Debre Genet St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox church in Melbourne

Palm Sunday and Easter, 2017

Catherine Schieve

Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgical Dance - video by Catherine Schieve, Easter Liturgy 2017

This page will contain a series of video footage of Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgical Dance, as practiced by the congregation in Melbourne, Australia. I attended the Palm Sunday and Easter services with this community in 2017; the video above is from Easter. The ritual begins around 8 pm Saturday night and goes through the night until approximately 3 am Easter morning. This passage is from before midnight, going into Easter. All the community is fasting, and there are waves of prayer, supplication, parading and reading from the Gospels, and chanting throughout the evening. I am grateful to the Abba of the church for inviting me, and thank Haileluel Gebre-Selassie, the community leader who leads and teaches the dance and liturgical music to his community - described as one of the oldest existing Christian liturgies. The community is passionate. There is much to learn and appreciate. A photo series and more video footage will be added in coming weeks and months.

From my (very informal) notes:

"Palm Sunday with their church was extraordinary -- I'm still processing it -- I arrived at 7 am and the place was already packed, all in white veils, they had been fasting and praying since 1 am. Men separated from women. Lots of children. People prostrating on the floor, under the chairs even. I hadn't a hope of getting a seat - it's standing room only for most people. Beautiful physical objects, prayer sticks, jingling things... And the voices. There is an extraordinary amount of vocal participation, which seems so free-flowing - I was struck by the gathered-yet-individual sound of people's voices. People are very full-throated in their prayer. Not unison, not particularly controlled, yet all together in a beautiful, ragged way. Texts in three languages are projected. Projected texts seems very helpful for this kind of ongoing, never-stopping, wave-like liturgy as people aren't fumbling for pages in their books. It just goes and goes. When I burst outdoors for air after 3 hours, I saw that people had lined up on the outside of the church in the rain, praying inward to its walls. I admire the stamina of this community! I had to go outside to the cooking area for some water and a steaming hot samosa - they were still praying, chanting, fasting. Toward the end end of the indoors liturgy there was a fantastic dance - then the outdoors liturgy started; the same thing, outside the church. I had really run out of energy and had to drive home -- and have now been warmly urged to come back for the whole Easter service which starts at 8 pm Saturday night and goes till 3 am. Abba came out and asked me to stay in touch, so I'm sure I will learn more about the Ethiopian Orthodox over the coming months."

Ethiopian Orthodox Liturgical Dance - video by Catherine Schieve, Easter Liturgy 2017