Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

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Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
የኢትዮጵያ ኦርቶዶክስ ተዋሕዶ ቤተ ክርስቲያን
Panoramic View of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (3435906326).jpg
Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, the seat of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Classification Oriental Orthodox
Scripture Bible
Theology Miaphysite
Polity Episcopal
Co-Primate Abuna Merkorios
Co-Primate Abuna Mathias
Region Ethiopia and Ethiopian diaspora
Language Amharic
Liturgy Alexandrian
Headquarters Holy Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
FounderSt. Frumentius according to Ethiopian Orthodox tradition
Separations Ethiopian Orthodox Coptic Church of North and South America (1962)
Members45–50 million

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (Amharic : የኢትዮጵያ:ኦርቶዶክስ:ተዋሕዶ:ቤተ:ክርስቲያን; Yäityop'ya ortodoks täwahedo bétäkrestyan) is the largest of the Oriental Orthodox Christian churches. One of the few pre-colonial Christian churches in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has a membership of between 45 and 50 million people, [1] the majority of whom live in Ethiopia. [2] It is a founding member of the World Council of Churches. [3] The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is in communion with the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, having gained autocephaly in 1959.

Sub-Saharan Africa Area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara Desert

Sub-Saharan Africa is, geographically, the area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara. According to the United Nations, it consists of all African countries that are fully or partially located south of the Sahara. It contrasts with North Africa, whose territories are part of the League of Arab states within the Arab world. The states of Somalia, Djibouti, Comoros and the Arabic speaking Mauritania are however geographically in sub-Saharan Africa, although they are members of the Arab League as well. The UN Development Program lists 46 of Africa’s 54 countries as “sub-Saharan,” excluding Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia.

Ethiopia Country in East Africa

Ethiopia, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country in the northeastern part of Africa, known as the Horn of Africa. It shares borders with Eritrea to the north, Djibouti to the northeast, the de facto state of Somaliland and Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, South Sudan to the west and Sudan to the northwest. With over 102 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world and the second-most populous nation on the African continent with a total area of 1,100,000 square kilometres (420,000 sq mi). Its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa, which lies a few miles west of the East African Rift that splits the country into the Nubian and Somali tectonic plates.

World Council of Churches Worldwide inter-church organization founded in 1948

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a worldwide Christian inter-church organization founded in 1948. Its members today include the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, most jurisdictions of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, the Old Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, most mainline Protestant churches and some evangelical Protestant churches. Notably, the Catholic Church is not a member, although it sends accredited observers to meetings. The WCC arose out of the ecumenical movement and has as its basis the following statement:

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is a community of churches on the way to visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and in common life in Christ. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for his followers, "so that the world may believe."


The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was administratively part of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria from the first half of the 4th century until 1959, when it was granted its own patriarch by Cyril VI, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.[ citation needed ] It is one of the oldest Christian churches and, as a non-Chalcedonian church, it is not in full communion with the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Ethiopia is the second country historically, following only Armenia, to have officially proclaimed Christianity as state religion (in AD 333).

Patriarch ecclesiastical title

The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church, and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs.

Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria 116th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church

This article uses dates and years written in the Coptic calendar, using the A.M. calendar era, in addition to the Gregorian calendar, using the A.D. calendar era.

Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria Leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Egypt

The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, a faith with ancient Christian roots in Egypt. The current holder of this position is Pope Tawadros II, who was selected as the 118th pope on November 18, 2012.

Tewahedo (Ge'ez ተዋሕዶ) is a Ge'ez word meaning "being made one". This word refers to the Oriental Orthodox belief in the one perfectly unified nature of Christ; i.e., a complete union of the divine and human natures into one nature is self-evident in order to accomplish the divine salvation of humankind, as opposed to the "two natures of Christ" belief commonly held by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and most Protestant churches. The Oriental Orthodox churches adhere to a Miaphysitic Christological view followed by Cyril of Alexandria, the leading protagonist in the Christological debates of the 4th and 5th centuries, who advocated "mia physis tou theou logou sesarkōmenē", or "one (mia) nature of the Word of God incarnate" (μία φύσις τοῦ θεοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη) and a "union according to hypostasis" (ἕνωσις καθ' ὑπόστασιν henōsis kath' hypostasin), or hypostatic union. The distinction of this stance was that the incarnate Christ has one nature, but that one nature is of the two natures, divine and human, and retains all the characteristics of both after the union.

Miaphysitism Christological formula of the Oriental Orthodox Churches

Miaphysitism, sometimes called henophysitism, is Cyril of Alexandria's Christological formula holding that in the person of Jesus Christ, divine nature and human nature are united in a compound nature ("physis"), the two being united without separation, without mixture, without confusion and without alteration.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration is the Holy See.

Anglicanism The practices, liturgy and identity of the Church of England

Anglicanism is a Western Christian tradition which has developed from the practices, liturgy, and identity of the Church of England following the English Reformation.

Miaphysitism holds that in the one person of Jesus Christ, divinity and humanity are united in one (μία, mia - "united") nature (φύσις - "physis") without separation, without confusion, without alteration and without mixing [4] where Christ is consubstantial with God the Father. Around 500 bishops within the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem refused to accept the dyophysitism (two natures) doctrine decreed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, an incident that resulted in the first major split in the main body of the Christian Church. [5]

Physis is a Greek theological, philosophical, and scientific term usually translated into English as "nature".

Consubstantiality, or coessentiality, is a notion in Christian theology referring to the common properties of the divine persons of the Christian Trinity, and connotes that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are "of the same substance" (consubstantial), or "of the same essence" (coessential). The notion of consubstantiality or coessentiality was developed gradually, during the first centuries of Christian history, with main theological debates and controversies being held between the First Council of Nicaea (325) and the First Council of Constantinople (381).

God the Father in Christianity, the first of the three persons of the Trinity, who begets the Son and from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds

God the Father is a title given to God in various religions, most prominently in Christianity. In mainstream trinitarian Christianity, God the Father is regarded as the first person of the Trinity, followed by the second person, God the Son, and the third person, God the Holy Spirit. Since the second century, Christian creeds included affirmation of belief in "God the Father (Almighty)", primarily as his capacity as "Father and creator of the universe". However, in Christianity the concept of God as the father of Jesus Christ goes metaphysically further than the concept of God as the Creator and father of all people, as indicated in the Apostle's Creed where the expression of belief in the "Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth" is immediately, but separately followed by in "Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord", thus expressing both senses of fatherhood.


Tewahedo (Ge'ez : ተዋሕዶtäwaḥədo) is a Ge'ez word meaning "being made one" or "unified". This word refers to the Oriental Orthodox belief in the one single unified nature of Christ; i.e., a belief that a complete, natural union of the Divine and Human Natures into One is self-evident in order to accomplish the divine salvation of humankind. This is in contrast to the "two Natures of Christ" belief (unmixed, but unseparated Divine and Human Natures, called the hypostatic union) which is held by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Christology Study of Jesus Christ in Christian theology

Christology, translated literally from Greek as "the word of Christ", is the study of the nature (person) and work of Jesus Christ. It studies Jesus Christ's humanity and divinity, and the relation between these two natures; and the role he plays in salvation.

Hypostatic union

Hypostatic union is a technical term in Christian theology employed in mainstream Christology to describe the union of Christ's humanity and divinity in one hypostasis, or individual existence.

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 260 million baptised members. It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods. Roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

Oriental Orthodoxy is known as "non-Chalcedonian", and, sometimes by outsiders as "monophysite" (meaning "One Single Nature", in allusion to Jesus Christ). However, these Churches themselves describe their Christology as miaphysite (meaning "one united nature" in reference to Jesus, the Greek equivalent of "Tewahedo").

Non-Chalcedonianism is a religious doctrine of those Christian churches that do not accept the Confession of Chalcedon as defined at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451. The doctrine contrasts with Chalcedonian Christianity, which accepts the doctrines of the first seven Ecumenical Councils. Some Christian denominations do not accept the Confession of Chalcedon, for varying reasons, but accept the doctrines of the previous council at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

Monophysitism is the Christological position that, after the union of the divine and the human in the historical incarnation, Jesus Christ, as the incarnation of the eternal Son or Word (Logos) of God, had only a single "nature" which was either divine or a synthesis of divine and human. Monophysitism is contrasted to dyophysitism which maintains that Christ maintained two natures, one divine and one human, after the incarnation.



Ethiopian Orthodox icon depicting St. George, the Crucifixion, and the Virgin Mary Icon - FrontLeft - Small.jpg
Ethiopian Orthodox icon depicting St. George, the Crucifixion, and the Virgin Mary

Many traditions claim that Christian teachings were introduced to the region immediately after Pentecost. John Chrysostom speaks of the "Ethiopians present in Jerusalem" as being able to understand the preaching of Saint Peter in Acts, 2:38. [6] Possible missions of some of the Apostles in the lands now called Ethiopia is also reported as early as the 4th century. Socrates of Constantinople includes Ethiopia in his list as one of the regions preached by Matthew the Apostle, [7] where a specific mention of "Ethiopia south of the Caspian Sea" can be confirmed in some traditions such as the Roman Catholic Church [8] among others. Ethiopian Church tradition tells that Bartholomew accompanied Matthew in a mission which lasted for at least three months. [9] Paintings depicting these missions are available in the Church of St. Matthew found in the Province of Pisa, in northern Italy portrayed by Francesco Trevisan (1650-1740) and Marco Benefial (1688-1764). [10]

The earliest account of an Ethiopian converted to the faith in the New Testament books is a royal official baptized by Philip the Evangelist (distinct from Philip the Apostle), one of the seven deacons (Acts, 8:26–27):

Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, Start out and go south to the road that leads down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he set out and was on his way when he caught sight of an Ethiopian. This man was a eunuch, a high official of the Kandake (Candace) Queen of Ethiopia in charge of all her treasure. (Acts, 8:26–27)

The passage continues by describing how Philip helped the Ethiopian treasurer understand a passage from the Book of Isaiah that the Ethiopian was reading. After Philip interpreted the passage as prophecy referring to Jesus Christ, the Ethiopian requested that Philip baptize him, and Philip did so. The Ethiopic version of this verse reads "Hendeke" (ህንደኬ); Queen Gersamot Hendeke VII was the Queen of Ethiopia from c. 42 to 52. Where the possibility of gospel missions by the Ethiopian eunuch cannot be directly inferred from the Books of the New Testament, Irenaeus of Lyons around 180 AD writes that "Simon Backos" preached the good news in his homeland outlining also the theme of his preaching as being the coming in flesh of God that "was preached to you all before." [11] The same kind of witness is shared by 3rd and 4th century writers such as Eusebius of Caesarea [12] and Origen of Alexandria. [9]

Coin of King Ezana, under whom Early Christianity became the established church of the Kingdom of Aksum Ezana.jpg
Coin of King Ezana, under whom Early Christianity became the established church of the Kingdom of Aksum

Early Christianity became the established church of the Ethiopian Axumite Kingdom under king Ezana in the 4th century when priesthood and the sacraments were brought for the first time through a Syrian Greek named Frumentius, known by the local population in Ethiopia as "Abba Selama, Kesaté Birhan" ("Father of Peace, Revealer of Light"). As a youth, Frumentius had been shipwrecked with his brother Aedesius on the Eritrean coast. The brothers managed to be brought to the royal court, where they rose to positions of influence and baptized Emperor Ezana.

Ezana sent Frumentius to Alexandria to ask the Patriarch, St. Athanasius, to appoint a bishop for Ethiopia. Athanasius appointed Frumentius, who returned to Ethiopia as Bishop with the name of "Abune Selama". From then on, until 1959, the Pope of Alexandria, as Patriarch of All Africa, always named an Egyptian (a Copt) to be Abuna or Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church.

Middle Ages

Late 17th century portrait of Abba Giyorgis by Baselyos Giyorgis MET DP367372.jpg
Late 17th century portrait of Abba Giyorgis by Baselyos

Union with the Coptic Orthodox Church continued after the Arab conquest of Egypt. Abu Saleh records in the 12th century that the patriarch always sent letters twice a year to the kings of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Nubia, until Al Hakim stopped the practice. Cyril, 67th patriarch, sent Severus as bishop, with orders to put down polygamy and to enforce observance of canonical consecration for all churches. These examples show the close relations of the two churches throughout the Middle Ages.

In 1439, in the reign of Zara Yaqob, a religious discussion between Abba Giyorgis and a French visitor led to the dispatch of an embassy from Ethiopia to the Vatican.

Jesuit interim

Icon of Abuna Samuel of Waldebba, a 15th-century Ethiopian monk and ascetic of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Icon of Abuna Samuel of Waldebba.jpg
Icon of Abuna Samuel of Waldebba, a 15th-century Ethiopian monk and ascetic of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The period of Jesuit influence, which broke the connection with Egypt, began a new chapter in church history. The initiative in Roman Catholic missions to Ethiopia was taken, not by Rome, but by Portugal, in the course of a conflict with the Muslim Ottoman Empire and the Sultanate of Adal for the command of the trade route to India via the Red Sea.

In 1507 Matthew, or Matheus, an Armenian, had been sent as an Ethiopian envoy to Portugal to ask for aid against the Adal Sultanate. In 1520 an embassy under Dom Rodrigo de Lima landed in Ethiopia (by which time Adal had been remobilized under Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi). An interesting account of the Portuguese mission, which lasted for several years, was written by Francisco Álvares, its chaplain.

Later, Ignatius Loyola wished to take up the task of conversion, but was forbidden to do so. Instead, the pope sent out João Nunes Barreto as patriarch of the East Indies, with Andre de Oviedo as bishop; and from Goa envoys went to Ethiopia, followed by Oviedo himself, to secure the king's adherence to Rome. After repeated failures some measure of success was achieved under Emperor Susenyos I, but not until 1624 did the Emperor make formal submission to the pope. Susenyos made Roman Catholicism the official state religion, but was met with heavy resistance by his subjects and by the authorities of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and eventually had to abdicate in 1632 in favour of his son, Fasilides, who promptly restored Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity as the state religion. He then in 1633 expelled the Jesuits, and in 1665 Fasilides ordered that all Jesuit books (the Books of the Franks) be burned.

Influence on the Reformation

David Daniels has suggested that the Ethiopian church has had a stronger impact on the Reformation than most scholars acknowledge. For Martin Luther, who spearheaded the Reformation, Daniels says "the Ethiopian Church conferred legitimacy on Luther’s emerging Protestant vision of a church outside the authority of the Roman Catholic papacy" as it was "an ancient church with direct ties to the apostles". [13] According to Daniels, Martin Luther saw that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church practiced elements of faith including "communion in both kind, vernacular Scriptures, and married clergy" and these practices became customary in the Lutheran churches. [13]

In 1534, a cleric of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Michael the Deacon, met with Martin Luther and affirmed the Augsburg Confession as a "good creed". [14] [13] In addition, Martin Luther stated that the Lutheran Mass agreed with that used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. [13] As a result, the Lutheran Churches extended full communion with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. [13] [15]

Recent history

Engraving of Abuna Salama III, head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (1841-1867) Salama III.jpg
Engraving of Abuna Salama III, head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (1841-1867)

In more modern times, the Ethiopian church experienced a series of developments. The 19th century witnessed the publication of an Amharic translation of the Bible. Largely the work of Abu Rumi over ten years in Cairo, this version, with some changes, held sway until Emperor Haile Selassie ordered a new translation which appeared in 1960/1. [16] Haile Selassie also played a prominent role in further reforms of the church, which included encouraging the distribution of Abu Rumi's translation throughout Ethiopia, [17] as well as his promotion of improved education of clergy, a significant step in the Emperor's effort being the founding of the Theological College of the Holy Trinity Church in December 1944. [18] A third development came after Haile Selassie's restoration to Ethiopia, when he issued, on 30 November, Decree Number 2 of 1942, a new law reforming the Church. The primary objectives of this decree were to put the finances of the church in order, to create a central fund for its activities, and to set forth requirements for the appointment of clergy—which had been fairly lax until then. [19]

The Coptic and Ethiopian Churches reached an agreement on 13 July 1948, that led to autocephaly for the Ethiopian Church. Five bishops were immediately consecrated by the Coptic Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa, empowered to elect a new Patriarch for their church, and the successor to Abuna Qerellos IV would have the power to consecrate new bishops. [20] This promotion was completed when Coptic Orthodox Pope Joseph II consecrated an Ethiopian-born Archbishop, Abuna Basilios, 14 January 1951. Then in 1959, Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria crowned Abuna Basilios as the first Patriarch of Ethiopia.

An Ethiopian Orthodox priest displays the processional crosses. Display of Procesional Crosses, Church of Bet Maryam, Lalibela, Ethiopia (3230772118).jpg
An Ethiopian Orthodox priest displays the processional crosses.

Patriarch Abune Basilios died in 1971, and was succeeded that year by Patriarch Abune Tewophilos. With the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was disestablished as the state church. The new Marxist government began nationalizing property (including land) owned by the church. Patriarch Abune Tewophilos was arrested in 1976 by the Marxist Derg military junta, and secretly executed in 1979. The government ordered the church to elect a new Patriarch, and Abune Takla Haymanot was enthroned. The Coptic Orthodox Church refused to recognize the election and enthronement of Abune Tekle Haymanot on the grounds that the Synod of the Ethiopian Church had not removed Abune Tewophilos and that the government had not publicly acknowledged his death, and he was thus still the legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia. Formal relations between the two churches were halted, although they remained in communion with each other. Formal relations between the two churches resumed on July 13, 2007. [21]

Patriarch Abune Tekle Haymanot proved to be much less accommodating to the Derg regime than it had expected, and so when the Patriarch died in 1988, a new Patriarch with closer ties to the regime was sought. The Archbishop of Gondar, a member of the Derg-era Ethiopian Parliament, was elected and enthroned as Patriarch Abuna Merkorios. Following the fall of the Derg regime in 1991, and the coming to power of the EPRDF government, Patriarch Abune Merkorios abdicated under public and governmental pressure. The Church then elected a new Patriarch, Abune Paulos, who was recognized by the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria. The former Patriarch Abune Merkorios then fled abroad, and announced from exile that his abdication had been made under duress and thus he was still the legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia. Several bishops also went into exile and formed a break-away alternate synod. [22] This exiled synod comprised some Ethiopian Churches in North America and Europe who recognized Patriarch Abune Merkorios, while the synod inside Ethiopia continued to uphold the legitimacy of Patriarch Abune Paulos.

Following the independence of Eritrea as a nation in 1993, the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1994 appointed an Archbishop for the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which in turn obtained autocephaly in 1998 with the reluctant approval of its mother synod. That same year the first Eritrean Patriarch was consecrated.

As of 2005, there are many Ethiopian Orthodox churches located throughout the United States and other countries to which Ethiopians have migrated (Archbishop Yesehaq 1997). The church claims more than 38 million members in Ethiopia, forming about half the country's population.

Patriarch Abune Paulos died on August 16, 2012, followed four days later by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. [23] On February 28, 2013, a college of electors assembled in Addis Ababa and elected Abune Mathias to be the 6th Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. [24]

On July 25, 2018, delegates from the Patriarchate in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and those in the United States, declared reunification in Washington DC with the assistance of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed. [25] Declaring the end of a 26 year old schism, the Church announced that it acknowledges two Patriarchs, His Holiness Abuna Merkorios, Fourth Patriarch of Ethiopia and His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Sixth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of Saint Taklehaimanot.

Practices and beliefs

Priests and deacons conducting a church service at St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Washington, DC. Ethio-orthodox-priests.jpg
Priests and deacons conducting a church service at St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Washington, DC.

The faith and practice of Orthodox Ethiopian Christians includes elements from Miaphysite Christianity as it has developed in Ethiopia over the centuries. Christian beliefs include belief in God (in Ge'ez / Amharic, ′Egziabeher, lit. "Lord of the Universe"), veneration to the Virgin Mary, the angels, and the saints, besides others. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church itself, there are no non-Christian elements in the religion other than those from the Old Testament, or Higge 'Orit (ሕገ ኦሪት), to which are added those from the New Testament, or Higge Wongiel (ሕገ ወንጌል). [26] A hierarchy of Kidusan (angelic messengers and saints) conveys the prayers of the faithful to God and carries out the divine will, so when an Ethiopian Christian is in difficulty, he or she appeals to these as well as to God. In more formal and regular rituals, priests communicate on behalf of the community, and only priests may enter the inner sanctum of the usually circular or octagonal church where the tabot ("ark") dedicated to the church's patron saint is housed. [27] On important religious holidays, the tabot is carried on the head of a priest and escorted in procession outside the church. It is the tabot, not the church, which is consecrated. At many services, most parish members remain in the outer ring, where debteras sing hymns and dance. [28]

Processional crosses carried on long poles in Ethiopian Orthodox religious processions Brooklyn Museum 2000.123.1 Processional Cross.jpg
Processional crosses carried on long poles in Ethiopian Orthodox religious processions

The Eucharist is given only to those who feel pure, have fasted regularly, and have, in general, properly conducted themselves. [27] In practice, communion is mainly limited to young children and the elderly; those who are at a sexually active age or who have sexual desires generally do not receive the Eucharist. [27] [29] Worshipers receiving communion may enter the middle ring of the church to do so. [27]

Ethiopian Orthodox believers are strict Trinitarians, [30] maintaining the Orthodox teaching that God is united in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This concept is known as səllasé, Ge'ez for "Trinity".

Daily services constitute only a small part of an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian's religious observance. Several holy days require prolonged services, singing and dancing, and feasting. An important religious requirement, however, is the keeping of fast days, during which adherents abstain from consuming meat and animal products, and refrain from sexual activity. [27] [29] [31] All devout believers are to maintain the full schedule of fasts, comprising at least 250 days a year apart from other forms of fasting purely left to individual decision of the faithful.

An Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony at Fasilides' Bath in Gondar, Ethiopia, celebrating Timkat (Epiphany). Gondar Fasiladas Bath Timket.jpg
An Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony at Fasilides' Bath in Gondar, Ethiopia, celebrating Timkat (Epiphany).
  1. Fast for Hudadi or Abiye Tsome, 55 days prior to Easter ( Fasika ). [32] [33] This fast is divided into three separate periods: Tsome Hirkal, eight days commemorating an early Christian figure; Tsome Arba, forty days of Lent; and Tsome Himamat, seven days commemorating Holy Week. [32] [33]
  2. Fast of the Apostles, 10–40 days, which the Apostles kept after they had received the Holy Spirit. It begins after Pentecost.
  3. The fast Tsome Dihnet, which is on Wednesdays in commemoration of the plot organized to kill Jesus Christ by Caiaphas and the members of the house of the high priest and Fridays in commemoration of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ (starts on Wednesday after Pentecost and spans up to Easter, in other words all Wednesdays and Fridays except during 50 days after Easter [27] ).
  4. The fast of Dormition, 16 days.
  5. The fast preceding Christmas, 40 days (Advent). It begins with Sibket on 15th Hedar and ends on Christmas Eve with the feast of Gena and the 29th of Tahsas and 28th if the year is preceded by leap year.
  6. The Fast of Nineveh, commemorating the preaching of Jonah. It comes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the third week before Lent.
  7. The gahad of Timkat (Epiphany), fast on the eve of Epiphany.

In addition to standard holy days, most Christians observe many saints' days. A man might give a small feast on his personal saint's day. The local voluntary association (called the maheber) connected with each church honors its patron saint with a special service and a feast two or three times a year. [28]


An Ethiopian Orthodox hand cross, used by priests in church services and to perform exorcisms. Ethiopian - Hand Cross - Walters 61342.jpg
An Ethiopian Orthodox hand cross, used by priests in church services and to perform exorcisms.

Priests intervene and perform exorcisms on behalf of those believed to be afflicted by demons or buda . According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, 74% of Christians in Ethiopia claim to have experienced or witnessed an exorcism. [34] Demon-possessed persons are brought to a church or prayer meeting. [35] Often, when an ill person has not responded to modern medical treatment, the affliction is attributed to demons. [35] Unusual or especially perverse deeds, particularly when performed in public, are symptomatic of a demoniac. [35] Superhuman strength–such as breaking one's bindings, as described in the New Testament accounts–along with glossolalia are observed in the afflicted. [35] Amsalu Geleta, in a modern case study, relates elements that are common to Ethiopian Christian exorcisms:

It includes singing praise and victory songs, reading from the Scripture, prayer and confronting the spirit in the name of Jesus. Dialogue with the spirit is another important part of the exorcism ceremony. It helps the counselor (exorcist) to know how the spirit was operating in the life of the demoniac. The signs and events mentioned by the spirit are affirmed by the victim after deliverance. [35]

The exorcism is not always successful, and Geleta notes another instance in which the usual methods were unsuccessful, and the demons apparently left the subject at a later time. In any event, "in all cases the spirit is commanded in no other name than the name of Jesus." [35]

Distinctive traits

Biblical canon

Drawing of the Virgin Mary 'with her beloved son' in pencil and ink, from a manuscript copy of Weddase Maryam, circa 1875. Ethiopian Madonna.jpg
Drawing of the Virgin Mary 'with her beloved son' in pencil and ink, from a manuscript copy of Weddasé Māryām, circa 1875.

The Tewahedo Church Canon contains 81 books. This canon contains the books accepted by other Orthodox Christians. [36]


Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Meskel (Ge'ez for "cross") Meskel Celebration.jpg
Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Meskel (Ge'ez for "cross")

The divine services of the Ethiopian Church are celebrated in the Ge'ez language. It has been the liturgical language of the Church at least since the arrival of the Nine Saints (Abba Pantelewon, Abba Gerima (Isaac, or Yeshaq), Abba Aftse, Abba Guba, Abba Alef, Abba Yem’ata, Abba Liqanos, and Abba Sehma), who fled persecution by the Byzantine Emperor after the Council of Chalcedon (451).[ citation needed ] The Septuagint Greek version was originally translated into Ge'ez, but later revisions show clear evidence of the use of Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic sources. The first translation into a modern vernacular was done in the 19th century by a man who is usually known as Abu Rumi. Later, Haile Selassie sponsored Amharic translations of the Ge'ez Scriptures during his reign, one before World War II and one afterward. Sermons today are usually delivered in the local language.


The Church of Saint George, a monolithic church in Lalibela Bet Giyorgis church Lalibela 01.jpg
The Church of Saint George, a monolithic church in Lalibela

There are many monolithic (rock-hewn) churches in Ethiopia, most famously eleven churches at Lalibela. Besides these, two main types of architecture are found—one basilican, the other native. The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion at Axum is an example of the basilican design, though the early basilicas are nearly all in ruin. These examples show the influence of the architects who, in the 6th century, built the basilicas at Sanʻāʼ and elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula. There are two forms of native churches: one oblong, traditionally found in Tigray; the other circular, traditionally found in Amhara and Shewa (though either style may be found elsewhere). In both forms, the sanctuary is square and stands clear in the center, and the arrangements are based on Jewish tradition. Walls and ceilings are adorned with frescoes. A courtyard, circular or rectangular, surrounds the body of the church. Modern Ethiopian churches may incorporate the basilican or native styles and use contemporary construction techniques and materials. In rural areas, the church and outer court are often thatched, with mud-built walls. The church buildings are typically surrounded by a forested area, acting as a reservoir of biodiversity in otherwise de-forested parts of the country. [38]

Ark of the Covenant

The Chapel of the Tablet at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is said to house the original Ark of the Covenant. Ark of the Covenant church in Axum Ethiopia.jpg
The Chapel of the Tablet at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is said to house the original Ark of the Covenant.

The Ethiopian church claims that one of its churches, Our Lady Mary of Zion, is host to the original Ark of the Covenant that Moses carried with the Israelites during the Exodus. Only one priest is allowed into the building where the Ark is located, ostensibly due to dangerous biblical warnings. As a result, international scholars doubt that the original Ark is truly there, although a case has been put forward by controversial popular writer Graham Hancock in his book The Sign and the Seal .

Throughout Ethiopia, Orthodox churches are not considered churches until the local bishop gives them a tabot , a replica of the tablets in the original Ark of the Covenant. The tabot is at least six inches (15 cm) square, and it is made of either alabaster, marble, or wood (see acacia). It is always kept in ornate coverings on the altar. Only priests are allowed to touch the tabot. In an elaborate procession, the tabot is carried around the outside of the church amid joyful song on the feast day of that particular church's namesake. On the great Feast of T'imk'et, known as Epiphany or Theophany in Europe, a group of churches send their tabot to celebrate the occasion at a common location where a pool of water or a river is to be found.

Similarities to Judaism and Islam

The Ethiopian Church, Jerusalem The Ethiopian Church.jpg
The Ethiopian Church, Jerusalem

The Ethiopian church places a heavier emphasis on Old Testament teachings than one might find in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant churches, and its followers adhere to certain practices that one finds in Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. Ethiopian Christians, like some other Eastern Christians, traditionally follow dietary rules that are similar to Jewish Kashrut, specifically with regard to how an animal is slaughtered. Similarly, pork is prohibited, though unlike Rabbinical Kashrut, Ethiopian cuisine does mix dairy products with meat, which in turn makes it even closer to Islamic dietary laws (see Halal). Women are prohibited from entering the church temple during menses; they are also expected to cover their hair with a large scarf (or shash) while in church, as described in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11. As with Orthodox synagogues, men and women are seated separately in the Ethiopian church, with men on the left and women on the right (when facing the altar). [39] (Women covering their heads and separation of the sexes in churches officially is common to some other Christian traditions; it is also the rule in some non-Christian religions, Islam and Orthodox Judaism among them). Ethiopian Orthodox worshipers remove their shoes when entering a church temple, [39] in accordance with Exodus 3:5 (in which Moses, while viewing the burning bush, was commanded to remove his shoes while standing on holy ground). Furthermore, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church upholds Sabbatarianism, observing the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday), in addition to the Lord's Day (Sunday), [40] although more emphasis, because of the Resurrection of Christ, is laid upon Sunday. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church calls for male circumcision, with near-universal prevalence among Orthodox men in Ethiopia. [41]


A painting of performing debteras. Ethiopian Painting 2005 SeanMcClean.JPG
A painting of performing debteras.

A debtera is an itinerant lay priest figure trained by the Ethiopian Church as a scribe, cantor, and often as a folk healer, who may also function in roles comparable to a deacon or exorcist. Folklore and legends ascribe the role of magician to the debtera as well.

Abuna Patriarch-Catholicoi, Archbishops and bishops

Abuna Patriarch-Catholicos

Since 1959, when the church was granted autocephaly by Cyril VI, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, an Ethiopian Patriarch-Catholicos of Eritrea also carrying the title of Abuna is the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The Abuna who is known officially as Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of Saint Taklahaimanot. the incumbent head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is Abune Mathias who acceded to this position on 28 February 2013.

Archbishops and bishops


In the United States there are the following bishops:


South America:

Western Europe:

Middle East:

The church has 60 bishops and 44 dioceses.

The current eparchies of the church include: [43]

See also

Related Research Articles

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