“There [are] a lot of people here … who were affected by the political crisis back home for the last two years,” said Priest Surafel Asrat, who was in Ethiopia last year for Timket.
Ethiopia was still home for many in the crowd last weekend. When people come together as a church, Asrat explained, they become “stronger and more unified.” In the wake of the upheaval, the celebration brought spiritual nourishment and solidarity to the Ethiopian people, Asrat said.
Congregants are sprinkled with holy water to symbolize the baptism of Jesus during Timket on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. The two-day holiday is a celebration of Jesus’ journey and baptism by John the Baptist. This was the first local celebration of Timket since the November end of the two-year Tigray war. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)
As the first day of celebrations began in the South Seattle College parking lot on Saturday, water flew from the sky in a different form – heavy rain.
The gold robes and white dresses weren’t shielded from the rain, but spirits remained high. A lively processional with congregants from 11 churches sang and danced its way from the community college to the Seattle Design Center in Georgetown.
Priests carry their parish’s Tabot, a replica of the Tablets of Law onto which the Biblical Ten Commandments were inscribed, above their heads from Seattle Community College to the Seattle Design Center during a processional symbolizing Jesus’ walk to the Jordan River to be baptized. The Tabot is hidden from public view. (Amanda Snyder/Crosscut)
“Water is from Earth. Water is baptism,” Asrat said as he welcomed the rain. “Whether you're rich or not … whether you are an immigrant or not. The water from the sky [is] dropped for everybody equally.“
Timket, also referred to as Epiphany by Orthodox Christians, celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The holiday is one of Ethiopia’s biggest annual gatherings.
There, it traditionally begins on Jan. 19, while those in the Seattle area celebrate it the following weekend. The eve before Timket is referred to as Ketera, when a processional honors the walk Jesus is said to have made from Nazareth to the Jordan River. The Tabot, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, is taken out of each church and held overhead by the high priests.
Ceremonies for Timket begin early the following morning with readings, songs and prayers.
The event concludes with a blessing of water sprinkled onto the crowd to symbolize the baptism. Congregants push their way to the front, eager to feel the water on their faces. Elated screams ring out as the holy water hits their faces and hymns fill the air.
“Our Lord Jesus Christ came to be baptized by his settlers,” Deacon Neway Fida said. “The scriptures tell us John the Baptist tried to deter him: How can I baptize you?”
But Jesus was baptized by John out of humility, Fida explains, adding that the holiday offers an opportunity to teach about that humility.
“The church is telling the community how the humility [of] our Lord Jesus Christ is shown. Whether we are educated, whether we are high in power, whether we are influenced in so many things, we [should] abide in the teaching of the Church and go to the church to be baptized.”