Sunday, June 22, 2014

Praying with the Ethiopians

How I imagine myself, 
praying and watching from my kitchen window.

Envoys will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God. - Ps. 68:31

I am so edified with the Ethiopian Orthodox who use the church across the street from me on Sundays.  I really believe Our Lady sent them here.

As I mentioned before, the men and women wear white gauze shrouds over their street clothes when they are going to communion.  The women use the covering to veil - and many of them wear traditional dress-like robes.  Both men and women also remove their shoes.  But what strikes me the most is how they do half prostrations and make the sign of the cross even before entering the church.

Today many were outside the church on the steps during the 'consecration' - I'm not sure how they term it.  The words were recited by the priest in a low solemn chant - the people outside faced the door, bowing.  I united my prayer which I did at my kitchen table - a vantage point to watch them.

It seemed to me I followed the liturgy today.  I'm only guessing, but I think they have a sort of pre-liturgy, then the readings or liturgy of the Word - it seems to follow our Mass, or at least that is how I followed it.  Then the homily, litanies, and then the Eucharist.  As in every Orthodox church, it seems people come and go for various reasons.  After communion there is low, solemn chant with rhythmic claps and soft drum.  It builds to a crescendo and the women make that sound of 'tongues' we associate with Middle Eastern women.  It impresses me as the thanksgiving after communion, with the vocals elevating in praise - similar to a charismatic prayer session.

It is very impressive.  Their liturgy seems to encapsulate the classical forms of prayer as well as correlates to the Roman Rite.  They have simply retained the primitive purity and it is obviously well accepted, understood, and participated in by the people.  As I always say, I can see why the Orthodox resist union with Rome, fearing they may be obliged to change their liturgical rites.

Watching and listening to their Mass gives me a much deeper appreciation for the Extraordinary Form of Mass, and a deeper longing that the Ordinary Form will become more reverent and even return to Latin.  I hope our devotion to the Eucharist will become more manifest and the practice of outward devotion return.  I also respect the idea of woman veiling for Mass.  How I wish reverence will be restored in our churches - some people no longer genuflect in church, yet the Ethiopians bow, make prostrations and sign themselves on the church steps - even before entering the door - and when they enter - they remove their shoes.  They perform these devotions in a protestant church they are simply using/renting for Mass on Sunday, thus demonstrating they have a profound understanding of sacred space.  I doubt they would ever permit a profane concert to be held in one of their churches.

Some Sunday after Catholic Mass I will ask to attend their Mass.  For now I feel like an anchorite attached to their church... an anchorite praying with them.

In thanksgiving to Our Lady Holy Mary for 
sending the Ethiopian Orthodox here.
"Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should visit me?"


  1. Thanks for this post. Very interesting and edifying.

    1. The reverence Father! It is beautiful. These are young people as well.

  2. Thank you for blessing me on this day with this.

  3. Since the 2011 uprising, I've usually included the Copts in my morning prayers with a little prayer I made up:

    Holy Family of Zeitoun,
    Please protect, guide and prosper
    the Copts of Egypt, Africa, and the Near East.
    Thank you, Holy Family of Zeitoun.

  4. These beautiful observations are why I always come back here to visit your virtual home.

  5. Our parish is staffed by the Order of Preachers, and rather than the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, they use the Dominican Rite. This week, all our priests are gone for an all-Province conference, and a priest from another parish came and said an EF Mass for us. He preached about the gift of the Eucharist, and how we must appreciate when we have regular access to it, because many in our diocese do not. There are many parishes in Alaska that are only visited by a priest once a month, or even less frequently. My complacency and the true fragility of our regular access to the sacraments was so very obvious, knowing that our own priests were gone for the week. There were visiting priests filling in every day, of course, because we are in a city and there are enough priests to go around (though, only just). Still, sometimes we need that departure from the familiar to remind us of the real beauty of what we have been given.


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