Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Ethiopia was introduced to the Christian faith by the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized by the apostle Philip (Acts 8). The Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded on a synodal level in 328 AD. The first bishop of the church was Frumentius, a Syrian by birth brought up in Ethiopia in the palace of Axum. He went to Alexandria and returned after being consecrated as bishop by Saint Athanasius. The faithful in Ethiopia call him Abba Salama Kassate Berhan (Father of Peace and Revealer of Light). Nine saints from the Middle East and Asia Minor migrated to Ethiopia 150 years later. They introduced monastic life, translated many religious books from Aramaic and Hebrew into the Geez language, and expounded the One-person, One-nature doctrine of St Cyril. Since the schism of 451, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church shares the same faith with the Coptic, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox Churches and the Syrian Orthodox Church of India (Tewahedo is a word that reflects the Ethiopian understanding of one nature).

The church has suffered greatly from various religious persecutions down the centuries. The reign of Queen Yodit in the 9th century lasted for forty years and caused great damage to the life of the church. The invasion of Mohammed the Left-Handed in the 16th century was even more destructive. Again during the 17th century, the church suffered persecution at the hands of the Jesuit Alphonzo Mendez and his followers. During the fierce five-year struggle against the invasion of Mussolini from 1935 to 1940, several bishops, many priests and thousands of faithful lost their lives. More than 2,000 churches were destroyed and numerous church manuscripts taken away.

Since 1950 the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has been autocephalous. The church has 81 canonical books and 14 anaphoras. The language of the divine service is Geez, the ancient language of Ethiopia. Today, however, portions of the liturgy are also rendered in Amharic. There are seven official fasting periods: (1) all Wednesdays and Fridays (except during the 50 days after Easter); (2) the Lenten fast; (3) the Nenveh fast; (4) the vigils or Gahad of Christmas and Epiphany; (5) the fast of the apostles; (6) the fast of the prophets; (7) the fast of the Assumption.

The supreme authority in matters of church administration and justice - legislative, administrative and judicial - belongs to the holy synod which meets twice a year, under the chairmanship of His Holiness the Patriarch. The diocesan archbishop is the chairman of the diocesan parish council. The national parish council meets once a year in the patriarchate, also under the chairmanship of the patriarch. The church has two kinds of clergy: the regular priests, who administer the sacraments, and the learned lay clerks, who are entrusted with the chant of the church offices and teaching in the schools. There are six clergy training centres and one theological seminary. The current administrative structure has been most conducive for both the clergy and the laity to meet the vital needs of the whole human being and to work together for the development of the church, both spiritually and socially, through the respective parish councils. The Sunday school programme unit is very active.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church exists in the Sudan and Djibouti, in Jerusalem, Europe and North and South America. Eight of its bishops serve the church outside Ethiopia.