Ethiopia, Day one.
Although the church was locked there was an endless stream of people coming to the walls of the church to pray. They would fall on their knees and then prostrate themselves three times and each time place their forehead on the ground and pray then stand up and extend their arms in prayer followed by kissing the walls of the church. This ancient prayer of prostration was very moving. Although we think of Muslims assuming this posture of prayer the ancient Christians prayed this way before the advent of Islam.
I noticed people began to gather at the front of the church and soon a cantor arrived and led them in chants. After some prayers a priest began to preach for about an hour. I decided to join and found an empty chair. I lifted up my head because I was captured by the zeal of the preacher who had the listeners responding to him with Amens!
When I lifted up my head I realized I was surronded by a sea of women fully veiled in white. A gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and led me to sit with the men on the other side of the aisle. I forgot that men and women do not sit together in church.
The priest preached for over an hour and people were taking notes. He was energetic to such an extent that I felt I was at a tent revival in the context of ancient Christian prayers and chants. What struck me was the preaching was outside and big speakers attached to the facade of the church were broadcasting the sermon which was echoing through this neighborhood filled with hotels and banks.
What an experience of a public proclamation of the Gospel. I tried to situate this experience back home. I imagined the priest preaching outside of the cathedral with his voice broadcasted through a financial and tourist district for over an hour. I doubt this would be well received at home!
The evening service concluded with everyone facing the church and on their knees with their foreheads touching the ground in a prostration imploring the mercy of God through the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
In the evening I was walking back to the hotel and an Ethiopian man engaged me in a conversation. He said, “I saw you at church,” and thus we had a great talk. He spoke of how Lent is so important to him. Then he asked me to tell him the word for how Ethiopian Christians pray. I asked him what he meant to which he responded, Muslims pray like the early Christians with the foreheads on the ground to which I responded, “That is a solemn prostration.”
Ethiopia was one of the first nations to embrace the Christian faith. In fact that is why I wanted to return to Ethiopia and experience the ancient chants and rituals and explore the ancient churches in the Highlands. Tonight was a great beginning. The modern city of Addis Ababa has become a magical portal this evening: a gateway to an ancient early Christian culture that still lives and my experience tonight reminds me it is vital.
Early this morning the Ethiopian flight magazine had this caption, The New Spirit of Africa. This evening I experienced a newness of spirit in the preaching of the Gospel in a language I do not understand yet I felt it deeply in my soul through the attentiveness of the hearers of the Word. AMEN.