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Politics inside the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Fitih Tekalegn

....I am an atheist, but I do respect all religions. I grew up in an orthodox family. I beg forgiveness from all Christians for what I am about to write.

With all due respect to those who have spent time and effort to resolve the conflict between the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church at Addis Ababa and defectors in the United States of America, I would like to point out major transgressions that will weaken the church.

Revision of History

I was in Addis Ababa when Abunna Markorios, the former Patriarch of Ethiopia fled the country. If Ato Tamrat’s testimony is that he left the country under duress, it is far from the truth. Abunna MArkorios happened to have been a very passive Patriarch who failed to defend the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch before him, Abunna Tewoflos was murdered by Derg, the military junta and buried on the threshold of the palace and Abunna MArkarios did not raise a finger. When EPRDF entered Addis Ababa after it toppled the military, the patriarch was in a state of panic and sought shelter at American Embassy.

The Embassy wanted to stay neutral and was seeking information and advice as to how to handle this delicate request. EPRDF’s response then was one of no interest because it had more pressing issues of keeping Addis Ababa stable. Remember Mogadishu few weeks bore EPRDF had entered Addis Ababa was in flames and Somalia had had disintegrated into a failed state. That’s what most of us had expected to happen with the fall of Derg. So, the feedback to the embassy was that EPRDF did not care how the US handled the issue. He could stay like everyone else and allow the Orthodox Church the opportunity to resolve his concerns.

It should also be remembered that he EPRDF firmly believed in separation of State and Church. They were communists, but did not want to suppress religion similar to the military junta. With no takers and no interest, the US Embassy arranged his departure to the US through Kenya. Story contrary to this is untrue. I have on reason to lie about this story. I am sure the Patriarch himself would corroborate my version of the account.

Desecration of the Foundation of the Institution

The major reason put forward to justify the transgression of the church leaders who against the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church teachings and rules formed a second synod and appointed a patriarch. The reconciliation note states that the negotiators decided to sacrifice the church rules for expediency and coming together where both contenders came out winners. Contrary to what the newly appointed PM presumes, the entire diaspora “added” is only 0.45% of the population of Ethiopia and only 0.8% of the Christians.

In this case, the dissenting voices were not related to cannons violated or persecution. The church leaders who came to America had competed for the patriarchy and lost. Those who served them as deacons were mostly recruited from Ethiopia during and after the Derg. Both leaders and followers were no different than secular people seeking power and/or economic improvement. They obviously fell prey to politicians who had their own ax to grind. What was so tragic were the men and women who either did not know the difference or had no choice but worship in the churches that were staffed with leaders who were excommunicated by the mother church.

If these decanters had a case they would have appealed to the Holy Synod in the motherland. They knew better and they did not. Peace or reconciliation where root cause of conflict or fundamental mistakes committed by the feuding parties is only temporary at best and damaging to principles and values that may never be repaired. Thus, an institution that compromises on solid rules and laws believed and followed by the faithful diminishes itself. So it is with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which stands at a crossroads. It has taken a step on the wrong path; it could pull back the starting foot into the cross in order to rethink, dialogue and discuss to reach a better consensus. Should it ignore the red flags and proceed on the path it is about to start, the institutional values and respect accorded it will vanish.

 

Conflict Resolution