A Personal Sanctuary

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A home sanctuary of an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian flair.

A home sanctuary of an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian flair.

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  • 1. Meron Begashaw April 20, 2010 Anthropology 121 A Personal Sanctuary
  • 2.
    • This space is a mini-sanctuary that is located in my parents’ bedroom. It is often put to use by my mother who put together this prayer space, but all members of my family have prayed in this area at a given time. This space is relatively small in comparison to the bedroom itself, since just this corner is devoted to religious affairs. It is a sanctuary with an Orthodox Christian flair, complete with holy oil, icons, a bible, and other relics. In this space, one can pray, use the chair to read the bible, or can receive blessings from the tangible religious items located here. It is especially gratifying at night, when the nearby lamp can be lit or candles can burn. The oneness and peace one can potentially feel here is similar to the feelings felt at a church. When asking my mother, she says at times she feels better here because it is a private, self-created space.
  • 3.
    • This is a religious icon of Saint Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ, her Son, angels and saints. It is covered by a veil for decoration and respect. The icon is used as a tangible connection to the Orthodox faith. This icon, or image made in the likeness of something else, is used for prayer. If one kisses, touches, or prays to or towards the icon, it represents love and respect shown towards what or who the icon represents. It is simply not ink on a piece of paper. The Orthodox Church teaches that praise and veneration shown to the icon passes over to the religious being one is praising and venerating. It is a means of spiritual connection between Heaven and Earth.
  • 4.
    • This is a group of leaves and plants that are used for decorative reasons, as well as symbolizing something deeper. In the New Testament of the bible, Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples to symbolize the importance of humility and to show that the true sign of a follower of Jesus is humble. Today in the Orthodox Church, priests wash the feet of their congregation on Holy and Great Thursday during Holy Week (the week preceding Easter) by using water and this plant. Thus, the plant here represents the importance of being Christ-like by remembering the poor and being a modest human being.
  • 5.
    • This is Holy anointing oil from Jerusalem. In the Amharic language of Ethiopia, this oil is called “Meron”, which is “Myron” in English and “Chrism” in Greek. In the Orthodox Church, this anointing oil is used directly after baptism as representing the receiving of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus Christ received the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove after His own baptism. The Holy oil is made in the same fashion as oil was made in Exodus 30 in the Old Testament of the bible. In everyday use, the Meron may be used to ‘feel blessed’ when a person is sick or needs protection, for example.
  • 6.
    • This is Holy water from the Jordan River, where the New Testament says Jesus Christ was baptized. Although this Holy water is not consumed, water that is made Holy in church is consumed. This sanctified water is used during baptism and in everyday life, as a method for blessing people, objects, and/or places. Holy water is similar to Meron in that it is said to have healing powers and can protect people, places and/or objects. It can be consumed or put on the body in small amounts everyday if one wanted, traditionally before exiting the house as a means of protection. Culturally, Holy water is known to repel evil and offer a ‘spiritual cleansing’. Thus, it is widely used by Orthodox Christians.
  • 7.
    • This is an image of a Holy Bible in the Amharic language. The bible is central to the Christian faith in general as the guideline for how one should live their life culturally, spiritually, socially, sexually, etc. The Ethiopian Orthodox Christian bible has more books within the bible than most Christian denominations do. The canon includes the Septuagint books accepted by the greater Orthodox faith and also other ancient Hebrew books not found in the modern Old Testament of the bible. My parents, who use this space the most, read selected passages from the bible every night before they go to sleep.
  • 8.
    • This is a cross necklace, also known as a rosary or prayer beads, from Jerusalem. With these beads, one can count their prayers when reciting the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”). It is mainly used by monks and bishops, but overtime, more and more members of the congregation have used the prayer beads. Holding the rosary or prayer beads outside of prayer can give a person relaxation, peace, or a feeling of meditation. The prayer beads are regarded as a ‘spiritual sword’, thus holding it and praying with it repels bad energy and evilness.
  • 9.
    • This is an art piece of an angel made of wire with a button of His Eminence Abune Zena Markos, an Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He recently passed away and it was a huge loss to the Ethiopian Orthodox community. He had a very high clerical position within the Church, as he had leadership over bishops in the United States and was an educated and very religious man. By putting a button with his picture on the angel, it shows that Orthodox Christians greatly revere clergy members as religious guides and examples. In no way are clergy-members worshipped, but they are highly respected as people who are ordained by God to carry out His mission and guide people on Earth.
  • 10.
    • This is a picture of myrrh or “emnet” in Amharic, a reddish-brown powder made from the dried sap of trees. It is noted all throughout the bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. The primary use of myrrh is to make anointing oil (as God instructed Moses in the Old Testament book of Exodus) and is used in incense placed in a censer during worship in a church. As with the Meron or Holy anointing oil, myrrh is used as an anointing substance, put on the body (usually the forehead) in the shape of a cross for blessings, healing and/or protection. As seen by this and many other things found at this home sanctuary, Orthodox Christians use many religious objects as a way to feel protected and ward off evil. They may feel safer or blessed by putting these objects on their body.
  • 11.
    • This image shows what is inside the drawer of the cabinet this sanctuary is on. Inside the drawer are more iconographic images of different saints and angels. These icons are taken out during specific days or holidays honoring particular saints and angels. The cloth shown in this drawer is a “netela” or shawl that is worn in an Orthodox Church. Women usually wear this over their heads, as Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 11 of the New Testament. Though the reasons for doing so have been debated and misunderstood for centuries, I personally understand it as showing respect and humility and following in the same fashion as women in the Old Testament did (found in the book of Genesis). It is a personal choice, just as a Muslim woman may or may not choose to wear a hijab.