Monday, May 07, 2007
I’ve talked before in this blog about Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, and I become steadily more interested in it as I realize its pervasiveness in society here. As usual, religion is a crucial part of the history and the present of this country.
There are several saints revered in Orthodox Christianity here, some indigenous, and others that are specifically Ethiopian. I’ve mentioned before how each church is named after one, and each of the days of the month is attributed to a specific saint. One can ask a Christian Ethiopian, “Who is your saint?” and they will answer immediately. When significant events happen here, like the birth of a child or some sort of near-death experience, people pick the saint of that particular day as their saint, and will pay special attention to religious duties on that saint’s day. Often, they’ll light candles, or attend service on that day each month, and will go to the church with that saint’s namesake.
My Ethiopian saint is Tekla Haymanot. A couple of months ago, I was in a car accident with two friends on the way home from Debre Sina where an intern friend was sick with typhoid fever. At a bend in the road, the driver lost control of the car because of problems with the steering and a pothole. We flew down the hill beside the road, narrowly missing trees and rocks, and as we swerved to avoid a farmer’s field and barbed wire fence, the momentum threw me through the closed window. I landed, a bit dazed, on the ground as the car continued for a few meters before stopping. The two friends left in the car looked into the back seat to see if I was okay, and were terrified when they didn’t see me sitting there. As they got out of the car, I stood up, unharmed except for what would become a huge bruise on my thigh and a couple of scratched elbows. No one else was hurt. On our way off the road, we could have hit a tree, crumpling the front of the car, or hit a rock and flipped over, either of which would have caused serious damage to us in the car. But we didn’t.
When we drove back into Addis, I visited with the Ethiopian family living behind our house, and asked them what saint’s day it was that day. We lit a candle for Tekla Haymanot, and he’s been my saint ever since.
The story of Tekla Haymanot says that he showed a special ability in performing miracles during childhood, and went on, later in life, to pray without interval for twenty years. He spent the whole prayer standing, and at one point, his right leg rotted and fell off. He continued for seven more years standing only on his left. You can find the rotten leg in a church in Debre Libanos. It comes out once a year, and those that revere him are permitted to drink the water in which the leg is washed.
Currently reading: The Chains of Heaven by Philip Marsden, the true story of his journey hundreds of kilometers on foot between Lalibela and Axsum, two of Ethiopia’s most holy places. The story of Tekla Haymanot above was taken from the book, and from accounts of Ethiopian friends. The painting of Tekla Haymanot was done by my fabulous artist friend, Geta Mekonnen.