Celebration Cards front and back
or the Real Audio
According to the Rite of the Ethiopian (Ge'ez) Church
By Archbishop Paulos Tzadua (Cardinal
The Ethiopian rite is one of the oldest rites and is used by
the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as by that group which is in full
communion with the Church of Rome, The Ethiopian Catholic Church. In its
essential elements, it stems from the Alexandrian rite and the language used in
the services is classical Ethiopian called Ge’ez.
Because local documents are lacking, it is difficult to
reconstruct the history of the Ethiopian rite, and to study the various phases
through which it attained its actual form. This lack of historical witness is
the result of politico-religious upheavals that led to the destruction of the
literary and archeological patrimony to do with the liturgy.
Early turmoil destroys documentation
Ethiopia, in fact, had been twice the scene of such
uprisings: at first in the 10th century and again in the 16th
century. The first protagonist was the famous woman Judith of the Falashas group
that claims to descend from the Jews who immigrated in the distant past. The
second was the Muslim Mohammed Gragn. Both of them gave their disruptive
movements an anti-Christian background and consequently they destroyed temples
and monasteries and all the treasures of the sacred literature preserved there.
The difficulty in making a historical reconstruction of the
liturgical rite is further increased by the inaccessibility of Ethiopian
monasteries. These monasteries are the very depositories of the few documents
that could be saved from the above-mentioned destructions.
st. frumentius invested as first bishop
The starting-point of the history of the Ethiopian rite must,
in any case, coincide with the introduction of Christianity into Ethiopia. The
evangelization of Ethiopia, in its true, strict sense, began about the middle of
the 4th century. The first bishop was St. Frumentius who was invested
by the great St. Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria. Before his investiture as
Bishop of Ethiopia, St. Frumentius had, together with his brother Edessius, a
long stay in Ethiopia as minister of the court of Axum, historical capital of
the Ethiopian Empire. All these are confirmed by the historian Rufinus of
Aquileia in his Historia Ecclesastica1 and by an authentic
comment inserted in the Apologia of St. Athanasius, namely in the letter
sent by Constance to the king of Axum2 and, before all, in the
Ethiopian tradition itself.
Concerning the history of the Ethiopian liturgy, some facts
can also be deduced from the historical sources mentioned above of the Ethiopian
tradition, which relate to the work of St. Frumentius before and after his
consecration as Bishop of Ethiopia. During his stay at Axum as minister of the
court, he took advantage of any occasion to do apostolic work among the
foreigners established there for business. Rufinus expressly says that
Frumentius "nequerere sollicitus est soqui inter negotiatores Romanos
Christiani essent" (he took pains to find out whether there were Christians
among the Roman businessmen.) Then, having discovered them, he gave them a
helping hand "ut conventicula per lova singula facerent ad quae Romano ritu
orationis causa confluerent" (that they may have their assemblies in the
different places where they could come together for prayer according to the
In reference to the inhabitants of the country, Ethiopian
tradition relates that Frumentius had found an environment saturated with
Judaism and Christian influence.
He inquired of the people how it came about that having
circumcision and (Christian) faith, they did not have Baptism and Eucharist. The
people told him that circumcision was practiced because it was inherited from
their ancient Levite Fathers, that they had the faith from the eunuch of Queen
Candace4, while as for Baptism and the Eucharist no Apostles were
sent to them. Tradition adds that Frumentius, after having gone to Alexandria,
remained there for five years and was instructed by St. Athanasius on the New
Testament because he had been sufficiently instructed in the Old Testament in
the milieu of [an] Axum prone to Judaism. After his Episcopal consecration,
Frumentius returned to Ethiopia carrying with him the entire liturgy.5
development of the liturgy
As regards the general history of the liturgy, Ethiopia was
included in the Christian world in the middle of the fourth century; the
situation may be described as follows: After a period of religious intolerance,
the Church began to have more space to breathe. The basilicas were built and the
liturgy, basically the same in all the churches, from a simple systematic
ceremony, began to be enriched and it developed with characteristics different
from one place to another. Although the liturgical language was Greek,
everywhere, there arose, especially in the East, various types of liturgy,
before all the Antiochene and Alexandrian types.
st. frumentius brings alexandrian rite
The insertion of Ethiopia in the Christian world occurred
during this period of liturgical development, and this happened precisely under
the influence of the Church of Alexandria. The type of liturgy introduced in
Ethiopia by St. Frumentius could not be any other therefore, than that of the
Alexandrian type. The liturgical language used in the beginning was, there is no
doubt, Greek. In fact, with the Macedonian conquest at first and later with the
influence of the Ptolemies, the Greek language spread not only in that part of
Africa around the Mediterranean basin, but also to the court of Axum, in
Ethiopia. This is proved by the inscriptions on the steles, which trace their
origin to the 4th century A.D. and also from the inscriptions on
coins of the same period.
In this century, the liturgical language of all the local
churches was still Greek. St. Frumentius, during his first stay in Ethiopia as a
minister of the court of Axum, worked primarily among the foreigners who were
certainly Greek speaking. Returning to this country as bishop of Ethiopia in
Axum, he facilitated the construction of oratories. This construction-work was
probably the starting-point of his formal apostolate to the Ethiopians and they
were redolent of Hellenism. This, nevertheless, only emphasizes that the need
for a translation of the liturgy into the Ethiopian language was not yet urgent.
The common people had not yet succumbed fully to the Hellenic culture either
linguistically or in other aspects of life, therefore it is certain, that the
need for translating the liturgy into their mother tongue was understood.
translation into vernacular
This eventually happened as religion entered among the common
classes of people. It is not possible, however, to pinpoint the date of the
translation of the liturgy. Yet it is certain that, at the end of the 5th
century, it was already a fact. It is probable that the work of translation
might have had its beginning at the time of St. Frumentius, because it is
inconceivable that the saint limited his apostolate to Greek-speaking
It has been stated that the liturgy introduced by St.
Frumentius into Ethiopia was without doubt the Alexandrian one. This is the one
into which he would have been initiated by St. Athanasius. The Ethiopian Rite,
therefore, derives its origin from Alexandria.
language, customs and songs make rite
A comparison between the Ethiopian liturgy and the ancient
Alexandrian one confirms the dependence of the Ethiopian Rite on that of
Alexandria. There is a similarity between the Ethiopian and the Egyptian Coptic
Rites, which stems from their common origin. This can be seen not only in their
structure but also, in some instances, texturally. The Ethiopian Rite is
undoubtedly Alexandrian in origin, but it has undergone such an evolution that
the actual form of the liturgy, so very distant from the original, seems on the
point of assuming the dignity of an independent rite. Language, customs and
songs contributed largely to this evolution, giving the Ethiopian rite its own
Just as every rite presupposes a set of canonical norms that
govern it, so also the Ethiopian rite has its own canonical rules, as far as
liturgy is concerned, which were taken from the deposit of ancient legislation.
ge'ez church documents
The canonical discipline, which governs the Ethiopian
liturgy, is contained mainly in the books called in Ethiopia Sinodes, Metsehafa
Kidan Ze’egzi’ne Yesus Krestos, Didesqelya, and Fetha-Negast.
The Sinodos is a vast collection of ancient canons
extinct in the Ethiopian Church because it is a version of the Egyptian Church
Order. In it, besides canons attributed to the Apostles, the canons of Clement,
the canons of Hippolytus of Rome, the canons of the Synods of Ancrya,
Neocaesarea, Gangra, Antioch, Laodicaea, and the canons of the Ecumenical
Council of Nicaea are also included. The Metsehafe Kidan Ze’egzi’na Yesus
Krestos is the Ethiopian version of the Testamentum Domini nostri Jesu
Christi, Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ, a document of Syrian origin (5th
century), and the Didesqelya is the Ethiopian version of the
Didascalia Apostolorum, patterned on books I-VII of the Apostolic
The Fetha Negast (The Law of the Kings) is a
translation of the Namocanon which, it is believed, was written by the
Egyptian As-Safi ibin al-‘Assal around the middle of the 13th
century. It deals with matters related to the canon and civil laws and, in small
part, also to the criminal law. Originally compiled for the Christians living in
Egypt, it was introduced into Ethiopia where it became the fundamental book for
the teaching of law in the Ethiopian schools up to modern times.
The Fetha Negast is divided into two distinct parts.
The first deals with religious matters depending on the ancient church canons
and the writings of a number of the Fathers of the Church, while the second
deals with secular matters depending mainly on Roman Byzantine laws. Containing
canon and civil laws, its sphere of influence is vaster than that of the other
three books. Consequently, this book is more circulated and easier to find,
particularly because printed editions are available.8
It seems certain that the Fetha Negast was introduced
into Ethiopia and translated from Arabic towards the 15/16th century. As for the
other three books, scholars believe that they were introduced towards the
14/15th century and that they were translated from Arabic.9
There are, however, scholars who believe that the Sinodos
and the Testament of Our Lord has been translated from Greek.10
It is worthwhile to note that in Ethiopia the period of translation from Greek
was from the 4th-7th centuries.11 It is also to
be noted that the Ethiopian Church adds the Sinodos and the Testament
of Our Lord2 to the number of the Canonical books of the New
Testament. This confirms that it knew them from early times.
authority of documents goes back to
This is why these books, besides the rules of Christian life
the ecclesiastical regulations were based on, and, in particular, detailed
canons regarding the liturgy were found [to be of utmost importance].
Formalities, prayers, formularies for all the liturgical services from the
celebration of the Holy Sacrifice to the administration of the Sacraments are
based on these books. Two formularies for the Divine or Eucharistic Liturgy are
based respectively on the Sinodos and the Testament of our Lord
and as will be seen below, one of these, i.e. the extract from Sinodos,
is the principal model for the other formularies of later origin.
The importance that the Sinodos, the Testament of
Our Lord and the Didescalia had and continue to have up to our days
with regard to the canonical discipline of the liturgy, can be estimated from
the disposition contained in the Metsahafa Qeddasie, the Ethiopian
'Missal', which says :"Whoever he might be, Metropolitan or Bishop,
Presbyter or deacon, who does not have sufficient instruction or who does not
know the contents of the books of the Testament of Our Lord, of the Sinodos
and of the Didesqelya and all the rubrics, do not enter into the
sanctuary for the ministry; and if he rashly dares to enter, let him be taken
away from the church and degraded."
liturgical reform of 15th century
In spite of all this, it is not to be believed that the
liturgical discipline remained static with regard to the rules of the canons
contained in the books already mentioned. The canonical rules pertaining to the
cult developed indeed with the progressive changing of the liturgy. This is seen
from numerous works that continued to follow in the various centuries. The epoch
that knew a considerable expansion and evolution of liturgical discipline in
general was the 15th century. Due to the impetus of the Emperor Zer'a
Ya'qob (1434-14680, there was a great movement for the reform of the worship in
our lady honored
During this epoch, the Ser'at we'Tezaz, the 'Rules of
Precepts', comments, collections of canons and rubrics from the Liturgy and the
administration of the Sacrament were compiled. There appeared also at the same
time the Metsehafa Bahrey or 'Book of Essence' and the Teaqebo Mistir
or 'Care of the Sacrament'. The first contains the rules that have to be
observed in administering the Anointing of the Sick, while the latter prescribes
which care is to be observed in regard to the Eucharist that there be no
profanation in administering or in receiving it4. The reorganization
of the liturgical feasts as well as the introduction of new feasts in honor of
Our Lady, the Angels and the Saints are also attributed to Zer'a Ya'qob.
The new feasts gave occasion for composition or translation
of the new proper parts and new holies related to these feasts.
apostasy to islam
No sector of the cult was neglected in the reforms and the
reorganizations of Zer'a Ya'qob. In the 16th Century, a ritual was
written which was called Metsehafa Qeder or 'Book of Impurity ', i.e. a
penitential book. The drawing up of this ritual was brought about by the fact
that, during the Muslim invasion under the leadership of Mohammed Gragn, many
Christians apostatized embracing the Muslim religion. When the power of the
Muslims had been overthrown, this ritual provided for the reconciliation with
and the reinstatement into the Church of those had had apostatized5.
liturgy evolves over centuries
In the 17th century, there appeared also the
penitential book entitled Fewse Menfesawi or 'Spiritual Medicine', which
was translated from Arabic6 and contained rules for some liturgical
acts. On the whole it can be affirmed that, on the basis of the canonical rules
of the ancient book, the Ethiopian rite did not cease to develop both in its
discipline as well as in its essence over the course of the centuries.
Concerning this evolution, however, there was a lack of centralized direction
for coordinating and regulating the necessary stages in the evolution. The
hierarchy sent by the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria was a stranger to both
the language and the liturgy of the country. The only task reserved to the then
respected hierarch (Abuna) was to administer Holy Orders, to bless the holy Oils
and the tabot (the sacred tables or stones for the altars). The elaboration and
the transcription of the liturgical texts, the teaching of the liturgy were
entrusted to the professors, mainly laymen (the so-called Debtera) who had a
theoretical knowledge of liturgical question. By entrusting such persons with
the monopoly of the liturgy, without central control, it was quite natural that
postpositions, additions, omissions and doublings occurred rather arbitrarily as
can be noted in the liturgical texts of the different epochs.
THE HISTORICAL EVOLUTION: THE ANAPHORAS
When treating the historical evolution of the Eucharistic
Liturgy in its essence, it must be stated, first of all, that the Divine Liturgy
according to the Ethiopian rite, as in all other rites, is divided into two
parts, i.e. the introductory part called the Ordo Communis and the
Eucharistic part called Anaphora.
structure of the liturgy
The Ordo Communis is invariable except for the readings from
the New Testament, for the Gospel and the three verses taken from one of the
Psalms and sung by the deacon alternating with the people before the gospel. The
Ethiopian sources say that St. Basil of Antioch arranged this.7 Anyway,
structurally, it comes from the corresponding part of the Ancient Alexandrian
liturgy, which in the 4th century followed this order:
The greeting of the priest to the faithful and their
Readings and hymns
Gospel and Homily
Dismissal of the Catechumens
The Kiss of Peace
Keeping this structural basis in its essential lines, the
Ethiopians Ordo Communis developed in such a way that it is somewhat similar to
the other Oriental Liturgies yet having its own characteristic features.
Parallel to other Oriental Liturgies, the Rite of Preparation was introduced
placing the Offertory at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy; later the Ceremony
of Incensing, the Song of the Trisagion and the Creed were introduced.
Its Evolution, with its own characteristics, can be seen from
the various manuscripts and the printed texts of the different periods. The
changes and developments, to which this part was subject, are arranged into
three stages by the Ethiopian doctors.
early missal printed in rome
The first stage of development includes the parts added to
the primitive text of the Divine Liturgy and is documented in the manuscripts
dating back to the beginning of the 16th century and also in the
MISSAL printed in Rome in 1549 by the Ethiopian monk Abba Tesfa-Sion.
The second stage, documented in manuscripts of the 17th
and 18th centuries, includes additions and the changes the
established order was subject to in the manuscripts of the 16th
century. This meant that the rubrics, the brief and expressive prayers their
order of succession, set down in the first documents, were subject to the
developments and changes in the texts of the 17th and 18th
The third stage covers further developments of the second
stage that are verified by modern texts. Under the guidance of the texts of the
period, it appears that the parts that underwent the greatest developments and
changes are the preparatory parts--the Offertory and the Ceremony of Incensing.
These parts which in the first documents, had a number of proportioned and
limited prayers and formulas together with a systematic arrangement of
ceremonies, became, in the course of time, lengthened in prayers and formularies
and more refined and pompous in ceremony.
liturgy subject to innovation
Because of the nature itself of the liturgical act, which is
an expression of religious vitality corresponding to the psychology of the
people and of the surroundings where it is carried out, it may be said that the
Ordo Communis as a whole did not remain rigid in the original formulas. With the
passing of time, it was therefore subject to innovations: New prayers and new
ceremonies were introduced, already existing ones were suppressed or simply
variety of eucharistic prayers (anaphoras)
Speaking now of the Eucharistic part of the Anaphora, we must
state, first of all that it is changeable according to the feast days of the
liturgical year. Because of this variability, the Ethiopian rite has a rather
large number of Anaphoras. It is further affirmed that, among the Oriental
Churches, the Ethiopian Church has the second greatest number of Anaphoras,
being preceded only by the Syro-Antiochene Church. Up to now, 20 anaphoras are
- Anaphora of the Apostles
- Anaphora of Our Lord
- Anaphora of St. John the Evangelist
- Anaphora of the 318 Orthodox Fathers (of the
Council of Nicaea
- Anaphora of Our Lady (I) (which is said to
have been composed by Kyriakos of Behnsa)
- Anaphora of St. Athanasius
- Anaphora of St. Basil
- Anaphora of St. Gregory of Nyssa
- Anaphora of St. Epiphanius
- Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom
- Anaphora of St. Cyril(I)
- Anaphora of St. James of Sarug
- Anaphora of St. Gregory
- Anaphora of St. Dioscorus
- Anaphora of Our Lady (II) by Gyiorgis of
- Anaphora of St. Mark
- Anaphora of St. James, Brother of the Lord
- Anaphora of Our Lady (111)by Gregory
- Anaphora of Our Lady (IV) by Gregory
- Anaphora of St. Cyril (II)
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church recognizes and accepts only the
Anaphoras listed from 1-14. It does not recognize any of the other Anaphoras.
They consider them apocryphal. The last edition of the Metsehafe Qeddassie
printed under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches
which is used by the Catholics of Ethiopia, includes, besides the number
accepted by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, also number 15, 16,and 17. We know of
the Anaphoras 18-20 only from scholarly works.
The general premise about the historical origin, the
chronology and the authors of almost all the Ethiopian anaphoras is that up to
now nothing definite has been said. However, it should be asked which of the
above-listed anaphoras are the oldest in the Ethiopian Church.
It is historical fact that St. Frumentius was sent from
Alexandria as the First Bishop of Ethiopia. This fact could induce one to
believe that he brought the liturgy under the name of St. Mark, the (Greek)
anaphora of the same name, at that time used by the Church in Alexandria. It can
and must be admitted that the ritual system, i.e. the organizing structure of
the rite brought and used by St. Frumentius, was that which carried the name of
the Liturgy of St. Mark. As far as the particulars about the anaphora are
concerned, it is only a mere presumption. As for the Greek liturgy of St. Mark
(with respective anaphora), it is well known that it has been translated or
adapted by St. Cyril of Alexandria (444 A.D.), almost a century after St.
Frumentius. At the present, the Greek anaphora of St. Mark exists in the Coptic
Church of Alexandria under the name of St. Cyril. There is also the Ethiopic
Anaphora of St. Mark, (no. 16). Some scholars have stated that at certain times
it was used in Ethiopia9 and that it must have been the ordinary
Anaphora in the Ethiopian Church0 during the 14/15th
centuries. On the other hand, however, besides the fact that it is not an exact
translation of the Anaphora of St. Mark/St. Cyril, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
does not recognize it. The Ethiopian doctors know of its existence, but they
maintain that it was composed or translated doctrum gratia and they
definitely consider it apocryphal. All this, and in particular the unfavorable
attitudes of the Ethiopians toward this anaphora, make it bewildering
[impossible] to declare it as the oldest in use by the Ethiopian Church, at
least in its actual form.
anaphora of the apostles accorded
The oldest anaphora used in Ethiopia seems to be that of the
Apostles (no.1). It is in fact, an almost faithful reproduction of one of the
oldest Eucharistic prayers known, namely the Eucharistic prayer of the Traditio
Apostolica of Hippolitus of Rome (A.D. 250). It is certain that at the time in
which St. Frumentius was appointed and sent as Bishop of Axum (about 340 AD),
the Traditio Apostolica was known in Egypt (Egyptian Church Order) 1,
and that the Eucharistic prayer therein was used by the Egyptian Church. Perhaps
it can be presumed that St. Frumentius had had an endowment from Alexandria, a
copy of the Traditio Apostolica (alias Egyptian Church Order)22, or
an excerpt of the Eucharistic prayer therein, which later on will be developed
and enriched with other elements. On the other hand, there were the Roman
businessmen to whom St. Frumentius gave help to have their assemblies for prayer
according to the Roman rite. Isn't it possible to presume that the liturgical
text of this rite might be that of the Traditio Apostolica? It could also be
presumed that at least the work of translation of this liturgy might have taken
place at the time of St. Frumentius or of his immediate successors for the
pastoral reasons exposed before.
The fact that the Anaphora of the Apostles is based on the Sinodos
and the latter is believed to have been translated from the Egyptian Church
Order into the Ethiopic language in the 14/15th century has induced
some authors to state that the said anaphora was introduced into Ethiopia during
that time.23 But it would be interesting to investigate if the 14/15th
century translation of the Sinodos was only translation. Or was it also a
compilation i.e. a collecting or putting together in one corpus canons
translated at that time and canons already translated, such as parts in which
the Eucharistic prayer in question is included.4
As for the Ethiopian tradition, on the other hand, there does
not seem to be only [any] disagreement that the Anaphora of the Apostles holds
priority over all the anaphoras. The Ethiopians agree that the Anaphora of the
Apostles preceded the other anaphoras and, therefore it is considered as
medebawi, i.e. as the model or basis for the others.
Another anaphora that came to be considered in Ethiopia as
being quite ancient, perhaps as ancient as that of the Apostles, is the Anaphora
or Our Lord (no.2). It is derived from the well-known work entitled the Testament
of Our Lord.
To conclude, the fact that these two anaphoras came from the
two books (the Sinodos and the Testament of Our Lord) which,
according to E. Bishop, "embody the ancient, genuine and native tradition
of the Ethiopic (Abyssinian) Church"5 confirms once again their
With regard to the other anaphoras, we must say, first of
all, that when we speak of the names of the authors, we are deal with
pseudonyms. These pseudonyms are names of Apostles and of the Church Fathers
that are added to the text to give it more credibility.6
authentic ethiopian anaphora
We can only speak with certainty about the author and the
origin of the Anaphora of Our Lady (II) (No. 15). The author is, in fact, the
famous Ethiopian monk Abba Gyorgis of Gasseccia who flourished during the reign
of Amda-Sion (1314-1344). 27 It is therefore, an authentic Ethiopian
production. Besides the author and the origin, the chronology of this anaphora
is certain. The text of the anaphora is in rhyme, which supports the assertion
and the fact that it was originally composed in Ethiopian; it is to be noted
however, that the poetic form is verifiable also in parts of many other
anaphoras, especially in nos. 2-14 and nos. 18 and 20. This fact may lead to the
supposition that many anaphoras, if they are not originally composed in
Ethiopia, are perhaps free translations.
According to the German scholar E. Hammer Schmidt 8,
the following list includes those anaphoras, which almost certainly originated
in Ethiopia and those, which are composed from foreign elements in such a way
that they must be regarded as typically Ethiopian in character:
Anaphora of St. John the
Anaphora of the 318
Orthodox Fathers (no. 4)
Anaphora of Our Lady (1) by
Kyriakos of Behnsa (no.5)
Anaphora of St. Athanasius
Anaphora of St. Gregory
Anaphora of St. Epiphanius
Anaphora of St. John
Anaphora of St. Cyril (nos.
11 and 20)
Anaphora of St. Gregory
Anaphora of St. Dioscorus
Anaphora of Our Lady (III)
by Gregory (no. 18)
In this list, the Anaphora (II) of Our Lady by Gyorgis of
Gasseccia is also included but we refer to what has been said about it above.
Examining the inner content of the Anaphora (I) of Our Lady
No.5), and the Anaphora of St. Athanasius (no.6), we find that they have some
peculiarities which deserve being mentioned.
The Anaphora of Our Lady (I) has certain connections with a
Dersan (homily) on Our Lady, which the Ethiopian Church possesses, but which is
certainly of foreign origin. It resembles the Oratio et Laudatio in Sanctissimam
Dei Genitricem Mariam (Panegyric or Praise of the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary)
of Proclus9. This may mean that such an anaphora has partially a
As for the Anaphora of St. Athanasius, its text refers to
keeping Sunday holy. There are, on the other hand, the well-known "Dersane-Senbet",
more or less long homilies on Sunday0, considered by the Ethiopian
Church as part of its ancient sacred literature. Between the Anaphora of St.
Athanasius and the Dersana-Senbet, there is a connection as both the anaphora
and the Dersane-Senbet exalt Sunday.1
There are anaphoras, which represent a foreign influence such
as the Anaphora of St. Mark (no. 16), St. James, Brother of Our Lord (no. 12)
and of St. James of Sarug (no. 17). The latter two show a definite Syriac
influence. Ethiopian tradition affirms that the Anaphora of James of Sarug was
of Syriac origin and was introduced into Ethiopia by an Ethiopian called
An Anaphora, which can be considered as a true translation,
the Anaphora of St. Basil (no. 7) does correspond more or less to the anaphora
of the same name used in the Coptic Church of Alexandria.
As for the Anaphora of Our Lady by Gregory (IV) (no. 19), we
can only say that it exists but still remains unpublished.
The exact origin of the greatest part of the anaphoras is
still far from a certain solution. What can be said with certitude is that they
are found only in the Ethiopian Church in their present form, with the exception
of St. Basil.
history of sacred literature
Leaving aside the Anaphoras of the Apostles, of Our Lord and
the Anaphora of Our Lady (II), the question of chronology or of the date of
composition or translation of the text of the other anaphoras remains even more
uncertain. The oldest existing manuscripts go back only to the 16th
century, but obviously the dates of the manuscripts should not be the only
criterion for determining the true age of the texts contained in them. If we
turn out attention to the general history of Ethiopian sacred literature, we
find that there were two periods of fruitful literary production.
The first period goes from the fifth to the seventh century
and in this period the Sacred Scriptures and many works of monastic life were
translated, especially from the Greek.
After a long period of silence, which lasted up to the middle
of the 13th century, came the second period of literary production.
At this time, we find many original works such as the Anaphora of Our Lady (I),
and also the translation of many works from the Arabic were produced. The drive
to translate from Arabic was encouraged by the Egyptian Metropolitan Salama with
the intention of renewing and fostering the contact between the Ethiopian Church
and the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria. The translation of the Anaphora of St.
Basil and the composition or (free) translation of many other anaphoras may have
coincided with this second period.
Regarding the inner structure of the anaphoras, it must be
said that, in general, all of them were more or less elaborated according to the
classical form of the Anaphora of the Apostles.
There are however, some variations that must be mentioned
here. As is customary in all prefaces, a textual characteristic of the Anaphora
of the Apostles is to recapture the concept of thanksgiving at the
beginning of the Eucharistic prayer. This echoes the thanksgiving proclaimed by
the celebrant in the penultimate phrase of the dialogue, which precedes the
prayer as follows:
CELEBRANT: Give thanks
to our God.
PEOPLE: It is right and
CELEBRANT: We give You
thanks, O Lord…
Besides the Anaphora of Our Lord, the Anaphora of St. Gregory
of Nyssa, the Anaphora of St. Gregory, the Anaphora of our Lady (III) by
Gregory, the Anaphora of Our Lady (IV) by Gregory, the Anaphora of St. Cyril
(II) and in an approximate way, the Anaphoras of St. Mark and St. James, the
Brother of the Lord, have followed this form. Many of these anaphoras adhere
also to the sober, clear and well-proportioned form of the Anaphora of the
The other anaphoras begin the Eucharistic prayer without any
conceptual connection with the dialogue and the length of some is
disproportionate with respect to the anaphora model of the Apostles. The main
parts, as the introduction of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Prayer of
Intercession, the Sanctus, the Institution Narrative, the Epiclesis have the
same order of succession. There are, however, some remarks to be made about the
Prayer of Intercession and the Epiclesis in reference to some few anaphoras.
With regard to the Prayer of Intercession, while it is normally placed within
the introducing Eucharistic Prayer and Sanctus, exceptions are found in the
Anaphoras of St. James, the Brother of the Lord, and of St. Basil. In these two
anaphoras the said prayer comes after the Epiclesis as in the Anaphoras of the
Syriac-Antiochan type. In the Anaphora of St. Gregory of Nyssa, while the
Epiclesis in this anaphora seems to have an unusual placing as will be seen
epiclesis placed after invocation
As for the Epiclesis, it is normally placed after the
consecration and it has the well-known characteristic of being a prayer for the
descent (or the sending) of the Holy Spirit on the bread and cup, and to have
always the same rubric which says: "CELEBRANT: in low voice and with his
head bowed down"4
Among the anaphoras from No. 1-17, as listed above, there are
three anaphoras in which the Epiclesis with the said rubric and with the express
allusion to the Holy Spirit is certainly missing. These are the anaphoras of Our
Lady (no.5), of St. Athanasius (no. 6), and of St. Gregory (no.13). In the
Anaphora of St. Gregory of Nyssa, there is a prayer before the consecration with
the same rubric of the Epiclesis, which says: "O my Master… send the Holy
Spirit and power on this bread and on this cup which sanctify our souls, bodies
and spirits…"35. This is certainly an Epiclesis, but its
placing is unusual.
In the Anaphora of James of Sarug, there is an Epiclesis, but
the prayer is for the descent of the Lamb instead of the descent of the Holy
Spirit. As for the passage which follows and which reads: "Let 'Melos' the
fearful sword of fire be sent and appear over this bread and cup to fulfill this
offering"6, the term Melos is rendered as 'the Holy Spirit' in
the Aramaic version of the Ethiopian Missal.7 Between the Prayer of
Intercession and the Sanctus, there are some exhortations addressed by the
deacon to the faithful, which alternate with prayers of the celebrant. The usual
order of succession of these exhortations is as follows:
- "You who sit, arise!"
- "Look to the East!"
- "Answer!" (followed by the
Many anaphoras, however, have undergone transpositions, and
in one instance (Anaphora of St. Gregory of Nyssa), the penultimate exhortation
is redundant as it says, "Let us look at the beauty of our God's
ORDER AND STRUCTURE OF THE DIVINE
It seems useful to examine briefly the organization and inner
structure of the Ethiopian Divine Liturgy. We will begin with a description of
the place where the cult is celebrated, the church. It is generally round,
divided into three concentric circles in imitation of the ancient temple of
Jerusalem. The first circle is the chorus where the singers and the people have
their place. The second is the Sancta, which is reserved for those who will be
receiving Holy Communion, and the third is the Sancta Sanctorum, or Holy
of Holies, where the Tabot or the altar is placed. Here, only the officiating
ministers may enter. There are very few modern churches in the big cities. Older
Catholic churches do not adhere to the above description but follow the Western
In the Ethiopian rite, the Divine Liturgy is always sung, and
it usually lasts for about two hours. Consequently, as a general rule, low
Masses are unheard of. Only among Catholics, in the imitation of the Latin
practice, has this last form been introduced.
ministers of the eucharist
Normally the officiating ministers must be five in number,
i.e. the celebrating priest, the priest assistant, the deacon, the sub-deacon
and the lector. But this number is in derogation of the canons, which prescribe
that the minimum number should be seven: they still add fan-holder and the
candle-bearer. The derogation is done because in small centers, it is hardly
possible to find the number of ministers requested by the canons. The canonical
rule of having seven ministers is, however, strictly observed in the
monasteries. Sometimes even 13 ministers celebrate, but this is rare. On the
other hand, the six additional ministers have no particular duties, except
giving the celebration some solemnity.
Regarding the ordinary practice of five ministers, this is
their placement during the liturgical service: the celebrant is in the center
facing the East. To his right are the sub-deacon and the lector. In front of the
celebrant is the deacon holding the asrykar cross (i.e. facing West).
Concelebration, as practiced in the Latin right in which the
same matter is consecrated (consecrare simul eandem materiam) by many
celebrants, is not known in the Ethiopian rite. There exists a form of
concelebration, which may be called inappropriate. This occurs when there are
three celebrants united in prayers and in the singing while having three
different altars with their own bread and wine and their own ministers. A like
practice is known in the Syro-Antiochen rite.
According to the regulation of the Fet’ha Negest,
the vestments must be white in memory of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Red is
also permitted in remembrance of the Precious Blood of Christ. In practice,
however, any color is allowed.8
Holy Communion is distributed, as in all Oriental rites,
under both species.
Regarding the structure of the Divine Liturgy, it has been
said above that it is composed of two parts: the Ordo Communis and the Anaphora.
The Ordo Communis includes the rite of preparation of the Offertory, of the
Absolution of the Son (i.e. the prayer is addressed to Christ), of incensing, of
the various readings, the Gospel, the Creed and the Kiss of Peace.
The Rite of Preparation consists of the personal preparation
of the celebrant as well as the preparation of the sacred vessels of the cult
and of the altar. On entering the temple, the celebrant recites a penitential
prayer and the Psalms 24, 60, 101, 102, 121 and 130. He concludes with other
prayers imploring a blessing on the temple and on the sacred vessels.
Intensifying the Preparation, the celebrant recites prayers said to have been
composed by St., Gregory, and, having approached the veiled entrance to the
Sancta Sanctorum, he recites a third prayer attributed to St. John. Thereafter,
he begins with the preparation of the altar and of the sacred vessels with
appropriate prayers. Having finished these preparations, the celebrant addresses
another prayer to God the Father asking help for himself and for the people.
Finally, he adds the last preparatory prayer taken from different psalms.
Now he puts on the sacred vestments and, having washed his
hands, he begins the Introit while the congregation sings: "Halleluiah!
Hail our Mother Holy Church…"
The Liturgy continues in this order: the blessing of the
bread, the Offertory, the blessing of the chalice, the Doxology: "One is
the Holy Father, One is the Holy Son, and One is the Holy Spirit" and Psalm
116. The celebrant continues the prayer of thanksgiving attributed to St. Basil,
after which the assistant says the prayer for those who have brought the gifts
for the sacrifice. When the bread and the chalice are covered, the Prayer of
Absolution to the Son is said by the assistant, and the deacon continues with
the litanical intercessions to which the people answer: "Lord, have mercy
on us--Kyrie Eleison."
Now the Incensing ceremony begins. The celebrant, while
reciting the prayer for the Church, the altar, the hierarchy, the priests and
the whole Church, burns incense on the altar.
Then come the readings in a fixed order: from the Epistles of
St. Paul, from the Catholic Epistles and from the Acts of the Apostles. Prayers
of the celebrant and songs of the faithful follow each reading. After the third
reading, some praises of the Holy Virgin are read by the celebrant. Then, as the
sub-deacon carries the Gospel, preceded by many candles, all the ministers leave
the Holy of Holies. The celebrant blesses the priests present while those
officiating and the people alternately sing the solemn hymn of incense.
Thereafter follow the Trisagion, the prayer before the Gospel, and some
litanies, which are recited by the assistant.
With the reading of the Gospel, the Liturgy of the
Catechumens comes to a close. The catechumens are exhorted to leave by the
deacon saying: "Leave, O catechumens!"
The Liturgy of the Faithful begins with the prayers for
peace, for the hierarchy and for the congregation of the faithful, after which
the deacon exhorts the people to sing the Creed. Then the celebrant uncovers the
Eucharistic bread and wine, and he washes his hands. After the hand washing, the
prayer of the Kiss of Peace, attributed to St. Basil, is recited. With the Kiss
of Peace, the unchangeable part of the Liturgy, the Ordo Communis, comes to its
anaphora (eucharistic prayer)
Now it is to be seen how the Eucharistic part of the anaphora
is developed. The Ordinary formula is the Anaphora of the Apostles. Prior to the
dialogue of introduction, the celebrant sings the first part of the Eucharistic
Prayer, the deacon sings the prayer of Intercession, and thereafter the
assistant recites some prayers of benediction. The celebrant continues by taking
over the second part of the Eucharistic Prayer, which is interrupted now and
then by the deacon who, with special phrases, urges the faithful to pay
attention because of the seriousness of the moment.
As a corollary to the prayer, the celebrant sings the
Sanctus, which is repeated by the faithful at the invitation of the deacon:
"Answer!" Then begins the institution Narrative. While the
consecration is going on, the faithful profess their faith in the Eucharist by
repeating: "We believe, we believe, we believe that this is truly Your
Body; we believe…that this is truly your Blood." Now the people sing a
short song recalling the death, the resurrection and the Second Coming of Our
Lord. The celebrant recites the Prayer of Anamnesis and of Epiclesis invoking
the Holy Spirit to sanctify the Eucharistic gifts and all those who will share
in them. After the Epiclesis, the prayer of the Breaking of the Bread is recited
or sung by the celebrant alternating with the faithful.
At the invitation of the deacon: "Pray!", the
faithful sing the Lord's Prayer. The celebrant takes up again the embolism;
prayers and hymns sung by the celebrant and the faithful follow. Then the deacon
invites those present to prostrate themselves in fear, and the celebrant recites
the "Prayer of the Penitents" (this prayer is addressed to God the
Father) and two commemorative prayers for the hierarchy and for the faithful to
attention saying: "Let us be attentive". The celebrant, raising the
host, says: "Holy to the Holies;" to this, the faithful respond with a
Trinitarian profession. Then, alternating between the celebrant and the
faithful, the invocation, "O Lord, have mercy on us, O Christ" is
repeated forty one times. Now the celebrant turns to the faithful and recites a
penitential prayer, then turning to the altar, he makes a profession of faith in
the Holy Eucharist and in the Mystery of the Incarnation.
After preparatory prayers recited by the celebrant and the
faithful, Holy Communion takes place. During Communion, the priests who are
present and the choir sing Psalm 150 as well as other Eucharistic antiphons,
until the distribution is finished.
The principal act after Holy Communion is the Thanksgiving
with the prayer, said by the celebrant, called "The Pilot of Souls."
Purification of the Sacred Vessels, the final blessing and the farewell
exhortation to the faithful by the deacon ("Go in peace") bring the
Liturgy to a close.
The Anaphora of the Apostles
CELEBRANT: The Lord be with you all
PEOPLE: And with your spirit.
CELEBRANT: Give thanks to our God.
PEOPLE: It is right to give Him thanks.
CELEBRANT: Lift up your hearts.
PEOPLE: We lift them up unto our Lord.
CELEBRANT: We give you
thanks, O Lord, by your beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom in the latter
days you sent for us. He is Your Son the Savior and Redeemer, the angel of your
counsel. He is the Word who is from You and through whom You made all things by
your will…You sent your Son from heaven into the bosom of the Virgin…He
became flesh, and was borne in the womb, and his birth was made known by the
Holy Spirit…He came and was born of a virgin to fulfill your will and make a
holy people for You…He stretched his hands to the passion, suffering to save
the suffering who have trusted in Him. He offered Himself on His own will to the
passion that He might destroy death, and burst the bond of Satan, trample on
hell, lead forth the Saints, confirm the law, and make known his resurrection.
He took bread...He gave thanks…saying: Take, eat, this is
my Body which is broken for you…
In the like manner, He took the chalice, saying: Take drink,
this is my Blood which is shed for you…As often as you will do this, you will
do it in remembrance of me.
Now also, O Lord, remembering His death and His resurrection,
we offer unto you this Bread and this Chalice giving thanks to You. You have
given us the favor of standing before You and doing Your priestly
service…Uniting all those who are to receive his Body and his Blood, grant
that it may be for their sanctification and that they may therefore receive the
fullness of the Holy Spirit, and being confirmed in the true faith, they may
give you glory and praise through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
1 Ruffinus, HISTORIAE
ECCLESIASTICA, 1. I, 9.
Ruffinus is documented in Eusebius of Caesarea, whose CHURCH HISTORY
he has translated and extended for some decades.
2 Migne, PATROLOGIA GRAECA, 45, 481-489
3 Rufinus, ibid.
4 Acts, 8:26-40
5 ETHIOPIAN MISSAL (METSE’HAFE-QEDDASE), Addis Abeba, 1918
(Eth. Cal.). p. 16, column 1
6-7 cf. I. Guidi, STORIA DELLA LETERATURA ETHIOPICA, Roma
E. Cerulli,, LA LETTERATURA ETIOPIA, Milano 1968, p. 14-18.
J.M. Harden, ETHIOPIC DIDASCALIA, London, 1920.
8 I. Guidi, IL "FET’HA NAGAST" O "LA
LEGISLAZIONE DEI RE", Roma 1899.
Abba Paulos Tzadua, THE GET’HA NAGAST, THE LAW OF THE KINGS, Addis Abeba,
9 cf. I. Guidi, STORIA DELLA LETTERATURA ETIOPICA, op. cit.
pp. 337-38, 40.
10 J.M. Harden, THE ANAPHORAS POF THE ETHIOPIC LITURGY,
London, 1928, p.1-3. Harden makes also reference to Cooper and Macdlean, THE
TESTAMENT OF OUR LORD, P/ 248.
11 i. Guidi, STORIA DELLA LETTERATURA…OP. CIT. P. 49FF.
12 A.F. Matthew, THE TEACHING OF THE ABYSSINIAN CHURCH,
London 1936, p.62
13 I. Guidi, STORIA DELLA LETTERATURA….op. cit. P.49ff.
14 I. Guidil, ibid. p.51
15 I. Guidi, ibid. p.72
16 That is according to foreign scholars (I.Guidi, Storia…op.cit.
p.78; E.Cerulli, LA LETTERAURA…op cit. p. 176). Ethiopian sources give
different versions, such as, for instance, the period of the FEWSE MENFESAWI
appearance in Ethiopia, which is believed to be the 15th century; cf.
Liqe Seltanat Habtemariam Worqenah, TENTAWI Ye-TIOPIA TEMHERT, (The
ancient/School/Learning in Ethiopia) Addis Abeba 1963 (Ethiopian Calendar) p.
17 See S.B. Mercer, THE ETHIOPIC LITURGY, London 1915, p. 151
where it is said that the British Museum Manuscript N545, at the beginning of
the Order of the Mass (Ordo Communis) there is an ascription which reads: 'This
is the order which Basil of Antioch compiled.' Cf. Also Hammer Schmidt, STUDIES
OF THE ETHIOPIC ANAPHORAS, Berlin 1961, p.48 and fn.n.5. St. Basil, as well as
being the author of many church rules, is also recalled as "ASTEGABA'I",
i.e. compiler of many anaphoras; cf. ETHIOPIAN MISSAL (METSE'HAFE-QUEDDASE) op.
Cit. p. 336, col 1. See C.F.A. Dillman, LESICON LINGUAE AETHIOPICAE, 1864, P.
1173:"Astegaba-I" compilator libri.
18 I.M. Hannssens, INSTITUTIONES LITURGIAE DE…….Rome,
1930: V.11, p. 473
19 About the Ethiopian Anaphora of St. Mark, see A.?T.M.
Semharay in EPHEMERIDES LITURGICAE,42 (1928( p. 440 ff, 507ff.
20 I.M. Hannssen, INSTITUTIONES….op. cit. p. 641.
21 cf. A. Raes. INTRODUCTION IN LITURGIAM ORIENTALEM, Rome
1942, p. 20.
24 After all , it seems usual that kind of collections need
to pass through several stages before becoming a definite single compendium. As
for the Sinodos, cf. L. Seltanat Habtemariam Worqeneh,TENTAWI Ye-iTUIOUA…op.
Cit. p. 225-226.
25 In the Journal of theological studies 12 (1911) P. 399.
26 E. Hammerschmidt, Studies…op. Cit. p. 41
28 E. Hammerschmidt, studies…op. Cit. p.48
29 E. Hammerschmidt, ibid. p.76 fn. N.4.
30 See C.A.F. Dillman, LEXICON lINGUAE…op. Cot. P.1094:
Dersan (pl. Dersanat) -tractatus, dissertatio, Libellus…homilia, oratio
31 The exaltation of Sunday is dealt with often in homilies
attributed to some Father of the Church. In Sinodos there is a
Dersane-Senbet and in 1959 (Eth. Cal.) two Dersane-Senbet were printed in Addis
Abeba: the first "to be read on Christian Sabbath (Sunday)" contains
various Christian teachings and there are some points, especially at the end,
which exalt Sunday. The second besides containing Christian teachings, exalt
Sunday in many points which show direct connections with the Anaphora of St.
Athanasius, such as the following: "Listen o dearest children of the church
on the greatness and the honor of the Christian Sabbath (Sunday), the Father
hallowed it, the Son blessed it and the Holy Spirit honored and exalted
it". Similarly in the Anaphora of St. Athanasius one reads: OH this day is
what the Father hallowed, the Son blessed and the Holy Spirit exalted' )See THE
LITURGY OF THE ETHIOPIAN CHURCH, English translation of the Ethiopian Missal by
the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Addis Abeba 1954, p.144) For some opinions
regarding the Ethiopian sources which possibly might have influenced the
composition of the Anaphora of St. Athanasius, cf. E. Hammerschmidt,
Studies…op. Cit. p.72ff.
32 cf. A.T.M. Semharay, LA MESSE ETHIOPENNE, Rome 1937, p.99
33 As for Theological and Christological Characteristics in
the introductory Eucharistic prayer of the Ethiopic Anaphoras, cf. Hammerschmidt,
Studies…op. cit. p.72ff.
34 See the Ethiopian Missal (Metsehafe Qeddase) printed under
the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Rome 1938
(Ethiopian Ca.) It must be noted here that the concept of the Epiclesis in the
Ethiopian context is expressed by the term 'Ye-reseo' "May He (the Holy
Spirit_ make them literally It"--i.e., the bread and the cup the
Body and Blood of…. With regard to the said term and the 14 Anaphoras
recognized by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, some Missals in use in the same
Church have a note which says that seven Anaphoras have the Ye-reseo and
they are those of the Apostles, of Our Lord, of St. John the Evangelist, of St.
Basil, of St. Epiphanius, of St. John Chrysostom and of Dioscorus. The other seven
do not use such a term, but they make use of other formulas.
36 See THE LITURGY OF THE ETHIOPIAN CHURCH, English
translation, op. Cit. p.175.
37 See the ETHIOPIAN MISSAL (Metsehafe Qeddase) (1818) cit.
p. 439, col. 2. The term Melos is also found in the Anaphora of St. Cyril
(no.11). In C.F.A. Dillmann, Lexicon…cit. p.146, Melos, peregrinum incertes
notionis, cf. Also E. Hammerschmidt, Studies…op. Cit. p.161ff.
38 cf. A. Paulos Tsadua,THE FET'HA NEGAST, op. Cit. p.82.
SINODOS, Manuscript in the Church of Ledeta Mariam, Addis Abeba
METSEHAFE KIDAN (Testament of Our Lord), Manuscript in the Church of St.
Gabriel, Addis Abeba
THE ETHIOPIAN DIDASCALIA, English translation by J.M. Harden, London, 1920
CANONES APOSTOLORUM AETHIOPICAE, Latin translation by W. Fell, Leipzig 1871
DERSAME SENBET, Addis Abeba 1959, (Eth. Cal.)
METSEHAFE-QEDDASE, (the Ethiopian Missal), Ge'ez-Amharic Text with extensive
commentary by Ethiopian Doctors, Addis Abeba, 1918 (Eth. Cal.), Ethiopian Missal
(Metsehafe-Qeddase) by the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Rome
1938 (Eth. Cal.)
THE LITURGY OF THE ETHIOPIAN CHURCH, English translation of the Ethiopian
Missal, by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Addis Abeba, 1954.
THE FET'HA NAGAST,(The Law of the Kings), English translation by A. Paulos
Tsadua, Addis Abeba, 1968.
E. Cerulli: LA LETTERATURA ETIOPICA, Milano, 1968.
I Guidi, STORIA DELLA LETTERATURA ETIOPICA, Roma, 1932.
E. Hammerschmidt, STUDIES IN THE ETHIOPIC ANAPHORAS, Berlin, 1961.
I.M. Hannssen, INSTITUTIONES LITURGICAE DE RITIBUS ORIENTALIBUS, VOLS II and
III, Romae, 1930-32
J.M. Harden, THE ANAPHORAS OF THE ETHIOPIC LITURGY, London 1920
A.F. Matthew, THE TEACHING OF THE ABYSSINIAN CHURCH, London 1936
S.B. Mercer, THE ETHIOPIC LITURGY, London 1915
Abba Petros Hailu, MESSA ETHIOPICA DETTA DEGLI APOSTOLI, Rome, 1946.
A. Raes, INTRODUCTIO IN LITURGIAM ORIENTALEM, Romae, 1947.
A. Teclemariam Semharay, LA MESSE ETHIOPIENNE, Rome 1937
S. Salaville, STUDIA ORIENTALIA LITURGICO-DOGMATICA, Roma, 1940.
A. Teclamariam Semharay, VARIATIONES IN LITURGIA
S. Merci, in Ephemerides Liturgicae, 42 (1928). Id. NOTA CIRCAM LITURGIAM
AETHIOPICA, in Ephemerides Litrugicae, 42, 1928
Id. MESSE DE NOTRE-DAME DITE "AGREABLE PARFUM DE SAINTETE", Rome
A.M. Mitnacht, DIE MEESLITURGIE DER KATHOLIKEN DAS ATHIOPISCHEN RITUS,