Inside Ethiopian church

#TheGodProject: Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

For the last year or so, my friend Ang at JOZI.REDISCOVERED and I have been working on a blog collaboration called #TheGodProject. We visit different places of worship around Johannesburg. Ang interviews a spiritual leader (or leaders) at the place of worship, and I take photos. Then we both publish posts on our blog. In this installment of the series, we visited the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Bertrams, just up the road from Ponte City.

I’m not going to say much about the church itself or the history of Orthodox Christianity. Ang will have all that covered and you should definitely read her blog for the fascinating details. My post is all about photos. This church is, without a doubt, one of the top five coolest places that I’ve taken photos in Joburg. I’ve done my best to show you only my very favorites, but there are lots.

Before I start the slideshow, I’d like to thank my friend James, the owner of James XVI Ethiopian in Maboneng. James organized our visit to the Tewahedo Church and it was a particularly spectacular Sunday to attend services there. You’re the best, James, and so is your food.

Visiting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

James’ brother drove us to the church and dropped us in the parking lot, introducing us to a man named Behailo, the secretary of the church. Behailo invited us in, mentioning that there was a wedding happening today, and said we could come find him in his office whenever we were finished observing the service. Ang and I removed our shoes, covered our heads, and walked into the chapel.

View from the back of the Ethiopian churchOur view when we first entered the chapel. Women sit on the right side and men sit on the left.

There was indeed a wedding happening, and I noticed right away that there were a bunch of photographers set up in the front of the church. A wedding press box! I plunged through the crowd, camera around my neck, and joined the rest of the media. No one seemed to mind, even though I was the only non-Ethiopian photographer/videographer there.

Wedding videographyOne of a few videographers at the wedding. The the photographers were evenly divided between men and women.

View from the front of the churchView from the front of the church. People praying, people holding babies, kids playing on iPads…The service was long and people weren’t expected to pay attention the whole time.

Bridal partyThe bridal party. The lady kneeling on the far right, wearing a crown, is the bride. The groom wasn’t with her until later. 

Ethiopian church service 2Seriously, could this church be any more beautiful? I had no idea what was going on as the service is conducted in a language called Ge’ez, which I believe is similar to Amharic. But I was transfixed. Incidentally, this building used to be owned by the Rhema Church, a huge South African evangelical church, and my boxing coach George used to run a gym here.

Marvin and the umbrellaThe man with the umbrella, I would later learn, is a deacon named Marvin. Marvin is not Ethiopian. He is a colored guy from El Dorado Park — a former Rastafarian who became interested in Ethiopian religion and converted to Orthodox Christianity. Ang will have more to say about Marvin.

Women prayingWomen praying.

Ethiopian brideAnother look at the bride.

Ethiopian priest
The priest, doing his thing with the incense.

Giant bibleAfter the priest walked through, this man came behind him with a giant bible and everyone kissed it. 

Preparing communionPreparing communion.

The longer I stood in the press pit, the more I noticed the children. There were tons of children around and they had free reign of the place. The kids wandered wherever they wanted, even crawling right in the pulpit behind the priest, and no one seemed to mind.

Cute kidCute kid.

Cute little girlCute kid just hanging around.

Mom and baby in church Mom and baby. There’s Ang in the back.

Well dressed kid in Ethiopian Orthodox ChurchThis kid wins the prize for best dressed. His outfit matches his mom’s — I think they were part of the bridal party.

Kids waiting for communion at Ethiopian Orthodox ChurchAt one point all of the kids crowded up to the front of the church, for some kind of kids-only communion. I was surrounded by a sea of cuteness.

Church guy talking to kidThis church official was showing the kids, very kindly and patiently, how to stand when they accept their communion.

Smiling girl in Ethiopian Church Cuteness!

Inside Ethiopian churchCheck the kid in the front. At this point in the service, a group of men and women were lined up in the front singing, while a few people played drums in the background. It was so beautiful and fun.

We stayed for well over an hour, but the service was still going strong and we needed to speak to Behailo. Sadly, we left before the service ended.

Outside the Ethiopian Church Scene outside the church.

Behailu in his officeBehailo in his office next to the chapel, showing us the Amharic alphabet on his phone.

We finished with Behailu, and by the time we got outside the service had ended. We watched everyone come outside and I ate some tasty Ethiopian food that was being served in the church courtyard.

Wedding carThe wedding car.

We had a brief, fascinating chat with Marvin, and then it was time to go.

Marvin, deacon at Ethiopian Tewahedo church
Marvin outside the church.

Taking pictures at this church was an amazing experience. Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity seems like a lot of fun — at least it did during the two hours I spent at this church. I would love to go back someday.

Read JOZI.REDISCOVERED’s post.

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15 Comments

  • Reply Holy Trinity Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church | JOZI. REDISCOVERED August 1, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    […] To see more images from the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Berea, Johannesburg, go to 2Summers’ blog post here  […]

  • Reply violetonlineisonline August 1, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    these are amazing! you are introducing me to a whole new side of Jozi.
    2summers – do you know the little shul in Doornfontein? I don’t think it is a shul anymore, although I drove past it yesterday, it may be used as a school now. (not sure) It has an amazing history, you may want to check it out one day.

    • Reply 2summers August 2, 2016 at 10:02 am

      I think I know the shul you’re talking about — I’ve run past it before when training at the Hillbrow Boxing Club. I think a shul (either this one or another one) should be next on our list. There’s such a rich history of Judaism here and I’d love to learn more about it.

  • Reply Tumtum August 1, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    All the babies have such beautiful eyes though…glad I’m not the one who has to say no to such cuteness.

    • Reply 2summers August 2, 2016 at 10:00 am

      I know, they are especially cute!

  • Reply autumnashbough August 2, 2016 at 12:47 am

    Your photos are always gorgeous, catching vibrant people and colors. I can’t imagine 2 hours and a service still going strong, though! And why does the groom get to sit most of it out?

    • Reply 2summers August 2, 2016 at 10:00 am

      Haha yeah, I think Orthodox services are notorious for being long. The groom wasn’t sitting it out — I think he was actually up at the front participating in various rituals, with the priests. There was so many people involved in the rituals though (all men, of course) that I couldn’t make out who was who. The whole thing was a bit of a blur.

  • Reply sifiso ntuli August 2, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Lovely me dear… Lovely! I have a big smile on my face. Ole’ Marvin, he looks just like another crazy one I grew up with. Great! The New JoziTown!!!

    • Reply 2summers August 2, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      Aw, thanks for the comment Sfi! Marvin is definitely a character.

  • Reply all-TIM-ate August 3, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Great post – the ways in which you capture and showcase the city are truly inspiring.

    • Reply 2summers August 3, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      Aw, shucks. Thanks.

  • Reply Marie August 3, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    What a treat to be able to peak inside the life and rituals of the Ethiopian community in Johannesburg! I bought one of the scarves worn by the women over their heads at Market on Main – nice to understand its meaning and proper context 🙂

    • Reply 2summers August 4, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment, Marie. It’s such a fascinating culture!

  • Reply Lani August 7, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Wow. What luck! I love how all the women, it seemed, had painted their nails 🙂 The anthropologist in me wants to know more! I mean, what a blend of cultures!

    • Reply 2summers August 7, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      I also took particular note of those fantastic manicures. I think those women were part of the bridal party.

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