Dom Negusse Woldai, OCist
Abbot of the Community of Asmara (Eritrea)

Cistercian monasticism of Ge’ez rite


Ge’ez is the classic Abyssinian language today used only as a liturgical language. In our monastery we pray the Hours in Ge’ez but readings from the Scripture and the Fathers are in Tigrigna in Eritrea and in Amharic in Ethiopia, both derived from it.

LiturgiecistFrom its very beginning the intention of the Church and our institutor, the Venerable Abba Fesseha Ghebreamlak, was to erect a Catholic monasticism for the indigenous Catholics parallel to the existing sister Orthodox Church of Abyssinia (Ethiopia and Eritrea). By initiation and mediation of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Cistercian Congregation of Casamari became the cradle of the shoot by accepting the future institutor Abba Fesseha Ghebreamlak who was a diocesan priest and others who followed his footsteps. They were formed according to the Rule of St. Benedict (RB) the constitutions of the Congregation of Casamari with the clear intention to follow the Ge’ez Rite once they return back home and establish the Cistercian Monastic life in Eritrea.

In 1940 the first group of Cistercians comprised of three Italians and four Eritreans arrived the capital of Eritrea Asmara to establish their first monastery at a locality called Beleza, 13 km north of the capital. Later in 1948 the monastery was transferred to Asmara.

It was not a smooth job to have two rites, Latin and Ge’ez, in the same monastery for the first decades but they managed to walk jointly under the RB. In 1960 when the first Eritrean monk Abba Thimoteos Tesemma was elected as superior, only Ge’ez Rite was used in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

As common observance Cistercians we live according to the “ora et labora”.


Liturgical Life:

LiturgiegueezOur Psalmody which comprises 150 psalms and 15 Canticles of the prophets and is continuous, and distributed to two weeks. That means every two weeks we start with Psalm 1.

The Monastic Liturgy of the Hours in week days includes:

1. 1st nocturns: which comprises the respective psalms and readings from the Scripture followed by a short prayer called Liton.

2. 2nd nocturns: respective Psalms and readings from Fathers followed by Weddasie Mariam (Praise to the Virgin Mary of St. Ephraem The Syrian)

3. Lauds: respectively Psalms followed by Kidan Zalalit (From Testamentum Domini) I & II

4. Divine Liturgy (Holy Mass)

5. Terce and Sext at 12:30

6. None and Vespers at 18:15 daily (15:30 pm on Feasts…)

7. Chapter and the Compline at 20:45 concluded with Salve Regina in Ge’ez language.

LiturgiechapOn Sundays and Feast days our psalmody is the Cathedral Divine Office according the Ge’ez Rite liturgy. As usual at the eve Vespers is chanted then early in the morning Vigil starts at cockcrow i. e. 03:00 or 04:00 am till the Divine Liturgy or The Holy Mass. Ordinary Sundays have their proper theme and Name.

We use the traditional musical instruments during Cathedral Office such as drums, sistrums and supporting choir cane or stick, liturgical dance accompanied with clapping of hands and ululating voices from mothers and sisters. Here the faithful too join during this psalmody.

We have our Traditional Lectionary and Liturgical Calendar (12 months of 30 days each plus 5 or on leap year 6 supplementary days). Here we insert some Roman Church and Benedictine sanctoral and commemorations. According to the Catholic Church of Ethio-Eritrean tradition daily Divine Liturgy is celebrated either low or song while the Sister Orthodox Church tradition is always song on Sundays, Feast days and on special occasions, such as matrimony, funeral services or requiem Mass, baptism of infants where the sacraments of confirmation and communion (i.e. initiation sacraments) are administered simultaneously, etc.

Fast is observed almost 200 days per year for the strictly observant. On fast days Divine liturgy is celebrated beginning 12:00 pm according to the Orthodox Church tradition while in our case it is every morning.