In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen!
Maʿətäb is derived from a Ge'ez word that meant 'to evince, to bless.' maʿətäb is a means of identity that the baptized believers wear to visualize their faith in Christianity and indicate a seal of their faith. As its flag knows a country, as the legitimacy of a letter and mail is assured by its seal, we who are the children of Orthodox Church by this what is worn around on our neck we are known and assured as the disciples of Christ.
Before, Christians used maʿətäb as the seal of their faith; in the old testament, it was mentioned in different imagery.
Circumcision was a sign given by the LORD; it was meant for the people of God to be separated from the idolaters. St Pual talks about this in his epistle, '... the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith…..' (Roman 4:11). In the New Testament, circumcision is a symbol of Christian baptism. A maʿətäb is a Christian identity that is tied around the neck.
In the Old Testament, the firstborn was given to the Lord as an offering; beyond all, the firstborn received more maltitude than the rest. When Tamar, wife of Jude, Son of Jacob, was in labor when one of the twin's hands came out, the midwife tied his hand with a red string to signify 'he came. First, he is the firstborn'. However, this child's hand was only picked out and returned to the womb, but the second twin came forth before the twin whose hand was tied with a red string. Moreover, they named him Persia. After him, the twin with the red string came, and they named him Zara. (Genesis 38:27-30; Matthew 1:3)
In the New Testament, the firstborn is a symbol of a Christian. Zara is the Christian congregation; the red string is the symbol of maʿətäb. The midwife lady is a symbol of the priests who are in the service of the mystery of baptism, which later on the priest ties the maʿətäb around the neck. Phares is the symbol for those who believe and are baptized but later have fallen and are deemed heretics.
When our beloved mother st Mary gave birth to our Lord and Savoir Christ, the gospel of Luke mentions that she (St Mary) tied in His thumb, 'and so it happened, that while they were there, the days had come that she should give birth. She brought forth her firstborn and tied his thumb'. (Luke 2:6)
The tying of our Lord's and Zara's hands in the time of birth, the later Christian took this as a symbol to wear a maʿətäb in their necks, and this in the Orthodox Church started by St Jacob of Baradaeus in the six century.
St Jacob of Baradaeus, following his forefathers St Athanasius, St Cyril, St Dioscorus, has steadfast in his struggle and is a teacher who taught considerably keeping the täwaḥədo (Tewahedo) faith.
St Jacob of Baradaeu is a father to all the miaphysite  family, but he is near Syria as it was heavily weakened by the Melkites. In his era, while hiding from the Emperors and those who accepted the council of Chalcedonians (two nature of Christ) to preach about one nature of Christ in Egypt and Syria, he wore woman's cloth, and he testified to the one nature incarnate Christ for 40 years. The Nestorians kept mingling and causing trouble in St Jacob's congregation. By the wisdom of God, to identify those Orthodoxian, he started twisting three strings and tying the twisted strings around his congregation's neck.
In the land of ʾagəʾazit (now Eritrea-Ethiopia), even though Christianity reached during the era of the Apostle but it was in the 4th century through ʾaba sälama käśaté bərhan (St Abba Selama Kesatie Brihan) that the mysteries were started [brought]. ʾaba sälama (Abba Selama) started crossing the baptized Christians with a cross after their Chrismation.
Later on, the canons of St Jacob of Baradaeus started, from minor to elders Christians in their baptismal rites, the tying rites of maʿətäb to the baptized Christians began.
maʿətäb is be made out of three strings twirled/twisted together. Three strings being the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and being twirled/twisted to symbolize how God is one. It could also be made for others; a gold/silver necklace, black string, etc. A maʿətäb is not separate from across; if the cross is made of gold, it adds beauty and much mystery.
The mysteries behind the colors;
- White signifies how we are sanctified by Christ and how He was beaten until His bones were seen. (Hebrew 13:12: Revelation 1:4)
- Red signifies how our redemption is through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 1:7)
- Black signifies how Christ took our flesh and walked on this world and how He was bruised for our iniquities in His flesh. (1 Peter 4:1 ፥ Isaiah 53:5)
The benefit of having a maʿətäb
- Through maʿətäb, we preach our Lord Jesus Christ crucifixion.
- As the Apostle st Paul said, 'Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.' (2 Corinthians 4:10)
- Henceforth, let no man trouble me: for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus.' (Galatians 6:17)
Through this, for the faith we have in Christ and the actual bearing the tribulations of the cross, without fear and embarrassment, we testify this by the maʿətäb that is worn in our neck. If the unbeliever curses or struck us with violence, it is rewarded is as carrying Christ's cross. Moreover, if they keep seizing unto death, martyrdom is our reward. The world has seen and remembers those brave Tewahedo Christians who have been steadfast in their faith unto death in the hand of the barbaric, and they have garmented the Church of Christ through their blood.
- Just through baptism, we testify to Christ's death and resurrection (Roman 6:1-5); we testify our baptism through our maʿətäb. To the ruler of all to Whom we all worship and witness, we do not only testify through our inside [unseen] but also verbally too; our prostration, through maʿətäb,..etc. (Matthew 10:32-33)
- Deliver us from satan's inimical attacks. As the word of God said, 'You have given a banner [symbol] to them that fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth.' (Psalms 60፡4) by the will of God to be a spiritual power it has been given to us. A Christian who has a maʿətäb and across demons will not quickly attack him/her. As seem in mayä ṣälot (ማየ ጸሎት) , a person would rip the maʿətäb and run away from it when others try to put it on them.
A maʿətäb is a proclamation of our faith in Christianity and the grace of baptism we have received; they [Christians] are identified through this. If by accident that person is to pass away, people will take the body to the Church for ṣälotä fətḥat 'Prayer of Burial/absolution ' and would later be taken to the graveyard.
He/she wears a maʿətäb to signify he/she is a Christian through Christ if that person does not live with deeds and no spiritual acts is there he/she wearing the maʿətäb and Christianity is vain. When the Apostle St Paul said 'having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof...' (1 Timothy 3:5), he speaks of those wearing it [maʿətäb] but are in adultery, drunkenness, murder, hypocrisy…. Moreover, we ought to know that these people who are in sin are why Christianity can not prosper in the gentile heart and enlighten them to the faith in Christ.
'Even so, every good tree brings forth good fruit' (Matthew 7:17). Thus we all Christians are to bear good fruits, and we should plea and supplicate God to give us the good deeds of spirituality, the steadfastness of faith in Him.
Glory be to God unto ages, amen.
- 1. Miaphysite (one nature) means the Lord Jesus Christ is perfect human and perfect divine and these two natures are united together without mingling, nor confusion, nor alteration in one nature; of God incarnate. Miaphysite teaching is based on Cyril of Alexandria's, and the miaphysite family includes the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and Coptic Orthodox of Alexandria, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Indian Orthodox Church.
- 2. Melkites is a central Semitic root, meaning "royal," and by extension, "imperial" or loyal to the Byzantine Emperor.
- 3. mayä ṣälot [ማየ ጸሎት] is a holy place where water is blessed through an angle or a saint, either while being on this earth or departed to the next life as well. It is known as 'ṣäbäl '(ጸበል) too. (John 9:1-11)
- 4. ṣälotä fətḥat [ጸሎተ ፍትሓት] is a prayer of absolution that is prayed before the burial ceremony for the departed. Furthermore, as St Basil the Great said, its aim is 'establish the departed souls in the mansions of the Just, and graciously vouchsafe unto them peace and pardon.'
Glory to God, Amen!
Source: Lisan Tewahdo Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Offical Holy Synod Website