His Holiness Abune Merkorios, the fourth Patriarch of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, on Sunday is laid to rest at Kidist Selassie Menbre Tesbaot Church in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Representatives of sister churches from Egypt and India His Holiness Abune Mathias, the six Patriarch of Ethiopia, President Sahlework Zewde and archbishops of from across Ethiopia have attended the funeral ceremony.
A night long prayer, as in the tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, was held at Kidist Menbere Tseba’ot church. On Saturday, a farewell was organized at Meskel Square – at event that attracted hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians.
Who is His Holiness Abune Merkorios? Solomon Kibriye shared the following on his facebook page a day after his Holiness passed away:
In memory of His Holiness Patriarch Abune Merkorios I, Fourth Patriarch of Ethiopia.
His Holiness, previously known as Abba Ze-Libanos Fanta, was born in a locality known as “Mar Midir” in Debre Tabor District of the Province of Beghemidir (Gondar) near the Aregit Kidane Meheret Monastery on June 14, 1937. He was born into the minor nobility of the region, his father was Blata Fanta Tessema and his mother was Woizero Lemlem Gessesse. He began his early schooling at the nearby Aregit Monastery and went on to study advanced studies of different liturgical and clerical categories at prominent monasteries in Gojjam and Beghemidir. He became a Liturgical expert, refined his knowledge of Qiné (church poetry) and Tsome Digua, becoming a teacher of the later.
Abba Ze-Libanos was tonsured as a monk at the Daga Estifanos monastery on Lake Tana in 1968 and soon received ordination as a priest from Abune Markos, Archbishop of Gojjam. He later joined the resident clergy at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa and served there until he was made administrator of the Bisrate Gabriel Church whose construction was completed under his tenure. He was elevated to the episcopacy by Patriarch Abune Tekle Haimanot in 1978 and made bishop of the Ogaden where he was active in re-building many churches destroyed in the recent Ethio-Somali war. Upon becoming a bishop Abba Ze-Libanos adopted the name Abune Merkorios as his episcopal name. He was elevated to the rank of Archbishop over his native province of Beghemidir in 1980 and served there for 8 years. Following the death of Patriarch Abune Tekle Haimanot in June 1988, Abune Merkorios was elected as Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and was enthroned in August of that year.
In May 1991, the EPRDF rebel forces toppled the Derg regime and decided to remove the Patriarch. Patriarch Abune Merkorios was compelled to abdicate and was replaced by Patriarch Abune Paulos. Patriarch Abune Merkorios was then made to flee the country, crossing the southern border into Kenya. It I had been attested by those who witnessed it, that just before crossing the border into Kenya, His Holiness crouched down to scoop up some soil to put in his pocket. When asked why Patriarch Abune Merkorios sadly replied, if I die an exile at least my corpse will taste the soil of Ethiopia when I am buried. From Kenya Abune Merkorios declared that his abdication had been compelled by the EPRDF and was thus invalid. He asserted that he was still the legitimate and canonical Patriarch of Ethiopia. Several Archbishops agreed with him and went into exile too, forming an exiled Holy Synod in North America presided over by Patriarch Abune Merkorios, while the Holy Synod in Addis Ababa was presided over by Patriarch Abune Paulos. Churches in the diaspora chose sides and the church split with these rival synods issuing excommunications on each other. This schism lasted 26 years, and every effort to heal it was thwarted due to the hostility of the EPRDF regime.
While in exile Patriarch Abune Merkorios presided over the rapid growth of the church in the diaspora as churches were established wherever Ethiopian communities existed. He was active in visiting many of these churches and consecrating them.
In 2018, a nationwide protest movement pushed for change and a new leader, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, emerged in the EPRDF promising fundamental and transformative reforms. Among the reforms was dropping the government’s hostility to reconciliation in the Orthodox Church, and instead helping facilitate it. Almost at once agreement was reached to unite the two synods back into one, lift the excommunications and end the schism. The agreement provided for the return of Patriarch Abune Merkorios to the Patriarchal throne, which he would share with Patriarch Abune Mathias as co-Patriarchs. Patriarch Abune Merkorios was to be mentioned first in all liturgies, and would preside in prayer over the church while Patriarch Abune Mathias would continue carrying out the executive role. Patriarch Abune Merkorios returned to Ethiopia after a 26 year exile on the same flight as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in August 2018. He was welcomed by Patriarch Abune Mathias and vast jubilant crowds. By coincidence he returned to his country on the monthly day of St. Merkorios.
As his Holiness’ health declined in recent years, he was seen in public less and less. He also retreated into an ever more profound silence with only rare utterances. He would bless people with his hand cross but seldom utter a single word. Is silence has proven to be a powerful symbol to many people in this age of so much speaking, much of it destructive. A young person (you know who you are) once asked His Holiness here in the USA why he never said anything anymore. The Patriarch responded “Oh I speak a great deal and all the time, it’s just that I’m speaking to God”.
Just as he had returned to his native land on the day of St. Merkorios, at half past midnight early this morning, again on a monthly day of St. Merkorios his patron, Abune Merkorios I, Patriarch of Ethiopia passed on into the Kingdom of God. Upon his passing, among the living Patriarchs of the world, His Holiness was the longest reigning Patriarch of Oriental Orthodoxy, and second only to Patriarch Iliya II of Georgia in all of Orthodoxy having reigned 34 years since his enthronement.
As a young boy deacon serving at Holy Trinity Cathedral, I remember the tall, broad shouldered stature of Abba Ze-Libanos, and the beauty of his chanting the Kidase. My very first photographs (see the last photo attached) taken of me serving in church show me in front of the Tabot procession of the Cathedral holding a tall wax candle. Carrying the Tabot of Kidane Meheret (on the right) was Abba Ze-Libanos Fanta, the future Patriarch whose silence has inspired so many.
May his blessings be upon us all, and may God place his soul among his Saints and Martyrs.
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RIP! Now he is in the 2nd life after death and will rendezvous with the former martyred Patriarch Abune Theophilos. I’m sure they will have a lengthy talk. Abune Theophilos would like to know how things had been after he was strangled to death by Mengistu’s soldiers and how he managed to escape Mengistu’s noose. That will be very interesting and revealing at the same time.