Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church

The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church is an Oriental Orthodox church. It was formerly a part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, its autocephaly recognised by the Ethiopian Patriarchate after Eritrea gained its independence in 1993.


"Tewahedo" (Ge'ez ተዋሕዶ "tawāhidō") is a Ge'ez word meaning "being made one"; it is related to the Arabic word توحيد tawhid, meaning "Monophysite", or more literally "unification". This refers to the Oriental Orthodox belief in the one single unique Nature of Christ (ie, a belief that a complete, natural union of the Divine and Human Natures into One is self-evident in order to accomplish the divine salvation of humankind), as opposed to the "two Natures of Christ" belief (unmixed, separated Divine and Human Natures, called the Hypostatic Union) taught by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917 edition) article on the Henoticon [] : the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and many others, all refused to accept the "two natures" doctrine decreed by the Byzantine Emperor Marcian's Council of Chalcedon in 451, thus separating them from the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. The Oriental Orthodox Churches, which today include the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Church of India, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, are referred to as "Non-Chalcedonian", and, sometimes by outsiders as "monophysite" (meaning "One Nature", in reference to Christ; a rough translation of the name "Tewahido"). However, these Churches themselves describe their Christology as miaphysite.

The progenitor of the Eritrean Orthodox Church; the Ethiopian Church, claims its origins from Philip the Evangelist (Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 8). It became the established church of the Axumite Kingdom under king Ezana in the 4th century through the efforts of a Syrian Greek named Frumentius, known in the church as "Abba Selama, Kesaté Birhan" ("Father of Peace, Revealer of Light"). As a boy, Frumentius had been shipwrecked with his brother Aedesius on the Eritrean coast. The brothers managed to be brought to the royal court, where they rose to positions of influence and converted Emperor Ezana to Christianity, causing him to be baptised. Ezana sent Frumentius to Alexandria to ask the Patriarch, St. Athanasius, to appoint a bishop for Axum. Athanasius appointed Frumentius himself, who returned to Axum as Bishop with the name of "Abune Selama". For fifteen centuries afterward, the Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria always named a Copt ("an Egyptian") to be "Abuna" or Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church.

Jesuit interim

Little else is known of church history down to the period of Jesuit influence, which broke the connection with Egypt. Union with the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria continued after Arab conquests in Egypt.

Abu Saleh records in the 12th century that the patriarch sent letters twice a year to the kings of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Nubia, until Al Hakim stopped the practice. Cyril, 67th patriarch, sent Severus as bishop, with orders to put down the practice of polygamy and to enforce observance of canonical consecration for all churches. These examples show the close relations of the two churches concurrent with the Middle Ages. Early in the 16th century the church was brought under the influence of a Portuguese mission.

In 1439, in the reign of Zara Yaqob, a religious discussion between Abba Giorgis and a French visitor had led to the dispatch of an embassy from Ethiopia to the Vatican; but the initiative in the Catholic missions to Ethiopia was taken, not by the Holy See, but by the church in Portugal, as an incident in the struggle with the Muslim Ottoman Empire and Sultanate of Adal for the command of the trade route to India by the Red Sea.

In 1507 Matthew (or Matheus) an Armenian, had been sent as Ethiopian envoy to Portugal to ask aid against Adal. In 1520 an embassy under Dom Rodrigo de Lima landed in Ethiopia (by which time Adal had been remobilized under Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi). An account of the Portuguese mission, which remained for several years, was written by the chaplain,Francisco Álvares.

Later, Saint Ignatius Loyola wished to essay the task of conversion, but this did not happen. Instead, the pope sent out Joao Nunez Barreto as Patriarch of the East Indies, with Andre de Oviedo as bishop; and from Goa envoys (followed by Oviedo) went to Ethiopia. After repeated failures, some measure of success was achieved under Emperor Susenyos, but not until 1624 did the Emperor make a formal declaration of communion with the then pope, Urban VIII. Susenyos made Catholicism the official state religion but was met with heavy resistance and, in 1632 had to abdicate in favour of his son, Fasilides, who promptly returned Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity as the offical religion of the country. He then expelled the Jesuits in 1633, and in 1665 Fasilides ordered all Jesuit books (the Books of the Franks) be burned.

Recent years

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church was granted autocephaly by Pope Joseph II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in 1950. At that time Eritrea was regarded as a province of Ethiopia, so the Coptic Church in Eritrea was simply a division of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Following the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia in 1993, the newly independent Eritrean government appealed to Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria for Eritrean Orthodox autocephaly.

Tensions were high between the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and no representative from the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church attended the official recognition of the newly autocephalous body. However, the Ethiopian Church has recognized the Autocephalous status of the Church of Eritrea although it objected to the method in which the Coptic Church went about granting it. Eritrea's first two Patriarchs were originally Archbishops of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the first Patriarch, Abune Phillipos did visit Addis Ababa during joint efforts by the two Churches to explore a possible resolution to a border conflict that had broken out between the two countries in 1998. The two churches, remain in full communion with each another and with the other Churches of Oriental Orthodoxy, athough the Ethiopian Church, along with the Coptic Orthodox Church have not recognized the depostion of the third Patriarch of Eritrea, and the enthronement of the fourth Patrarch.

The first Patriarch of Eritrea was Abune Phillipos who died in 2004 and was succeeded by Abune Yacob. The reign of Abune Yacob as Patriarch of Eritrea was very brief as he died not long after his enthronement, and he was succeeded by Abune Antonios as 3rd Patriarch of Eritrea.

Abune Antonios was elected in 2004-03-05, and enthroned as the third Patriarch of Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Eritrea on 2004-04-24. Pope Shenouda III presided at the ceremony in Asmara, together with the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and a Coptic Orthodox Church delegation. In August 2005, the Patriarch of Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Eritrea, Abune Antonios, was confined to a strictly ceremonial role. In a letter dated 2006-01-13 Patriarch Abune Antonios was informed that following several sessions of the church's Holy Synod, he had been formally deposed. In a written response that was widely published the Patriarch rejected the grounds of his dismissal, questioned the legitimacy of the synod, and excommunicated two signatories to the 13 January letter, including Yoftahe Dimetros, whom the Patriarch identified as being responsible for the church's recent upheavals. Patriarch Antonios also appealed his case to the Council of the Monasteries of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Abune Antonios was deposed by the Eritrean Holy Synod [cite news|url=|title=Orthodox patriarch of Eritrea sacked|date=2006-02-01|accessdate=2007-02-05] supposedly under presssure from the Eritrean government; as of 2008 he is under house arrest. [ cite news | title =Eritrea Imposes New Controls on Orthodox Church | publisher = Compass Direct News | date =2006 | url = | accessdate =2007-01-05] On May 27, 2007, during celebrations of the Feast of the Pentecost, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church enthroned Abune Dioskoros as 4th Patriarch of Eritrea.

acramental beliefs

In common with all Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox churches, the Catholic Church and the Old Catholic churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church professes belief in the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, eucharist, confession, the anointing of the sick, matrimony and holy orders. It regards the first four as being "necessary for every believer" [ [] ]

As is the tradition of the East, non-episcopal clergy may be married at the time of ordination, which is reserved for adult males. In order to clearly demonstrate that a bishop is a member of a synod, there must be at least three bishops taking part in any episcopal ordination.

The Church holds fast to the ancient Christian belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist stating that "The consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. Jesus Christ is truly, really and substantially present in the consecrated elements. In the Eucharist we eat the blessed flesh of our Lord and drink His precious blood under the form of bread and wine." [ [] ] Ceremonies are elaborate by western standards.

The practice of reconciliation in the sacrament of penance is regarded as being strictly personal, and members of the Church are encouraged to select a confessor (also referred to as a 'soul father') who is well known to them and with whom they are comfortable.

As in other Easter Christian traditions, the bond of marriage is able to be dissolved, but only on the grounds of adultery. To safeguard the practice of the faith, Church members are discouraged from marrying people outside of the Orthodox communion. Church members who undergo a purely civil ceremony are not regarded as being sacramentally married. [ [] ]

Distinctive traits

Biblical canon

The Tewahedo Church Biblical Canon contains 81 books, all of which are accepted by other Orthodox and Oriental Christians.
* The Narrower Canon also contains Enoch, Jubilees, and three books of the Meqabyan;
* The Broader Canon includes all of the books found in the Narrower Canon, as well as the two "Books of the Covenant", Four "Books of Sinodos", a "Book of Clement", and Didascalia;

There have been no printings of the Broader Canon since the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The "Haile Selassie Version of the Bible" which was published in 1962, contains the Narrower Canon.


The Divine Liturgy and other religious services of the Eritrean 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 (Isaac, or Yeshaq), Abba Aftse, Abba Guba, Abba Alef, Abba Yem’ata, Abba Liqanos, and Abba Sehma), who fled persecution by the Byzantine Emperor after the Council of Chalcedon (451). The Septuagint version was translated into Ge'ez. Sermons are delivered in the local language.

See also

*Eastern Christianity

External links

* [ Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church in North America]


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