Ethiopian Orthodox Church

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Although Ethiopia is well known in the Bible and other secular literature, she is better known for her history which is based on "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" which has become the basis of her belief and religious practices. (Ps. 110; Pro 1:7)

Ethiopia and Ethiopians occupy a prominent place alongside those countries and places which are well known in Holy Books, ancient historical manuscripts as well as researches in archaeology around the Red Sea and the Nile Valley.

According to ancient history, the word Ethiopia denotes a geographical stretch of land which represents the area south of Egypt and goes as far as the Indian Ocean. The word "Ethiopia" is derived from two Greek words which is also a name given to the people living in the area. The fact that the country is called Ethiopia is also an indication of the shade of the colour of skin of the people living in it. The geographical expanse called Ethiopia appears to have covered different areas and sizes at different times, but the center has always been the area where the Blue Nile has its source. The Bible, as a unique book which tells about the beginning of all things says: "And the name of the second river is Ghion: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia." (Gen 2:13) and the Lord's prophet King David says also "Ethiopia stretches out her hands unto God." (Ps. 67:31) The name Ethiopia is referred to at several places in the Holy Bible and the prophets of the Old Testament have mentioned the name Ethiopia. The Greek Poet, Homer, who lived around 800 B.C. has described Ethiopians and the place they inhabited in his writings. After Homer, the famous historian Herodotus who lived from 400-300 BC has also described the Ethiopians and the area'they lived in in his writings. He indicated the place as'the area south of Egypt and around the Red Sea extending as far as the Indian Ocean. Describing the Ethiopians he said "They lived a long life." All these facts clearly demonstrate that Ethiopia is located in the eastern part of Africa and is a country with a long recorded history. In spite of the fact that worship in one true God has always been the basis of the Ethiopian religious practices for a long time, it was at the time of the Queen of Sheba that significant steps were taken to strengthen the belief. After having received information about King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba made the journey to the palace of King Solomon in Jerusalem, to see with her own eyes all that she heard about him. This journey was also intended to introduce Ethiopian civilization in return. The relationship that followed created conducive conditions for the introduction of the Old Tes­tament teachings and belief in Ethiopia. It was at this time that the Ark of Zion was brought to our country. From that time onwards, the Old Testament became the basis of the religious belief,-practice and teachings of the people and Ethiopia became the seat of the Ark of the Covenant (IKgs. 10:1-9). Because of these historical, cultural and religious relationships with Jerusalem, the Ethiopians used to travel to the Holy Land, crossing the deserts on foot and animal back which was really a hard and a difficult task. The constant journeys made by the Ethiopians to the Holy Land made them owners of centers of worship in the City of David. This ownership of worshipping centers in Jerusalem is a symbol of honour and pride not only to Ethiopians but also to all black peoples as a whole. This historical and religious relationship also opened the way to Christianity in Ethiopia. The Holy Bible tells us that an Ethiopian eunuch who happened to be in Jerusalem for the purpose of worshipping in the 1st century A.D. brought Christianity to Ethiopia (Acts. 8:26-39). But the establishment of the Bishopric and the adminis­tration of all the Sacraments was started in the 4* century A.D. when Frumentius was appointed by the Patriarch of Alexan­dria, Athanasius, as the first bishop of Ethiopia. This again marked the beginning of the religious relations between Alexandria and Ethiopia. Ethiopia, even before the Birth of Christ and the introduction of Christianity used to follow the teachings of the Old Testament (Laws of Moses) as its religious basis. After the introduction of Christianity both the Old and the New Testament became the bases of her Christian belief. The teachings of the Old and the New Testaments as the bases of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church and development has a long history which has come down to the present time. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church is one of those Orthodox Churches which reject the Chalcedonian religious conferences and their decisions. But it accepts and strictly follows:

  • a. The work and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • b. The action and teachings of His Apostle
  • c. Through the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit the decision taken by the 318 Holy Fathers in the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 AD; the decision taken by the 151 Holy Fathers in the Council of Constantinople in the year 381 AD and the decision and teachings of the 200 Holy Fathers in the Council of Ephesus in the year 431 AD. It also accepts the Holy Fathers who came afterwards at different times and whose teachings completely agree with the above mentioned Councils' decisions.

    The time between the 4th and the 7th century A.D. was a time when satisfactory religious activities and spiritual guidances were performed.

  • It was during this time that Holy Books from Greek and other ancient and advanced languages were translated to the national language Geez, monastic life was established and churches were organized as the most important centers of worship. It was also during this time that the well known church musician and man of literature, Yared, composed and performed his major works which still characterize the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In the 7th century, North Africa and part of the Middle East were overran by Mohammedan Arabs. As a result, Islam expanded to the areas of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean weakening the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and obstructing its relation with the rest of the Christian world. Again in the 9"1 century the Felasha Queen Yodit (Gudit) who rose against Christianity ransacked the Ethiopian Or­thodox Church, destroying life and property of great religious and historical heritage. ^ From the 10th to the 15th century, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church made great effort to restore what had been destroyed in the 9lh century. Significant achievements and\ great progress was made in architecture which produced churches of international importance and recognition. The Gospel was preached far and wide in the country. Monastic life was again reorganized, paganism was reduced very greatly and the number of Holy Books from Arab translation were developed and in some cases the lost books were translated from Arabic to Geez. Then again in the 16th century an Ethiopian Muslim by the name of Ahmed Gragne aided and supported by Ottoman Turkey started his military campaign from the eastern part of the country and went as far as the north destroying large numbers of churches and historical heritages throughout the-country. Thousands of people men, women and children of Christian faith were massacred. This particular time is remembered as the dark age in Ethiopian history. In spite of all these destructions, the Ethiopian Christians of the time remained firm in thek belief, united themselves and after paying great sacrifices defended the country and the Or­thodox Church. With the help of the Almighty God, Ethiopia successfully defeated the army of Ahmed Gragne, killed its leader and came out victorious. The first 15 years of the 16th century were years of destruction and social turmoil unknown in Ethiopian history and is also remembered as the period of martyrs.

    During the war against Ahmed Gragne, Portuguese soldiers were sent from Portugal to help the Ethiopian Christians. Along with the Portuguese contingent Jesuit missionaries also came to the country. Due to the religious conflict created between Ethiopian Christians and Jesuit missionaries, the country was thrown into another period of bloodbath and suffering.

    The second half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries were tunes when any recognized central govern­ment was totally absent. This particular time called "Zemene Mesafint" (The Time of Chieftains) lasted for seventy years. During this time, however, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, having gone through many ups and downs was able to make a significant progress in the following fields.

    • a) Schools as centers of Qene (Poetry) and writings were developed.
    • b) Commentaries on the Holy Scriptures were developed
    • c) Schools of church music were introduced and developed. The second half of the 19th century was also a time when Emperor Theodros came to power and the reunion of the country was thus initiated heralding the beginning of modern Ethiopia.
    • The Ethiopian Orthodox Church should not only be considered as a historical and religious repository of the country. It must be looked upon also as the center of Christianity in the Horn of Africa. Through the sacrifices she paid, she was able to have her own Christian heritage and history which made her the symbol of unity and indepen­dence. It is apparent that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in her long history has greatly contributed to the country's indepen­dence, social progress and unity. It is a matter of great importance that present and future generations must know these historical and social contributions very well. The enemies of Ethiopia, who came to control the country at different times have always made the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its establishments the focal points of their attack and destruction. In the 19* century, Ethiopia made great efforts to introduce Western civilization in the country. On the other hand, the European powers tried everything possible to prevent Ethiopia from becoming the center of African civilization. And during the last part of this century, when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia from 1935-1940, it was the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on which all the destructive efforts were directed. In spite of all these, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has always preserved the history of the country and her religious establishments by giving spiritual guidance and social ministry to the people. The 20* century should not be like the 5th, the 11th or the 16th centuries when disunity, condemnation and fightings were the orders of the day. Without betraying ones objectives, it must be the time of unity, understanding, and co-existence in a manner deserving a civilized society. In the 5th century it was a tragedy in the history of the Christian church that "the One, Holy, Apostolic and Univer­sal Church" was divided into two. Basically, the Church of our Lord is one and people should not divide it to suit their purposes. However, there are important international fora where the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the spirit of ecumenism is a partner and a participant. We have described in the above statements that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches which do not accept the Chalcedonian Council. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church will always remain firm in its relation and religious unity with the other Oriental Orthodox churches. It is governed and administered by the Holy Synod which is derived from the traditions of the Apostles.

      Beginning from the times of the early prophets, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has always been a respectful follower of the Church Fathers. But the Church of Alexan­dria, making use of the "Nicaean Decree" which was tampered with by itself to suit her own purposes was able to appoint and send Egyptian bishops for 1600 years; thus effectively barring the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from appointing bishops from among its own church fathers. However, the Egyptian bishops could not communicate with the faithful of the church due to the fact that they could not speak the local language and this created misunderstandings. Had the Ethiopian Orthodox Church achieved its autocephaly, it could have done or achieved quite a lot.

      Institutions of higher theological learning were not established by the Egyptians during this long period of 1600 years outside of the existing traditional Ethiopian schools of higher learning. To be free from this hindrances, it demanded sacrifices in manpower, time and resources. After 1600 years, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, having passed through great difficulties and struggles and with the unreserved efforts of the late Emperor Haile Selassie I, she was able to appoint her own patriarchs from among her own Church Fathers. The effort of the Emperor to make the Ethiopian Orthodox Church fully independent shall always be remembered by gene­rations. Although the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has un-reserved respect for the Holy See of St. Mark, its church leaders who harbour feelings of supremacy are creating obstacles in the betterment of relations between the two churches despite the good-will that is always there in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This can be demonstrated by the claim they have on our legally and historically rightful possession to the Deir-El-Sultan monastery in Jerusalem. As the church established by the Blood of Christ is one, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church shall persevere in her effort to spread her faith and order under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, efforts will continue to be made to improve the relations between the two churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church believes and prays that this will be realized. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was of-fically organized in the Fourth Century (328 A.D) after Christianity was introduced to the country in the very Apostolic era. The Church has 32 dioceses throughout the country Besides, it also has dioceses in Jerusalem, in Africa, in the Caribbean and Latin America, in the USA, in Canada, in Europe and in Australia. The ownership of the monasteries in Jerusalem dates back to the ancient historical relationship which existed during the time of the Old Testament, especilly during the reign of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. The EOTC has a membership of about 40,000,000 and has 30,000 monasteries and Churches and 400,000 cler­gymen.

      The Church provides extensive spiritual and social services as per the regulations laid down in the Church proclamation (Kale Awadi) extending from the Patriarchate to the parish church.