Eritrean Orthodox Community Celebrates Germany’s Giessen Longest Worship


Eritrean Orthodox Community Celebrates Germany's Longest Worship



Eritrean Orthodox Community Celebrates Germany’s Giessen Longest Worship



Software Translation from German | November 19, 2017


At the end of the service, the Bible is passed through the ranks.  Each of the 500 visitors once kissed the book wrapped in a cloth.  Photo: Nemeth


GIESSEN – Actually, on other days much more going on. Representatively, that Saturday morning in November is not. If you believe the ward chairman Daniel Maharai, the services are otherwise even better attended. For local standards, but it is already quite full. Almost 500 faithful fill the church of St. Thomas More: almost every square is occupied in the bright parish hall, the largest in the district. At least 8 o’clock in the morning – at this time, some believers are already four or five hours on their feet. Because the Eritrean Orthodox community is very early on some Saturdays.



On this particular Saturday, the two pastors and deacons started the ceremony at 3 o’clock. The reason: There are a few baptisms, but also a wedding. Actually, the community meets regularly on Sunday afternoon, but depending on the need for marriages or even child baptisms sporadically even the early morning hours of a Saturday are taken. Today, the service continues until about 10.30am – over seven hours. But not every member of the congregation is already there at 3 o’clock. Some, especially the families with children, only come to church much later. And there are many children in the Eritrean Orthodox community. Towards the end they receive the “holy bread” as Daniel Maharai calls it. Babies are carried by their parents to the center of the temple,



Officially recognized in 2015



If the Church of St. Thomas More turns every Sunday and sometimes also on Saturdays into the place of prayer of the Eritrean Orthodox churches, then for a few hours it basically means no more “St. Thomas More”, but bears the name from Abune Aregawi. He is one of the “Nine Saints” of the Ethiopian Church, from which the Eritrean Church (two million members) – with the independence of Eritrea in 1993 – has split off. His image is on one of several colorful oil paintings, all of which are saints. These are set up at events in the middle of the room.



The Giessen community has existed for some 35 years, but was officially recognized by the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church in 2015 and since then has found a home in Grünberger Strasse with the consent of Pastor Matthias Schmid. The impressions of a service are very varied: it is not a compulsion, but testifies respect and deference to not enter the church in street shoes. Almost all the faithful are in slippers or socks this Saturday morning. Even the deacons and pastors otherwise dressed in magnificent robes do not wear shoes.


Some believers hold a wooden stick in their hands, which is to remind of the torments that Jesus suffered on the cross (above).  In the middle of the room are images of saints from the Bible and the faith of the church (bottom right).  The service is held by two pastors and deacons.  Photos: Nemeth


Immediately striking: Men and women in white robes sit, as far as it is spatially feasible, separately. “That’s a tradition,” Daniel Maharai said on the sidelines of the liturgy. Frankincense is in the air, but above all: in the church it is melodious. Voices echo from all directions during praises and Bible readings. It’s a kind of sing-song. The pastor recites the verses, the church answers. The Bible passages from the Old and New Testaments – both books have a strong weight in the Eritrean Orthodox community – are similarly thrown by a projector on a canvas. The Mass takes place in the ancient Ethiopian liturgical language Ge’ez and in Tigrinya, which is still spoken in Eritrea and in Ethiopia today.



Altar rented



During the lecture from the “Holy Books”, most believers often spend several hours. Some of them hold a rather remarkable stick in their hands, which not only supports their own stand, but also represents a part of the cross of Jesus. “He gives the power of Jesus,” says Daniel Maharai. Another custom that catches the eye of a layman at the end of the service: young believers carry a Bible wrapped in a cloth through the entire church. Every single visitor kisses the book, puts his head to it. It takes a moment before this procedure is finished and everyone has performed this blessed act so that the service can be continued.



The altar was leased by the Eritrean Orthodox Church Giessen from a friendly community in Dreieich. A separate one had been requested in Eritrea, so Maharai. But the divine table should only be the beginning. The church would like to have its own church building, explains its chairman. However, there is still no concrete prospect in this respect.



But also in the church of St. Thomas More, the numerous parishioners seem to be comfortable. “It’s important to us that everyone knows we’re here,” said Daniel Maharai, who wants to prevent prejudice. “People should know that we are not evil people, they should see that we too are Christians.”