The Finding of the True Cross :
According to Ethiopian Orthodoxy, after the ascension of Iyesus Kristos, the cross on which he was crucified began performing extraordinary miracles. This raised the ire of the people who crucified Iyesus, who then ordered the cross to be removed and buried in the outskirts of town. Residents living in the surrounding areas were commanded to dump their garbage on the site, and for the next three centuries the area turned into wasteland.
Three hundred years later, in the early fourth century, the Roman Empire was being ruled by Constantine the Great. His mother, St. Elleni (Helena), concerned about the plight of Christians, beseeched her son to allow the free practice of Christendom in her son’s empire. The Emperor consented, and St. Elleni traveled from Constantinople to Jerusalem to look for the buried Cross. Once in Jerusalem, however, no one could tell her the exact spot where it lay. It is said that she went into seclusion and prayed for God’s guidance.
As a result of her prayer, St. Michael the Archangel appeared unto her and gave her certain instructions. She ordered her soldiers and the local residents to gather a pile of firewood. After a prayer, a fire was set ablaze the wood. Clergymen doused incense on the flame and the smoke of the incense rose up towards the sky then arched down to the earth, pointing out the exact spot where the Holy Cross was buried.Following this miraculous sign, digging began and commenced for six months until the True Cross was discovered.
This has been the premise of the celebration of “Masqal” in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Since then, clergy and parishioners have dressed in traditional, colorful clothing to sing ancient hymns dating back to the sixth century. A bonfire is lit up to memorialize the finding of the True Cross.
Meskal has been celebrated in the country for over 1600 years. The word actually means “cross” and the feast commemorates the discovery of the cross upon which Iyesus was crucified, by the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The original event took place on 19 March 326 AD. But the feast is now celebrated on 27 September.
Many of the rites observed throughout the festival are said to be directly connected to the legend of Empress Helena. On the eve of Meskal, tall branches are tied together and yellow daisies, popularly called Meskal Flowers, are placed at the top. During the night those branches are gathered together in front of the compound gates and ignited – This symbolizes the actions of the Empress who, when no one would show the Holy Sepulcher, lit incense and prayed for help. Where the smoke drifted, she dug and found three roses. To one of the three, on the True Cross of Iyesus-Jesus, many miracles were attributed.
During this time of the year flowers bloom on mountain and plain and the meadows are yellow with the brilliant Meskal daisy. Dancing, feasting, merrymaking, bonfires and even gun salutes mark the occasion. The festival begins by planting a green tree on Meskal eve in town squares and village market places. Everyone brings a pole topped with Meskal daisies to form the towering pyramid that will be a beacon of flame. Torches of tree branches tied up together called “Chibo” are used to light the bundle called “Demera”.