An End to the Ethiopian Schism in Sight?

Patriarch Abuna Merkorios of the Holy Synod in Exile (L) and Patriarch Abune Mathias of Ethiopia

Patriarch Abuna Merkorios of the Holy Synod in Exile (L) and Patriarch Abune Mathias of Ethiopia

Solomon Kibriye (Editor – Ethiopian Affairs) – OCP News Service – 12/7/18

Global: Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed has hit the ground running since being selected two months ago with a whole program of reforms intended to solve the political and social crisis that has shaken the country in recent years. The public reaction to the Prime Minister’s initiatives has been overwhelmingly positive, especially in regard to his call for Ethiopian unity across ethnic, religious and political lines. Most recently, his trip to Asmara and normalization of ties with Eritrea have been met with jubilation on both sides of the border after two decades of hostility.

Ethiopian Orthodox Quest for Unity

In his first days in power, Dr. Abiy met with His Holiness Patriarch Abune Matthias and made it clear that his government would whole heartedly support the ending of the schism that had split the Holy Synod, and would openly advocate and facilitate efforts at ending the split. He also sent a similar message to the exiled fathers of the church and to the committee working on reconciliation efforts. The perception that the government was against reconciliation put a damper on previous efforts at ending the split, so this statement from the new leader has gone a long way in improving the atmosphere around reconciliation efforts. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went even further during his first Prime Minister’s Questions before Parliament where he clearly and unequivocally blamed previous ethnicist policies for splitting the Holy Synod and called for unity and an end to corruption. The Prime Minister is the product of a mixed heritage. His father is a Muslim, his mother an Orthodox Christian, while he himself professes Evangelical Protestantism. Yet he has underlined the importance of the unity of the Orthodox Church Church to the unity of Ethiopia itself.

Perhaps the most momentous events have taken place before the actual reconciliation conference has even begun. His Eminence Abune Fanuel, Archbishop of both the Washington D.C. and California Archdioceses of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church under the Addis Ababa Synod announced early last week that the conference between the two groups would be held in Washington D.C. In a stunning development, the Archbishop referred to “the two Holy Patriarchs” indicating that the Addis Ababa Synod was once more according the exiled Abune Merkorios the Patriarchal title. Later in the week, in a video interview, Abune Barnabas of the Exile Synod referred as well to the “two Patriarchs” and stated that Abune Matthias had Patriarchal legitimacy, a point long denied by the exiled. He also referred to His Holiness as the “sixth Patriarch” which indicates recognition of the fifth Patriarch, the late Abune Paulos. Such statements indicate that the most difficult issues appear to have been overcome, and that what remains to be done includes logistical issues and formalities.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has announced that he will attend the last day of the conference, and afterwards will meet the exiled Abune Merkorios in Washington D.C.

The holy hierarchs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church both inside the country and in exile now have a great task before them to answer the call of Dr. Abiy Ahmed for unity and carry reconciliation to completion. Unity will return our faith to it’s proper place in society as protector and guide of the faithful. It will strike a blow against corruption of all kinds and squash heresies that have been emboldened by disunity in the church. They have a duty and responsibility to their flock and in this new atmosphere there is great confidence that this will be achieved. Indications are that efforts are bearing fruit and that talks are on a firm footing. The mediating committee is working hard at preserving a secure environment to prevent outside influences from scuttling their blessed efforts.

The faithful of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church both inside and outside Ethiopia also have a great responsibility. It is up to all of us to encourage this quest for reconciliation, to urge our holy fathers forward in their task. Above all we should pray for them and for the unity of the Holy Universal and Apostolic Church as proclaimed in the Creed, and pray for it from our hearts. As the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea reach out in reconciliation, as Ethiopians join together in greater unity across ethnic, religious and political lines, let the Church of Ethiopia lead in this effort as it was meant to do. We ask all our brothers and sisters of our sister churches to join us in praying for the unity of the one Holy Universal and Apostolic Church.

OCP News Service