11 September 2013
Young seminarians practice chanting in Ge’ez in Ziway. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In 2009, we paid a visit to the town of Ziway, Ethiopia, for a look at the local Orthodox seminary at a time of transition in the country:
Life in Ziway carries on much as it has for centuries. At the monastery, signs of traditional life abound. One priest shovels sun-baked cow patties onto a horse-drawn cart. Adolescent deacons in training sit in pairs near the lake shore studying Scripture. And huddled on wooden benches beneath a small grove of shady trees, some 20 young seminarians practice chanting. Their drones drown out the chirping birds.
The seminarians are guided by debteras, a class of learned men unique to the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. Debteras command respect: They function as catechists and participate as cantors in the celebration of the Qeddase, the eucharistic liturgy.
The seminarians and debteras chant in Ge’ez — the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches — which few people know.
Little about an Ethiopian Orthodox priest’s formation and rural lifestyle has changed over the centuries — at least until recently. Most Orthodox priests receive an education almost identical to that of the generations of priests before them. And most lead lives with their families in the countryside, surviving on subsistence farming and their parishioners’ meager offerings.
But as traditional agrarian Ethiopia develops and its increasingly better educated people leave their villages for the cities, many within the Ethiopian Orthodox community worry that its priests will no longer be relevant to the faithful they serve.
Read more about these seminarians in As It Was, So Shall It Remain?, in the September 2009 issue of ONE.