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The Darkest Hour Before Dawn – The EOTC: A Battle for Autonomy and Identity

Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Credit : Essayias Lesanu

(Essayias Lesanu)

Before Yesterday, as I sat watching the press conference held by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, led by His Grace Abune Abraham, a profound sense of sadness and frustration washed over me. The gravity of the situation facing our ancient and revered church was palpable, yet strikingly absent from the national television. This omission was a stark reminder of the current state of affairs in Ethiopia, where the national broadcaster, funded by the people’s taxes, has seemingly become a mouthpiece for the Abiy regime. Meanwhile, millions suffer from famine, war, and escalating violence, and the cost of basic necessities skyrockets, leaving many unable to afford even a loaf of bread. In stark contrast, Ethiopian Television (ETV) was preoccupied with showcasing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his entourage leisurely strolling through a resort, enjoying the scenery, seemingly oblivious to the hardships facing the nation. This juxtaposition between the government’s apparent indifference to the church’s struggles and the church’s fight against these challenges was not just disheartening but a call to reflection on the current political and social landscape of our country.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a cornerstone of national identity and a beacon of spiritual resilience for centuries, finds itself navigating turbulent waters in the face of challenges posed by the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. This crisis was brought into sharp focus during a recent press conference by Abune Abraham, the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) and administrator of the national office. His words, laden with emotion and urgency, echoed the profound distress felt by many within the church and beyond.

At the heart of this conflict are allegations of governmental interference in the religious and administrative affairs of the church. Reports of suppression and intimidation tactics against the clergy, alongside attempts to infiltrate the church’s ranks with government loyalists, have raised serious concerns among the faithful. These actions, perceived as direct violations of the church’s long standing covenants and traditions, represent not just a religious infringement but an assault on a vital element of Ethiopian cultural heritage.

The historical significance of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in shaping the nation’s identity cannot be overstated. Its roots extend deep into the annals of Ethiopian history, making it a symbol of continuity and endurance amidst the nation’s evolving political landscape. This current confrontation with the government evokes memories of past trials, most notably the era of Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi, known as Gragn Mohamed. His 16th-century campaigns brought widespread devastation, severely impacting the church and its followers. Today, many fear a repeat of such a dark chapter in history, where the very essence of Ethiopian spirituality and culture is under threat.

Despite facing these daunting challenges, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s response has been marked by an unwavering commitment to its principles and traditions. Leaders like Abune Abraham have emerged as pillars of strength, rallying the faithful in a collective stand against external pressures. Their resolve serves as a testament to the church’s historical resilience, having survived and thrived through various epochs of political and social upheaval.

The current crisis transcends mere religious discord; it is emblematic of a broader struggle for the soul of a nation. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has long been more than a religious institution; it is a custodian of Ethiopian culture, language, and history. Its role in unifying the diverse tapestry of Ethiopian society has been pivotal. As such, the conflict with the government is not only about defending religious autonomy but also about preserving a legacy that is integral to the Ethiopian way of life.

This tumultuous period in Ethiopia’s history is often described as a dark tunnel, with many yearning for the light at its end. Amidst the uncertainty and strife, the church, with its dedicated monks, clergy, and laypeople, remains a beacon of hope. Their prayers and steadfast faith are seen as key to overcoming these challenges and ushering in a new era of peace and stability.

In conclusion, the confrontation between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Abiy regime is more than a religious conflict; it is a defining moment in the nation’s history. It symbolizes a struggle for the preservation of a cultural and spiritual heritage that has been the bedrock of Ethiopian identity for centuries. The church’s resilience, embodied by leaders like Abune Abraham, offers hope for a future where peace and harmony prevail, restoring the nation to a path of unity.

(For correspondence or inquiries, the writer can be contacted at )

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of 


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