Photo essay: Ethiopian Orthodox in Ohio celebrate Meskel, connections to homeland
By Lauren Pond · October 2, 2023
(RNS) — Members of the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrated Meskel on Oct. 1, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio, a city that is home to around 6,600 Ethiopians. The festivities commemorating the discovery of the True Cross include a bonfire, procession and plenty of music. They are a way for the church to help its members stay connected to their homeland and pass on cultural practices to younger generations.
“This is how we can keep who we are,” said Moses Haregewoyn, the head priest.
About 150 members of the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrate Meskel on Oct. 1, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. A holiday observed by both Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches, Meskel commemorates the fourth-century discovery by Queen Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, of the True Cross upon which Jesus Christ was believed to have been crucified. The smoke of a ceremonial bonfire is said to have led her to the location where the cross was buried. Photo by Lauren Pond
In observance of the Meskel holiday, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians symbolically burn a conical pyre of tree branches and flowers and process around it in song and prayer. Photo by Lauren Pond
Meskel is typically observed on September 27 or 28, but the Holy Trinity church moved its observance to Sunday, Oct. 1, in order to accommodate congregants' work schedules, said Moses Haregewoyn, the head priest, center. Photo by Lauren Pond
After the Meskel bonfire had burned down, parishioners took turns leaping over the embers to receive a blessing. Just under 13 percent of Columbus, Ohio, residents were born in another country, and the area is home to approximately 6,600 Ethiopians, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, Axios reported in 2022. The central Ohio city has five Ethiopian Orthodox churches, said Haregewoyn, and the Holy Trinity church, which was founded in 1995, has about 300 members. Photo by Lauren Pond
A Holy Trinity parishioner extinguishes the ceremonial Meskel bonfire as others use leaves to gather the blessed embers, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Columbia. In past years, the city’s multiple Ethiopian Orthodox churches would celebrate Meskel together in a larger communal event, but since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have been observing the holiday individually, Haregewoyn said. Photo by Lauren Pond
Eyob Gebrekidan rubs ashes from the Meskel ceremonial bonfire on his forehead as a blessing. The smaller size of the event this year did not put a damper on the festivities, which, similar to other holidays and services at the church, included traditional Ethiopian music, food, dress, and other customs. Photo by Lauren Pond
Asmara Kidanemariam pours tea for church members during a meal following the Meskel celebration, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Lauren Pond
Morning light filters in through the stained-glass windows of the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and touches Tsige Hargot and her daughter, Aden, left. Meresu Beedu and her daughter, Eden Azanaw, sit on the right. Photo by Lauren Pond
A member of the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church plays the kebero, a traditional drum, during the Sunday liturgy service preceding the Meskel ceremonial bonfire. For some, Meskel also holds a deeply personal meaning. Mr. Mulu Gebremichael recalls that it was during Meskel in 1980 when he was forced to leave his home in Ethiopia. Along with about 2.5 million other Ethiopians fleeing conflict and other disasters at that time, he became a refugee. “This day is for me very, very special,” he said. Photo by Lauren Pond