SACRAMENTALS are certain prayers, action, and things which have been blessed by the church that we obtain from God spiritual and temporal benefit by their devout use. They obtain these benefits for us through the faith we bring to their use and through the prayers which the church offers for those who use them. Among the favors obtain from the sacramental are health of body, graces and protection from evil spirits.
The sign of the cross
The most important sacramental of our Church and the one most frequently used is the sign of the cross. Whenever we use it we are reminded of the sufferings and death of our Blessed Saviour. It is the symbol of our deliverance and the emblem of the mercy of God giving redemption to sinful man. It is made from above downwards and from left to right with fingers in the form of a cross. No ceremony in the liturgy is performed without the sign of the cross. A priest confers blessings by the cross. In the administration of all the sacraments this sign is used at least once and in some of them it is employed many times. The sign of the cross is made over water at its blessing. In the Holy Liturgy or Mass the celebrant makes the sign of the cross very frequently over the people, the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood etc. The church teaches that it is a summary of the faith and salvation which teaches us our true dignity reminds, us that we are the brethren of Jesus Christ and is our strong weapon as soldiers.
The cross and the crucifix
The cross is one of the most important of the Ethiopian church emblems which symbolizes the redemption through the death of Jesus Christ. The term crucifix designates a cross having the image of the suffering Saviour affixed to it, while cross is a structure of wood or metal formed of an upright and a crosspiece.
The traditional story of the Finding of the True Cross by St. Helena is of great antiquity and the event is commemorated by the church on the Festival of the Finding of the Cross called Masqal, occurring, on 27th of September.
In every church there are many crosses of wood and silver, some small and some large bearing the picture of the Crucifixion. There is a large cross of red bronze which the priest uses on Sundays and far constant service, but the large silver cross with the picture of our Lord is borne forth only on festivals. The deacon carries the large crosses in a wooden handle named the matsor, lest he touch them. One of the small silver crosses the officiating priest holds for his duty.
The Ethiopian cross is generally the Greek cross with elaboration, much used for ornamental and practical purposes. The crucifix is unknown, since graven images are not allowed.
The cross is one of the insignia of clergymen; the priest or the bishop always holds in his left hand a cross which is kissed by the people indoors and outdoors. It is used in the Mass, in the administration of the sacraments, in processions, on the tombs of the dead and on many various occasions. Attached to a cord or fine chain it is worn around the neck of nearly all Christians right from childhood until death. The true, genuine and holy veneration, the grandeur, magnificence and solemnity with which the Ethiopian Christians treat the cross will never be realized by anyone unless he witnesses the ancient and ageless holiday of Maskal, a day of solemn religious service and joyous secular celebrations. Tradition has it that the Holy cross-unearthed by Queen Helena was divided into four fragments, each of them going of the Patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch. The fragment that originally went to Alexandria was eventually brought to Ethiopia and is preserved in the church of Egziaber Ab in the monastery of Gishen in the awe-inspiring mountains of Ambasel deep in the Wollo province.
Holy water is blessed by the priest for the purpose of seeking from God a blessing on those who use it and protection from the powers of darkness. It is a symbol of interior cleaning, interior purification. Holy water is used in the blessing of everything which the church wishes to sanctify. Besides the use of baptismal water, the sprinkling with holy water is part of many ceremonies. After the birth of a child the Confessor priest asperses the house and all within with holy water; cords for the neck (mateb) are blessed and demons are exorcised with holy water. If a man is sick, sometimes Holy water is supplied for drinking, pouring over his hands, and sprinkling his face and body. Holy water sanctifies whoever is touched by it, frees him from uncleanness and attacks of the power of darkness, and secures that wherever it is sprinkled there is freedom from pestilence and snares of Satan.
The word vestment is from the Latin, and signifies simply clothing, but it is now used generally to denote the garments worn by the ministers of religion in the performance of their sacred duties. Vestments are blessed by the church and are the uniform of the priest when on duty exercising his functions and using sacred powers which he received at his ordination.
The church ordinarily permits the use of many colors in the sacred vestments such as white, red, blue, violet and black. White denotes purity, innocence or glory; red is the color of blood and fire; black is the color of mourning.
The vestments worn by the priest at Mass are as follows: The Alb (Qamis); the cuffs (Akman); the Girdle (Zenar), the Chasuble (Qaba Lanqa), the Stole (Motahet), and the Cap (Qob).
The deacon's vestments are the Stole, the mitre and the Long Tunic corresponding to the Alb.
The Bishop, in addition to the priest's garments uses a crown and a pastoral staff ending in two entwined serpents with a cross between them and carries a small hand cross with which to bless the people. He also wears a pectoral cross and medals.
The Holy Oils
Holy oil are used in the administration of the Sacraments, as well as in various consecrations and blessings of persons and things. At Baptism the priest consecrates the oil to be used, holding the vessel containing it in his left hand. After baptism the priest blesses the holy chrism to be used in confirmation, this is the chrism or oil of balsam. The sick are anointed with the oil consecrated according to the ritual contained in the book called The Book of the Lamp (Matshafa Qandil).
The use of lights as an adjunct to worship goes back to the beginning of the church. Light symbolizes purity, penetration of darkness, velocity, nourishment of life, illumination of all that comes under its influences; it represents the Saviour and His Mission to enlighten the world.
Beeswax candles are the ones we use for liturgical purposes and many of the faithful vow candles to a church. Lighter candles are placed on the altars. They are used to Mass, processions, administration of the sacraments, at funerals or at the notification of excommunication. Three candles are ordinarily used upon the altar. There is also a sanctuary Lamp.
Beads are devices for counting prayers. Prayers which are known are said repeatedly on beads, especially 'kyrie elison,' and an account is kept by strings of beads. The believer may be required to recite 50 to 150 Kyries, and then some counting device must be used.
The beads are not arranged in-groups of ten small beads as in the Rosary of the Roman Catholic Church. They may be of any suitable substance not, easily broken. Glass beads are allowed if they are solid.
The beads of the priests and of those who specially pray may be of red glass or dark wood or of white wood. "A man pulls forth his string of beads and recites his prayers at the due time. The prayer of the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary is said. During the Mass, shortly before the LECTIONS, the priest and people say this prayer is as follows:
Priest: The angel went in unto her and stood in front of her and said to her: Rejoice, rejoice,
thou art full of grace.
People: The Lord is with thee.
Priest: Blessed art thou among women.
People: And blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
Priest: Pray for us to Christ thy son,
People: to forgive us our sin.
The Palm is emblematic of victory and used to denote triumph and victory. Pagan victorious generals and armies in the triumphal processions decked themselves with the pain tree branches. Among the Jews the palm expressed rejoicing. The Ethiopian Church remembers the Saviour's entrance into Jerusalem a few days before His death by blessing and distributing palms on palm Sunday or Hosanna Sunday when the people conducted Jesus in triumph through the city gate spreading their garments before Him as a mark of homage and went before Him in joyful procession carrying palms and chanting Hosanna of praise. (Mark. 11: 8- 10). On this day the believers tie a piece of palm around the wrist. Wands (archumi or tsabart) are distributed by priests on Palm Sunday. Palms are blessed primarily that they may be carried in the triumphant procession. They are intended also to bring blessings into homes.
Incense is a granulate aromatic resin. When sprinkled on a glowing coals it burns freely and emits an abundant white smoke of very fragrant odor. It was much used in the Jewish worship in the Tabernacle of God; it is mentioned in Psalms and the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Malachi, as well as in the gospel account of vision of Zechariah.
Incensing as a part of the Ethiopian church ceremonial goes back to an early day. Its use forms a prominent feature of the service. It is used at the Mass and in many other public services of the Church; in processions, blessings and other functions and in the absolution or obsequies for the dead.
Not only persons but inanimate things are thus honored; things which are in themselves sacred such as relics, things which have been previously blessed, such as altars and the book of the gospels, and things to which a blessing is being given such as the bodies of the dead and sepulchers. By its burning the incense symbolizes the zeal with which the faithful should be animated; by its sweet fragrance, the odor of Christian virtue; by its rising smoke, the ascent of prayer before the throne of the Almighty. In the liturgy of St. Basil, before LECTIONS, the pictures of Mary, the angels, apostles’ etc. are censed.
The use of bells general or religious purposes in the Ethiopian church is ancient. The church bell is useful not only for summoning the faithful to religious services, but also for giving an alarm when danger threatens. The bell is used for many purposes – at the death of a certain person to remind the faithful of the Christian duty of praying for his eternal repose during Mass, at consecration, procession, distribution of the Holy Communion to the faithful, or taking Holy Communion to the sick. Every church is expected to have bells, large or small and they are blessed in an impressive ceremony.
Edited by Aymero W and Joachim M., The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, published by the Ethiopian Orthodox mission, Addis Ababa 1970.