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'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'

St Matthew 28: 19

Charity No. 282910

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Since ancient times, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has had a rationale for the veneration of Icons.  Icons were known to have been venerated by the Jews prior to Christianity.


In the Old Testament, God Himself ordered Moses to make a picture of the cherub on the Covenant of His Commandments. (Ex.25:19;37:7; IKings 6:2-17; Ezekel 9:3; 10:3; Enoch 14:11). These pictures of the cherubim were drawn on the the Ark of the Covenant which is the symbol of the throne of God.  The picture of cherubim is also the symbol of the cherubim who carry God's throne. The picture is in the form of fouls with their wings spread outwards so that they overshadow the cover of the Ark.


Icon making has a historical basis in the Church.  As is known in church history, the first Christians maintained and spread their faith by digging holes, carving rocks, hiding in caves and catacombs, preserving their materials and protecting themselves from their enemies.  In these catacombs, they used to collect the relics of their martyrs and pray and teach.  During these times, people started joining the congregation.  Since they had no freedom of movement and could neither find or produce books, they resorted to teaching by using parables from the holy Bible in pictures such as:


  • Shepherds carrying their sheep to show that Christ would save those who died believing in Him,and that He is a kind and trusted Shepherd.

  • Others started their pictures from stories of the Old Testament. For example, they drew how the first humans, Adam and Eve, were tempted by the serpent. (Gen.3:1-7).


They drew a devoutly praying believer to depict Noah in his ark (Gen.7:1- 24).  They also depicted the story of the New Testament as follows:


  • The Annunciation of St Gabriel to Our Lady.

  • The birth of Our Saviour Jesus Christ in the district of Judea, in the city of David in Bethlehem, in a place called  Efrata.

  • The Magi, paying homage by presenting gifts to the baby, Lord Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem.

  • The baptism of the Lord and His teaching for three years and three months; along with the miracles He performed.

  • The first miracle performed at  the wedding in Canaa of Galilee.

  • The Lord's crucifixion, death, resurrection, ascension, and His second coming.

  • Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, with her beloved Son and in the left Isaiah pointing towards her, saying, “Today the Virgin will conceive a child and give birth to a Son.”


Pictures like these are found in ancient Christian hiding - caves, and were utilised to teach the Christian faith.


There are also many stories and oral traditions about the Lord’s picture. One narration is that the story of the Lord’s crucifixion was drawn by the Apostle, St John.  The evangelist John drew the Lord as he saw Him on that Friday.  The voice was heard to have uttered, “as the Jews, they crucified me bare in Jerusalem, will crucify me for the second time in Rome?”  Immediately, he drew Him wearing a purple raiment (kelemeda).  This was the beginning of this type of pictures.  After finishing the picture, John the Evangelist, kissed the picture and his lips remained stuck to it.  All these miracles were performed by the picture (Abba Gorgorious, Archbishop, Ethiopian church history, June 1974 E.C.A.A).


The picture of Our Lady Mary was first drawn by the Evangelist St Luke. The prayer and hymn books of our churches also state that the picture of Our Lady was drawn by the Evangelist Luke.


“Salutations to your icon as, Luke one of the wise evangelist drew it by his hand" (Malkea Sael - a hymn about the Icon, synaxarium of October 22 E.C., Abba Gorgorious, Archbishop, Ethiopian Church History, June 1974 E.C.A.A.).


In the Church, an icon conveys two types of messages.  One is to teach those people who are unable to read, about miraculous stories of the Holy Scriptures, and the other, is to learn about the lives, devotions and struggles of the martyrs, and also to subdue the carnal temptations and to overcome evil spirits, and also to honour the Righteous, and through the pictures show love and honour to those represented in the Icons.


To pray before an icon is to seek grace, bounty and intercession from a saint or angel represented in the picture.  To venerate and kiss a picture/icon is to express one's love and respect to the one represented in the picture.  This is a tradition that has been practised by the Church ever since its establishment.


The Church believes and teaches that we should say grace, give honour, bow, kneel down and beg mercy through the consecrated icons of the Lord, Our Lady, Angels, Saints and Martyrs.


“I bow down before your Icon and I submit to the Icon of your Son, Mary the Virgin, Mary the mother of God.” (Melka Seel - hymn of Icons).


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Archbishop Yesehaq. (1997). The Ethiopian Tewahedo Church. Winston-Derek Pub