The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has faced various challenges from the Ethiopian government, particularly since 2018. These challenges range from direct attacks on its followers to the destruction of church properties and, most recently, attempts to divide the Holy Synod based on ethnically motivated politics—a government ideology persisting for three decades. While attacks on followers and church destruction have primarily occurred in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, incidents have transpired in other areas as well.
In the latest series of attacks, at least 56 Ethiopian Orthodox followers tragically killed in a horrifying manner in the Arsi region zone of Oromia, a confirmed incident by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
The administration of Abiy Ahmed has also sought to undermine religious traditions of the church, especially those celebrated in the open air. During the Meskel holiday in September 2023—an event attracting tens of thousands of tourists generating millions of dollars to the country—the government imposed restrictions on the number of celebrants at Meskel Square and dictated the attire of church followers, citing alleged security concerns in the capital. Restrictions not only included limiting numbers but also prohibited Ethiopian Orthodox Church followers from carrying the Ethiopian flag or wearing clothes, including the traditional “netela,” bearing the colors of the Ethiopian flag.
This week, news emerged from the Ethiopian Church itself that the government has imposed further restrictions on the celebration of Epiphany, a major open-air religious event. However, this time, the restrictions are on the celebration itself.
Abune Abraham, the head of the Patriarchate and Archbishop of Bahir Dar Dioceses, revealed during a press conference that the Ethiopian government is demanding the Church officially condemn Archbishop Abune Lukas. The Archbishop had recently criticized the Ethiopian Prime Minister for the bloodbath in the country, using the story of David against Goliath, urging for the rise of a combatant to end the bloodshed with a single rock to the Prime Minister’s forehead.
The Church has rejected this demand, as stated by His Grace Abune Abraham. “The church has its own freedom,” he emphasized, citing the church’s internal practices and administration.
His Grace Abune Abraham further disclosed that authorities attempting to dictate terms to the church have become too numerous. “We will not bow to intimidation,” he asserted, emphasizing that there is no one that is now willing to die for their faith.
In a poignant revelation, he stated, “Vehicles leaving the Church are being searched, but those coming to the church are not.” In frustration, he added, “We do not have a tank here.”
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