June 21, 2016
Last week, Orthodox bishops gathered at Crete in what is said to be the first in more than 1300 years, according to The Economist report. Seemingly,the objective was to discuss theological matters as well as concerns over social justice, like inequality, and the environment. Yet, the anticipated meeting of orthodox patriarchs the world over was cancelled. Patriarchates of Antioch (Syrian),Georgia and Bulgaria withdrew from the meeting which was to commence on June 16th.Patriarchate of Moscow requested, according to reports by the Guardian, postponement of the meeting. Clearly, there are differences among Orthodox patriarchates and some of them are apparently doctrinal.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which is one of the oldest Orthodox churches on earth and with much similarities with the Syrian Orthodox Church, experienced schism for over twenty fives years now. So far the difference was basically a function of politics rather than theological doctrines. However, there is now a concern that it is possible for the difference to evolve to theological one.
When the ruling Tigray Peoples Liberation Front party took over power in Ethiopia in 1991, one of the political measures that it took was to wrest the patriarchate from the then rightful patriarch Abube Merkorios and make arrangement for the anointment of new patriarch- Abune Paulos, a politically ally of Tigray Peoples Liberation Front and ethnic member as well, in 1992.
Some bishops under the Patriarchate of Abune Merkorios and Abune Merkorios himself were compelled to fled the country and establish a patriarchate in the disapora based in North America in opposition to what they and many million followers of the church as canonical infringement. The holly synod of the Ethiopian church has a canonical law that stipulates no two patriarchs at the same time. Either the already ordained patriarchate has to pass away or abdicate for a new patriarchate to be ordained. It is in light of that that Abune Paulos was simply seen as usurper and political appointee rather than a spiritual father.
Since then, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church stared to have two patriarchates; one based in Ethiopia and another based in North America.
When the politically appointed patriarch, Abune Paulos, passed away following the un/expected death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, hopes were high that church leaders would mend relations, and unite the Ethiopian church, so that the Ethiopian Church would once again come under a single patriarchate-something that rather turned out to be a mirage. Government sabotaged the effort from back stage and pushed for the “selection” of new patriarch which is how Abune Mathias was ‘selected’ as new patriarch.
The patriarchate in the diaspora continued to oppose canonical breaches while the patriarchate under command and the protection of the ruling party in Ethiopia moved a step further and established presence in the diaspora. What that means is two Ethiopian Orthodox churches in the diaspora ; one that is under the exiled patriarchate and another one under the patriarchate in Ethiopia.
Last week, the Patriarchate based in the diaspora ordained six new bishops in Los Angeles. But it is not a welcome news for everyone.
Even those who understand the split of the patriarchate due to political situation at home seem to have reservations over some of the ordained bishops purely on religious grounds. The skepticism is that some of them could have the inclination to espouse teachings that is not in the tradition of the Ethiopian church.
In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian church is being rattled from inside by what many say are well funded infiltrators with protestant teachings under the guise of Orthodox , not to mention the unprecedented corruption and ethnic politics.
The patriarchate in the diaspora, some accuse it, is slowly adopting some changes. Some of the bishops are particularly accused of working with people whom the laity consider to be of not orthodox faith conviction. What is clear is that an orchestrated campaign to weaken the church is underway and the schism within the Ethiopian church which led to two patriarchates has contributed its own share for infiltrators with reform agenda along the lines of protestant teachings to have some foothold within the Ethiopian church and strategize to demolish it from with in.
The Ethiopian church is estimated to have about 50 million followers at home with tens of thousands of churches through out the country.