Deacon Solomon Kibriye – Chief Editor of Ethiopian Affairs – OCP News Service – 6/9/19
Special Courtesy – Archdeacon Tesfa Michael Willaims
Photo courtesy –
Ethiopia: On Monday September 2, 2019, the Standing Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, in an emergency meeting, has called a plenary session of the Holy Synod on Thursday September 5th in the aftermath of assaults on the unity of the Church by political interests, open persecution of the faith, and a marked deterioration of relations with the government of the Federal Republic. Archbishops from around the country and the world have begun arriving in Addis Ababa to attend this unprecedented meeting.
The problems have been escalating over the past months as ethnic unrest has erupted in various parts of the country. Radical ethnicist political factions have increasingly been making demands for new ethinic federal states to be established, or advocating for separatism whilst causing considerable loss of life and property, as well as massive internal displacement of the population. In a country with a long history of religions and ethnic populations living together peacefully in mixed communities, people who have lived in places for generations are now being driven out of their homes, robbed of their belongings and told to “return where you came from”. Above all, Orthodox Churches have come under assault and have been burned, clergy and laity attacked and killed in an increasing number of incidents across the land.
In particular, during unrest a few months ago in the Somali Federal State, 10 churches were looted and burned, and several clergymen were killed, one priest’s body was even set aflame in the yard of his burning church. Just weeks ago, during unrest in the Sidama Zone of the Southern Federal State, amid demands by Sidama activists for their own Federal State, another 7 churches were burned and clergy and faithful were assaulted. Most recently, the church of St. TekleHaimanot in the Farta district of South Gondar Zone of the Amhara Federal State was gutted in a fire by unknown persons.
On Monday August 26, His Holiness Patriarch Abune Mathias I and members of the Standing Synod meta government delegation led by Her Excellency Mrs. Mufuriat Kemal, Minister for Peace. His Holiness complained to the minister and the delegation that these attacks on the Church and the faithful were unacceptable and that the government was failing in its duty to protect citizens. The minister agreed that there were failures in this regard and that more would be done in the future. She thanked the Patriarch and the Holy Synod for all that they do to promote peace and reconciliation in the country.
On the very same day an announcement was issued, bearing a seal and on letter headed paper made to look like it was issued by the Patriarchate, was issued. The letter announced a public meeting and press conference to be held the following Sunday, September 2nd, to announce the establishment of a church head office (beteKehenet) for the Oromia region, setting up a separate ecclesiastical and administrative structure for ethnic Oromos.
The letter was signed by a Fr Belay Mekonnen, a clergyman who had been dismissed from the administration of the Addis Ababa Archdiocese for corruption and who currently holds no official post in the church hierarchy. He has also been accused of holding heretical views and making scornful comments in regards to certain traditions of the church. He is, however, prominently visible in activities led by ethnicist politicians and political activists. The Standing Synod discussed this letter and the announced meeting and press conference at its regular Friday session on August 30th. Following this meeting in a press conference, the deputy Administrator of the Patriarchate read out a statement that the letter issued was not issued from the Patriarchate, that the organizers did not have the authority to call a meeting in the name of the Patriarchate or the Holy Synod, that dividing the holy Orthodox Church of Ethiopia along ethnic lines was not canonical, and that use of its letterhead and seals were illegal.
The Church formally asked the government to resist this unlawful and potentially explosive meeting from taking place. His Eminence Archbishop AbuneYosef, General Secretary of the Holy Synod took questions and reiterated that the Church cannot approve parallel administrations and that the church preaches unity in Christ not ethnic separation. He said that such acts outside of the legitimate and canonical structure would not be tolerated and called on the government to prevent this attack on the Church.
In spite of the request of the hierarchy, the government essentially ignored the request and allowed the meeting to go ahead with no attempt to explain its reasoning. Moreover, the venue was a government owned and controlled venue. Fr Belay read out a statement widely covered in the press, demanding the establishment of a church head office (beteKehenet) for the Oromia region and then issued an ultimatum to the Holy Synod to establish it within the next 30 days. Several other clergy were present in the room
Several other clergy were present in the room for the announcement and a few gave comments to the press, issuing vitriolic attacks on non-Oromo clergymen and the use of Ge’ez, Amharic and Tigrinya in churches and demanding the exclusive use of the Oromo language and Oromo clergy in Oromia, and the exclusive control of the Oromo church to be given to the “Oromo betekehenet”. Their statements ignored the fact that Ge’ez is the liturgical language for the church in all regions of Ethiopia and abroad, and that the Oromo language is used widely in sermons and hymns throughout the areas where Oromos live. There are large numbers of Oromo clergy throughout the church including its highest levels. The extreme ethnicist political nature of this event was further revealed when one clergyman in an angry tone declared that “Addis Ababa is the capital of Oromia and all church services should be conducted in the Oromo language”. Both the content and the tone of the announcement and event have caused widespread shock and anger across the church and the public at large.
The shocked members of the Standing Synod held an emergency on Monday and expressed their anger at this act and the government’s further tolerance of a hostile act directed at the unity of the church. The Standing Synod expressed its anger that the government allowed this to take place, and at a government controlled venue. It also stated categorically that the government officials had come to the Patriarchate and made many promises that they would act to protect the church only to go back on their promises. The Federal Minister for Peace and the Mayor of Addis Ababa were specifically mentioned in this regard. The Patriarch was asked not to participate in upcoming government events as a protest.
Furthermore, under the current state of assault on all fronts that the Church finds itself in, the Standing Synod determined that the Holy Synod be called into emergency plenary session to discuss the future of the Church’s interaction with the government and dealings with the renegade clergy who have threatened the one holy Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Hierarchs have begun to assemble for this critically significant meeting to be held on Thursday. The previously scheduled demonstration protesting the persecution of Orthodoxy planned for September 12 has now been given added significance. Today, as the church celebrates the 31st anniversary of the enthronement of Patriarch Abun eMerkorios, His Holiness Abune Merkorios asked that the 1 million Birr previously budgeted for the celebrations of this event be donated towards the rehabilitation of the recently burned churches instead.
OCP News Service