Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Holy Synod to deliberate on hijacked agenda this week

Ethnic politics brought about much political problems in Ethiopia. Now, a radical Oromo nationalist group is creeping to Ethiopian Church with an apparent move to break up the church along ethnic lines, and establish an ethnic Oromo patriarchate. And it is interrupting as the church is intensifying the effort to expand services in other languages. The Holy Synod is set to respond to it this week after an emergency meeting on Thursday.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Holy Synod _ Ethiopia
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Holy Synod Members. Photo credit : VOA Amharic

September 3, 2019

The Holy Synod of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (also known as Ethiopian Church), one of the five Oriental Orthodox Churches in the world, called an emergency meeting.

According to the VOA Amharic service report, the meeting will take place on Thursday this week in the capital Addis Ababa.

Purpose of the emergency meeting is to discuss current affairs affecting the church. The top agenda item is an ultimatum from an ethnic Oromo group consisting of priests who are working to establish an ethnic Oromo Orthodox Church.

Based on VOA Amharic report, the group under the leadership of Belay Mekonen (priest) claims that church service in the Oromo region of Ethiopia is weakened due to a shortage of priests and deacons who can offer services in Oromo language.

Belay Mekonen and the group of priests he is leading want answer for their question regarding the establishment of “Oromia Church.” And the group has given a deadline to get an answer to their question.

Based on emerging stories on social media, there are voices from Oromo region of Ethiopia that see Priest Belay Mekonen led movement for an ethnic Oromo Patriarchate as an act of hijacking the legitimate concern of the Ethiopian Orthodox church laity in Oromo region of Ethiopia.

In fact, members of the group that advocates for Oromo patriarchate are also asserting that church service in the capital Addis Ababa, where more than 95 percent of the population is non-Oromo, has to be in Oromo language. Because, in their view, “Addis Ababa belongs to Oromo and is the capital of Oromia”

Megabi Solomon Tolcha, a priest, is the head of Gospel services in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church patriarchate. He told VOA Amharic Service that the issue raised regarding offering services in Oromo region of Ethiopia appropriate. What is not appropriate is the way it is presented and the proposal to solve the problem – establishment of “Oromia Ethiopian Orthodox Church”

He is also cited as saying that the issue is one of the challenges that the Ethiopian church is facing but the church is working hard on service expansion in Oromo language service.

The move to establish a separate church based on ethnicity is, however, dangerous and could demolish the church, he added.

He is not alone. From the point of view of many Ethiopians, including activists, the Ethiopian Church need to strengthen the effort to expand service in other languages including Oromo. 

On the other hand, many see the campaign to establish ethnic Oromo patriarchate as a political project of radical Oromo ethno-nationalists. They also seem to speculate invisible external powers intervention on the side of radical Oromo groups who are believed to be interested in demolishing not only the Ethiopian Church but also Ethiopia.

Many Ethiopians who are not even followers of the church, too, seem to be alarmed by the move to establish an ethnic Oromo Orthodox Tewahdo Church for they tend to see a sinister political motive.

Abiy Teklemariam, a co-founder of the now-defunct Addis Neger Amharic Newspaper, tweeted:

“I left the EOC as a religion skeptic when I was a 16-year-old law student. Since then I had been to mass a few times just to please my family. But the recent vandalistic attack on this august institution is making me re-embrace my identity as a Tewahedo Orthodox Christian.”

The topic is being intensely debated among Ethiopians on social media, and some are pointing fingers on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration.

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