Be seme Ab wo Wold wo Menfes
Kidus Amen. (In the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit
I - Background History: In the Old Testament we learn that
Moses received the "tablets" from God with the Ten Commandment
divinely written on them. Ex. 24:12, "The Lord said to Moses,
'Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give
you the tablets of stone, with the law and commandment, which I
have written for their instruction.' " Moses then introduced
the Ark of the Covenant to his followers in the Sinai Mountains.
The historical setting for this landmark event is believed to be
between 1350 and 1200 B.C., and Moses, whose Ethiopian wife's name
is Zipporah, is the Biblical personage who was called to be the
agent and the interpreter of God's redemptive work. He was chosen
to be the mediator of the Covenant. God's action here is, believed
to be, to deliver the people from bondage as was witnessed, and
bind them to Himself in covenant.
The Ten Commandment is the Will of God. The Tabot is the abode and
repository of the Word. Inside dwells God's Testimony. Ex.25:8 "And
let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst."
It's the medium with which God communicates. Ex.25:22 "… There
I will meet with you … upon the ark of the testimony; I will speak
with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people
of Israel." The Tabot is an Eternal Time Machine. Therefore,
it is a testimony to the presence of God always being among us.
Ex.40:20 "And he took the testimony and put it into the ark,
and put the poles on the ark, and set the mercy seat above on the
Both in the Old Testament as well as present day EOTC's tradition,
the Tabot symbolizes the Throne of God, the housing of the "tablet",
the Sacred Writing of God and His Will. "And Moses turned,
and went down from the mountain with the two tablets… and the tablets
were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven
upon the tables." Ex.32:15-16.
With regard to Ethiopia, the historical background of the Tabot
takes a very rich and interesting dimension, which we leave the
full length and breath of the discussion for another occasion and
hereby give a brief summary.
In Ethiopia, the worship of One True God of Old Testament dates
back a thousand years before Christ. The worship of the True God
with Judaic Element was established by Queen Makeda a.k.a. the Queen
of Sheba after her historic visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem.
This powerful Queen had reigned over vast territories and kingdoms
stretching from Southern Arabia, the Red Sea (Bahre Eritrea - Eritrean
Sea) and East Africa. Mostly she carried the name of the land she
ruled as her title. Thus she was called the Queen of Sheba, the
Queen of Axum and the Queen of Makeda. Some Ethio-centric scholars
and researchers of ancient scriptures and the Apocrypha think her
real name to be "Etia." Some also wonder if "Etia
" could be the origin of the name for modern "Ethiopia."
Queen Sheba's strenuous journey to ancient Palestine in search of
righteousness was a symbol of great faith. Thus a thousand years
later, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of her to the continuing generations:
Matt.12:42 "The queen of the South will arise at the judgment
with this generation and shall condemn it; for she came from the
utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold
something greater than Solomon is here."
While in Jerusalem, the Queen of Makeda was in the presence of
the original Ark of the Covenant. She was then converted to the
worship of the One True God due to the Light she found in King Solomon's
wisdom and the surrounding Light Force. That Light is God who is
greater than Solomon. Upon her return, the Queen of Sheba introduced
to her people the True Light.
Eventually the original Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Saint
Mary of Zion Church in Axum. Despite certain cynicism, disbelief
and modern-day controversy, there are evidences that prove that
the Ethiopians posses the Ark of the Covenant. Saint Yared (525
AD - 571 AD), who is one of the most venerated Ethiopian Saints,
who, as a young Yared, learnt the heavenly musical praise, went
back to the city of Axum and entered the church of Zion and stood
in front of the Ark of the Covenant (Tabote Tsion). Right there
he started praising the Lord by singing in Geez loudly: "Praise
be to the Father - Praise be to the Son - Praise be to the Holy
Ghost - Prior to Zion God created the Heavens - God showed Moses
the tent." Also well-known 13th century writer Abu Salih wrote:
"The Abyssinians posses the Ark of the Covenant."
The Ethiopian Felashas, who prefer nowadays, to be called Bete
Israel, practice Judaism to this day. They remain to be descendants
of those original Jews who accompanied Menelik 1, the first-born
son of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. Later on, the Old Testament-based
Judaism formula became the channel for direction and introduction
towards present-day Christianity in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox
Tewahedo Church is known for its unique adaptation and application
of both the Old and the New Testament.
II - Miracles Performed by the Tabot: The Tabot as embodiment
of the Almighty's Commandments and Will, has done wonders and awe
inspiring performances as documented in the Bible. Joshua 6:1-22
"Now Jericho was shut up from within and without… and the priests
took up the ark of the Lord… the seven priests bearing the seven
trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the Lord… On the seventh
day … and at the seventh time… Joshua said to the people, 'shout…'…
and the people raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat,…"
Another example shows how the ark caused troubles to the Philistines.
1Sam.5:2-3 "…Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought
it into the house of Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod rose early
the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground
before the ark of the Lord."
Again the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River is cited in Joshua
3:15-17 "… And when those who bore the ark had come to the
Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped
in the brink of the water … and while all Israel were passing over
on dry ground, and the priests who bore the ark of the covenant
of the Lord stood on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, until
all the nation finished passing over the Jordan."
Even in earlier times, the ark was regarded as very powerful and
dangerous. 2Sam. 6:6-7 "… Uzzah put out his hand to the ark
of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger
of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because
he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark
At present moment in history, even in the Hi-Tech 21st Century
world we live in, EOTC upholds and vigilantly safeguards the age-old
conservative tradition. The veneration accorded to the Tabot is
unmitigated in spite of modernism and establishing Churches overseas,
away from the homeland as is witnessed in the last two decades.
Some even attribute this unprecedented growth due to the grace of
God and the Power of the Tabot.
Due to its awesome power and veneration, the Tabot is seldom seen
by the layman. Only the clergy can get close to the Tabot, which
is usually located at the center of the sanctuary, behind the curtain
inside the Mekdes, also known as Kiduse Kidusan - the Holy of the
Holies. Even during the religious ceremonies the devotees keep a
respectable distance before they bow down in total obedience and
humility. Joshua 3:3-4 "When you see the ark of the covenant
of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then
you shall set out from your place and follow it, … Yet there shall
be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand
cubits; do not come near it."
III- The Tabot in the New Testament: The Canon Law a.k.a.
the kenona, instructs all the EOTC's to conduct services, Liturgy
and the communion, kurban, in the presence of the Tabot. Without
the Tabot the service and the communion will be incomplete, and
this absence will leave a certain void among the parishioners who
refrain from considering it as bona fide Ethiopian Orthodox Church
since the church's proper name comes with the Tabot's name. The
Tabot is often dedicated to the Saints or other Biblical personages
- like "Kidist Mariam Bete Christian" or St. Mary's Ethiopian
Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
The Tabot is so important that the devotees regard the building
and the surrounding area as sacred. It is the Tabot, which is consecrated
and which gives sanctity to the building in which it is placed.
That is why the Ethiopian worshipers show high regard to the outside,
front and back yard, also the fence and the building, and pay homage
to all with reverence. Even the entrance door and the outside pillars
are solemnly touched and observed before one enters the sanctuary.
Before the parishioners enter the holy place, the mekdes, they
are obliged to take off their shoes as show of respect, compliance
with ancient tradition and cleanliness. Even in Exodus we learn
that after God called Moses out of the bushes He said, Ex.3:5 "Don't
come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which
you are standing is holy ground." Today, even in hi-tech modern
age, all Tewahedo followers respect the tradition and the inherent
Truth, and take off their shoes.
Although, Tabots are seldom described in detail because of the
veneration they are held, it is known that the Tabot in the New
Testament carries an inscription of the Geez words for Alpha and
Omega (The beginning and the end … the past and the future…), which
is God's hidden name. The Tabot is often engraved with one or more
cross. Sometimes it is engraved with the representation of Christ
or the Virgin and Child. For the faithful the Tabot is an embodiment
of the Almighty who is omniscient. His throne is compared to the
Menbere Tabot, a kind of Altar Chest where the Tabot is traditionally
For all its sanctity, reverence and preference to let the Tabot
remain shrouded in mystery, the Tabot is taken out of the Mekdes
on special occasions as designated by the kenona to commemorate
anniversaries and holidays of Angels, Saints, Martyrs and certain
Biblical Personages. Most notably, on the eve of Timket Holiday,
the Epiphany, many Tabots from different churches get together and
are carried to a nearby lake, river, or field and spend the night
among prayers and chanting before the main celebration on the following
The most striking scene is the dancing, chanting, and singing in
front of the Tabot when it is carried around. The ritual dancing,
the beating of drums, clapping and the elegant rattling of sistra
are reminiscent of the Biblical passage, which tell of King David
and the people dancing in front of the Ark of the Covenant. The
EOTC followers of the New Testament have faithfully and comfortably
interwoven the rituals of the Old. Here they take pride in having
a common spiritual alliance with King David. 2Sam. 6:16-21 "As
the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter
of Saul looked out of the window, and saw king David leaping and
dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. And
David said to Michal, 'It was before the Lord, who chose me above
your father, and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over
Israel, the people of the Lord - and I will make merry before the
So far we have attempted briefly to address the Tabot, its role
and significance in all EOTC's and how its eternal Truth, mystery
and magnanimity are interwoven in the Church's dogma, belief and
kenona, as well as the daily life of the clergy and the parishioners.
Thus the Tabot makes the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church very
unique in the world. Throughout history, the followers of the Tewahedo
Faith have seen countless miracles and healing performed by the
Tabot. The Tabot is the Essence of the Covenant.
Finally we like to take a passage from John's Revelation to illustrate
the presence of the Tabot even in heaven. According to St. John's
visions, the Holy Scripture shows the consummation toward which
the whole Biblical message of redemption is focused. Rev. 11:19,
"Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of His
covenant was seen within His temple; and there were flashes of lightning,
voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail."