meskel, the word for cross in the liturgical Ge’ez language.

The celebration takes place throughout the country but the biggest crowd comes Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s Capital Addis Ababa city was founded more than 100 years ago.



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