Chairman, Debre Berhan St. Ourael Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Parish Council
St. Paul, Minnesota
September 27, 2015
Today, we are celebrating the finding of the True Cross (the Meskel or the Cross Day, organized by Debre Berhan St. Ourael Ethiopian orthodox Tewahedo church). Please allow me to tell the story of the True Cross. According to legend, Empress Helena Augustas was born in 250 AD in the ancient country of Bithynia east of Greece bordering the Black Sea and Marama Sea (present day Turkey). Helena was converted to Christianity at the age of 63, she is the mother of Constantine the Great, who was the first Roman Empire Christian king, crowned in 306 AD. Empress Helena, strong in her faith, dedicated her remaining life to the search of the True Cross. She started her journey in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) through Syria to Jerusalem. In her efforts to find the True Cross, with prayer and vision, she consulted an Elder man asking him where the cross might be located. He told her that the True Cross could be found at one of the three mountains in Golgotha. Keeping her strong faith, she prayed to be guided by God to identify which of the three mountains she should start her search. She saw a vision to use smoke, she lit incense, the smoke rose and drifted in the direction of the mountain where the True Cross was buried. They began to dig in the mountain on September 10, and the cross was discovered 6 months later in March 10, 325 A D. She found three crosses, but only one of them was the True Cross, which was used to crucify Jesus Christ. To identify the True Cross, she put each on three different deceased bodies. The dead body on which the True Cross rested, was resurrected. Empress Helena gave pieces of the True Cross to churches, including the Ethiopian Church, and the cross was brought to the mountain of Gishon Mariam Monastery in the Wello Province. St. Helena died 8 year after the discovery of the True Cross in 333 AD. Her son, Constantine the Great, died 4 years later in 337 AD.
The cross day, or Meskel Demera, has been celebrated for around 1690 years. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church gave a special place for the True Cross day. This special celebration was brought to the attention of the international community, and was recognized by UNICO as a historical and religious celebration.
On this first celebration, at this historical park, I would like to say a few words about the Newell Park and the historical connection between Ethiopia and the US for the last 101 years. The Newell park was established in 1908, one of the oldest parks. The park was named after Stanford Newell, attorney by profession. He was the first St. Paul park board member, and served as the United States Ambassador to the Netherlands. The building was built in 1929 and this was a special year. This was the year that the first Ethiopian diplomat, Workneh Eshete, arrived in the United States, carrying a letter from Lij Tafari, later crowned King of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I. The message was an invitation to American intellectuals, especially African Americans, to join the modernization of Ethiopia. After the invitation, many Americans went to Ethiopia to serve in different capacities. In 1903, before this park was founded, US diplomat Robert Skinner visited Ethiopia and made a treaty agreement with Sahele Mariam/ King Minilik II. Three months later, in the spring of 1904, the United States congress approved the treaty without filibuster, ratified by the Senate, signed by United States President Theodore Roosevelt. According to Jim Fisher Thompson, the Washington post staff writer, the treaty was hand carried to Ethiopia by William H. Eliss, a humble Texas born African American. Mr. William remained a central figure of Ethiopian and American relations for 10 year until the death of King Minilik and his connection continues today. Ambassador Robert Skinner regreted not getting a chance to see the popular first Lady, Iteye, or Empress Taitu, in a formal royal ceremony. He said the woman is said to be a force of great character. In 1908, the same year when this park was named, the New York time published the news about Ethiopian official business in the city of New York. At that time, the population of Addis Ababa was 50,000. Today, the number of Ethiopians in the Twin Cities is approximately 50,000, and we are celebrating to commemorate the annual cross day. Congratulation to all Ethiopians, American brothers and sisters. Also, 100 years before this park establishment, in 1808, 10 years before the birth of Sahele Dengel/ King Theowdros II, the Ethiopian church was founded in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. The US/Ethiopian relations is the great work of our forefathers, it’s not new, it’s a century old. Just a historical note, during the Ethio-Italy war, 17,000 Americans enlisted to fight against Italian invasion alongside their Ethiopian brothers and sisters, but the Justice Department imposed restrictions citing the constitution that enlistment for foreign military is a violation of the federal statutes. Because of that, they were unable to go. We say thank you to those American brothers and sisters for their support. Happy the True Cross Celebration Day!
May God bless Ethiopia and The United States of America!