Ethiopian Minister Abiy Ahmed did not say anything about Federal government duty to enforce laws in terms of protecting the Ethiopian church and laity. He painted the issue as a problem related to language right
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday remarked on the development within the Ethiopian Church which happened last week.
Three Bishops non canonically installed 26 Bishops with a move that appears to be aiming at establishing a new ethnic-based patriarchate in the Oromo region of Ethiopia.
Abiy Ahmed convened his cabinet members and gave a lecture on peace. The big chunk of it was, based on the video footage released by the state-owned media – EBC – the problem within the Ethiopian Church.
He discussed at length that his government has done much for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and that nobody can say he has not done anything.
As a comparison to measure what he did for the Ethiopian Church, he retrieved historical records specifically by reckoning the history of the Revolutionary Derg government, and what it was to the Ethiopian church. The Derg government killed the second patriarch of Ethiopia and installed a new one. Given the hostility of socialist revolutions to the Orthodox Church including in Russia where churches were under pressure.
PM Abiy Ahmed also talked about church relations between the now-defunct Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and the Ethiopian Church whereby the fourth patriarch of the Ethiopian Church was removed with a letter and replaced by the fifth patriarch. The development led to the formation of another patriarchate based in North America and the issue was resolved in 2018 when the sixth Patriarch, His Holiness Abune Mathias, accepted the return of the Patriarch His Holiness Abune Merkorios but the latter was restricted to prayers while the former was recognized as the head of the Holy Synod with full spiritual and administrative control over the church matters. Abiy Ahmed claimed credit for the reunification of the Church and many church leaders do not deny him that.
Abiy Ahmed tacitly imposing acceptance of the new group?
The PM attempted to snatch the church’s moral ground not to blame the government for what is not happening. First, discussed at length what his government has done to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which is believed to have well over 50 million followers across the country.
What he did is that he brought some data about lands given to religious institutions and claimed that the church was given over 1 million square meters of land in Addis Ababa whereas the rest of the religious groups were given only 350 thousand square meters of land. He also mentioned that his government returned buildings of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that were confiscated by the revolutionary Derg government. He also made claims that his government did a lot more things to the Church. “So,” he said, “no one can say we did not do anything.”
Regarding the recent development, he said his government sent a delegation to both groups and that they were asked to resolve the issue and reach an agreement.
He made bold assertions that the problem that religious groups are facing is related to three things: politics, corruption (he used theft) and ethnicity.
But then framed the position of the three bishops that are attempting to form a patriarchate in the Oromia region as matters that have something to do with “rights to use their language.” When they ask to exercise their constitutional rights, when they ask to use the Oromo language for service, “I can not tell them no you can not use.”
He also attempted what could be seen as a divisive technique. “All these outcries were not seen when church leaders in Tigray declared their own church,” he said. Why now? he said. The church claims that it has been offering service in Oromo language. Oromo-speaking Bishops within the Holy Synod, like Abune Nathenael, Abune Henok and Abune Rufael – among others, are saying that the division is not about giving service in Oromo language.
PM Abiy Ahmed also warned his cabinet members ( as seen in the video ) not to attempt to get involved in the matter. And then he went on to say the expertise his government has in terms of discerning moves that aim at causing instability ( he said “we know how it is done”) or even coup d’etat. He said it will not be successful.
The solution for the existing problem within the Ethiopian church, according to Abiy Ahmed, is for “the church fathers to be like Aba Mathias.” He was referring to his agreement for the return of the fourth patriarch to Ethiopia. But it is clear that the nature, manifestation and origin of the problems are different. He is tacitly saying for the group to be recognized by the Ethiopian Church. The Holy Synod excommunicated the three bishops last week but left the door ajar for them to repent and return to the mother church. But there are views that a politically motivated group is now controlling those who are intending to form a separate church.
Sister Orthodox Churches have supported the position of the Ethiopian church and condemned the canonical violations.
The group that is attempting to form an Oromia patriarchate has been getting support and protection from the Oromo regional state including recognition. For example, churches and properties that belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Churches are being used by the group and the government is not enforcing laws to protect that. Furthermore, Ethiopian church fathers have been hassled by the authorities in the Oromia region.
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