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Ethiopia-Abyssinian Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC)

The Abyssinians have preserved, in the heart of Africa and surrounded by Moslem and pagan peoples, the Christianity, to which they were converted in the fourth century. They are Monophysites and in communion with the Copts, from whom they receive their chief Bishop (Abuna). The Abyssinians, in common with the other Christian episcopal churches, are represented in Jerusalem, where they have several convents, including one situated on the roof of S. Helena's Chapel in the Holy Sepulchre.

In worship and discipline, besides much that is primitive, it borrowed many things from Judaism, and retained many of the old habits of the country, e.g. observing the Sabbath alongside of the Sunday, forbidding certain meats, circumcision, covenanting. Their canon comprised 81 books: besides the biblical, there are 16 patristic writings of the Pre-Chalcedonian age.

The dominant element in Ethiopian culture and its major distinguishing feature is the Christian religion. Yet almost all of the analysis of Orthodox Christianity as practiced by Ethiopians has focused on the Amhara and Tigray. The meaning of that religion for the Oromo and others is not clear. For some Oromo who achieved significant political power in Amhara kingdoms in the eighteenth century and after, adherence to Christianity seemed to be motivated by nothing more than expediency.

Church and Clergy

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church's headquarters was in Addis Ababa. The boundaries of the dioceses, each under a bishop, followed provincial boundaries; a patriarch (abun) headed the church. The ultimate authority in matters of faith was the Episcopal Synod. In addition, the Church Council, a consultative body that included clergy and laity, reviewed and drafted administrative policy.

Beginning in 1950, the choice of the abun passed from the Coptic Church of Egypt in Alexandria to the Episcopal Synod in Addis Ababa. When Abuna Tewoflos was ousted by the government in 1976, the church announced that nominees for patriarch would be chosen from a pool of bishops and monks -- archbishops were disqualified -- and that the successful candidate would be chosen on the basis of a vote by clergy and laity. The new abun was a fifty-eight-year-old monk who took the name of Tekla Haimanot, after a fourteenth-century Ethiopian saint. From the Christian peasant's point of view, the important church figures are the local clergy. The priest has the most significant role. The Ordination of priests was easily performed in the mid-19th Century. At that time it was sufficient for a man to know the letters of his Alphabet, with a few prayers, and to give two pieces of salt to the Interpreter of the Abuna or Coptic bishop; after which he receives the imposition of hands, without examination or exhortation: and this is the reason why those who are better instructed would be ashamed to be made priests. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of adult male Amhara and Tigray were priests in the 1960s -- a not extraordinary figure, considering that there were 17,000 to 18,000 churches and that the celebration of the Eucharist required the participation of at least two priests and three deacons, and frequently included more. Large churches had as many as 100 priests; one was said to have 500.

There are several categories of clergy, collectively referred to as the kahinat (priests, deacons, and some monks) and the debteras (priests who have lost their ordination because they are no longer ritually pure, or individuals who have chosen not to enter the priesthood). A boy between the ages of seven and ten who wishes to become a deacon joins a church school and lives with his teacher -- a priest or debtera who has achieved a specified level of learning -- and fellow students near a church. After about four years of study, the diocesan bishop ordains him a deacon. After three or four years of service and additional study, a deacon can apply to be ordained a priest. Before doing so, he has to commit himself to celibacy or else get married. Divorce and remarriage or adultery result in a loss of ritual purity and loss of one's ordination.

A priest's chief duty is to celebrate the Eucharist, a task to which he is assigned for a fixed period of weeks or months each year. He also officiates at baptisms and funeral services and attends the feasts (provided by laymen) associated with these and other events. His second important task is to act as confessor, usually by arrangement with specific families.

Most priests come from the peasantry, and their education is limited to what they acquire during their training for the diaconate and in the relatively short period thereafter. They are, however, ranked according to their learning, and some acquire far more religious knowledge than others. Debteras often have a wider range of learning and skills than what is required for a priest. Debteras act as choristers, poets, herbalists, astrologers, fortune-tellers, and scribes (for those who cannot read).

Some monks are laymen, usually widowers, who have devoted themselves to a pious life. Other monks undertake a celibate life while young and commit themselves to advanced religious education. Both kinds of monks might lead a hermit's life, but many educated monks are associated with the great monastic centers, which traditionally were the sources of doctrinal innovation or dispute that had sometimes riven the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Nuns are relatively few, usually older women who perform largely domestic tasks in the churches.

His Holiness Abuna Paulos, Patriarch the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle-Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum and one of the seven serving Presidents of the World Council of Churches died 17 August 2012 at the age of 76. His Holiness was Patriarch of the Church since 1992. Patriarch Dr. Abune Paulos ( his birth name Gebre-Medhin Wolde-Yohannes) was born in Adwa, Tigray State. He entered the Abba Garima Monastery as a young boy as a deacon trainee, eventually taking monastic orders and being ordained a priest. Then known as Abba Gebre-Medhin, he continued his education at the Theological College of the Holy Trinity in Addis Ababa under the patronage of Patriarch Abune Tewophlos. He was also sent to study at the St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in the United States, and afterwards joined the doctoral programme at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

In 1974, his education was interrupted by a summons from Patriarch Abune Tewophlos, and returned to Addis Ababa. He was anointed a bishop, assuming the name Abune Paulos, and given responsibility for ecumenical affairs by the Patriarch. Abune Paulos and his fellow bishops were imprisoned until 1983 by the Derg and he then returned to Princeton in 1984 to complete his doctoral degree and began his life in exile. He was elevated to the rank of Archbishop by Patriarch Abune Takle- Haymanot in 1986.

In 1992, Abune Paulos was elected as Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. His great achievements as Patriarch include the return of church properties both from within and abroad. His Holiness made possible the return of church properties including buildings particularly in Addis. Most notably, Abune Paulos is responsible for the return of the campus and the library of the Holy Trinity Theological College to the chruch and the College was reopened. Abuna Paulos has also found success after he asked a British Museum to return ten "tabots" containing images of the Ark of the Covenant.




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