The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church is an Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia that was part of the Coptic Church until it was granted its own Patriarch by Cyril VI, the Coptic Pope, in 1959. It claims a membership of close to 36 million people world wide, and is thus the second largest of all Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches, second only to the Russian Orthodox Church in size. It is the only pre-colonial Christian church of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Tewahido is a Ge'ez word meaning "being made one"; it is related to the Arab term tawhid. This refers to the Oriental Orthodox belief in the one single unique Nature of Christ (a complete union of the Divine and Human Natures) as opposed to the two Natures of Christ doctrine (unmixed Divine and Human Natures) upheld by Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The Oriental Orthodox Churches, namely the Coptic Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Church of India, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church all refused to accept the two natures doctrine proclaimed by the Council of Chalcedon which separated them from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. As such the Ethiopian Church is often referred to as "Non-Chalcedonian", and by its detractors as "monophysite".
The Ethiopian Church claims its origins from Philip the Evangelist (Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 8). It became the established church of the Ethiopian/Axumite Kingdom under Emperor Abriha/Ezana in the 4th century (thanks to the efforts of Frumentius, known in Ethiopia as "Abune Selama, Kesatay Birhan"), who as a boy had been shipwrecked in Ethiopia, and had managed to be brought to the royal court with his brother Adesius and risen to positions of influence there in the 4th Century. They managed to convert Emperor Ezana to Christianity. Ezana sent Frumentios to Alexandria to ask the Patriarch at the time, St. Athanasius to appoint a bishop for Ethiopia. Athanasius appointed Frumentios himself, who returned to Ethiopia as Bishop with the name of Abune Selama. For centuries afterwards, the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria always named an Egyptian Copt to be Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church.
Coptic Pope Yosab of Alexandria finally granted autocephaly to the Ethiopian Church with the appointment of an Ethiopian born Archbishop Abune Baslios in 1951. Then in 1959, Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria crowned Abune Baslios as the first Patriarch of Ethiopia.
Patriarch Abune Baslios died in 1971, and was succeeded that year by Patriarch Abune Tewophilos. With the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church was disestablished as the state church. Patriarch Abune Tewophilos was arrested in 1977 by the Marxist Dergue military junta, and secretly executed later that year. The government ordered the church to elect a new Patriarch, and Patriarch Abune Tekle Haimanot was enthroned. The Coptic Church refused to recognize the election and enthronement of Abune Tekle Haimanot on the grounds that the Synod of the Ethiopian Church had not removed Abune Tewophilos and that his death had not been publicly aknowledged by the government, and he was thus still legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia. Formal relations between the two churches were severed, although they remained in communion with each other.
Patriarch Abune Tekle Haimanot proved to be much less accomodating to the Marxist 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, and a member of the communist era parliament of Ethiopia was elected as Patriarch Abune Merkorios, and was enthroned. Following the fall of the Marxist Dergue 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. The former Patriarch Abune Merkorios then fled abroad, and announced from exile that his abdication had been made under duress, and that he was still the legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia. Several bishops also went into exile and formed a break-away alternate synod in exile. The exiled synod is recognized by some Ethiopian Churches in North America and Europe who recognize Patriarch Abune Merkorios, while the synod inside Ethiopia continues to uphold the legitimacy of Patriarch Abune Paulos.
After Eritrea became an independent country, the Coptic Orthodox Church granted autocephaly to the Eritrean Orthodox Church with the reluctant approval of its mother, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church.
Ethiopian Icon showing St. George, the Crucifixion, and the Virgin Mary.
The divine services of the Ethiopian Church are celebrated in the Ge'ez language, which has been the language of the Church at least since the arrival of the Nine Saints (Abba Pantelewon, Abba Gerima (Issac, or Yeshaq), Abba Aftse, Abba Guba, Abba Alef, Abba Yem’ata, Abba Liqanos, and Abba Sehma), who fled prosecution after the council of Chalcedon.
Ark of the Covenant
The Ethiopian church boasts the claim 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. However, outsiders (and women, be they insiders or not) are not allowed into the building where the Ark is located, ostensibly due to dangerous biblical warnings. As a result, international scholars doubt that the real Ark is truly there, although a convincing case is put forward by Graham Hancock in his popular book The Sign and the Seal.
Throughout Ethiopia, Orthodox churches are not considered churches until they are given a "tabot" (replica of the tablets in the original Ark) by the local bishop. These tabots are taken out in procession on the patronal feast days of the individual churches and also on the great Feast of T'imk'et (known as Epiphany or Theophany in Europe).
Popular Jamaican musician Bob Marley was baptised into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in 1980 with the name Berhane Selassie (as of 2005, an effort to exhume Marley's body for reburial in Shashamane is underway). The Ethiopian Church remains involved in missionary efforts amongst the Rastafarians of the Caribbean and has brought many of them to convert, and to belief in the Ethiopian Orthodox Faith which their "god", the Emperor Haile Selassie, adhered to throughout his life.
- Bilingual Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church site - English version (http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/english/indexenglish.htm)
- Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (http://www.eotc.faithweb.com/) (older site, low bandwith)
- Information and Records Section of Mahibere Kidusan under the Sunday School Department of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (http://www.eotc-mkidusan.org/English/index.htm/)
- Tewahedo Songs & Records (http://www.tewahedo.org/)
- About Saint TekleHaymanot the Ethiopian (http://St-Takla.org/)
- Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Switzerland (http://www.tewahedo.ch/)
- Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Phoenix (http://pro.netnation.com/~national/azmariam/html/)