Integrating Reverence & Celebration: Lessons from Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Worship

Biblical worship is fundamentally understood as the response of created beings to the self-revelation of the Creator. A proper response in worship engages both mind and body, involving the entirety of the individual. Central to this concept of worship is the integration of reverence and celebration – the ability to approach God with awe and humility, while also experiencing the joy and freedom found in His presence. The book of Psalms vividly portrays the engagement of the whole person in worshiping God with both reverence and jubilation. The most frequently used bodily gesture of prostration is depicted as an act of deference to and dependency on God (Psalms 5:8; 22:28, 30; 66:4; 86:9; 95:6; 96:9; 99:4, 9; 132:7; 138:2), while worshipers are also called to express their exuberance through dancing (Psalms 30:12; 149:3; 150:4). Interestingly, the attitude of the worshiper blends reverence and celebration so seamlessly that the Psalter calls upon worshipers to “rejoice with tremble with” (Psalm 2:11).
This paper explores the worship practices of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) as a case study to highlight how their liturgy integrates reverence and celebration in worshiping God. Within the context of EOTC worship, the integration of reverence and celebration is evident, as worshipers engage in solemn acts of devotion through prostration, while also expressing joy and exuberance through dancing in their worship of God. By examining the theological and practical dimensions of EOTC worship, this paper identifies lessons that can be learned from the EOTC’s approach to engaging the body and cultivating an atmosphere of reverence and celebration in worship. Ultimately, this paper aims to contribute to the ongoing dialogue within the global Christian community regarding the nature and practice of worship.