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Courage and Faith : Where is the Leadership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church?

By Essayias Lesanu

As the son of a devoted priest who served the Ethiopian Orthodox Church until his passing, I write from a place of deep personal connection and reverence for this ancient institution. My father, a steadfast servant of faith, often said, “No one can break her,” referring to the Church’s enduring spirit through both prosperity and peril. This belief, rooted in centuries of resilience, guides my perspective today as I reflect on the current challenges facing our Church and its leadership.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a cornerstone of spiritual life for millions, stands at a crucial juncture. Recent events, such as the denial of entry to Abune Petros, the Secretary of the Holy Synod, underscore a growing tide of suppression and indifference from governmental authorities. This, coupled with the silence of our Church’s leadership, stirs in me a profound concern for the path we are treading.

In a recent meeting with the leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s demeanor and speech struck a particularly discordant note. His tone, suffused with condescension, betrayed not just an unsettling air of superiority but also a profound misapprehension of his role and relationship with the Church. Abiy’s narrative, heavily focused on enumerating the favors he has purportedly extended to the Church, overshadowed the essence of service and mutual respect that should characterize the interaction between the state and this venerable institution. It’s disheartening to observe such interactions, where the conversation veers away from collaboration and support towards a recounting of supposed benevolence.

This approach is not only troubling but also indicative of a narcissistic character trait that seeks validation and praise rather than understanding the fundamental duty of serving the people and respecting national institutions. The emphasis on what has been ‘done’ for the Church, as if expecting gratitude, overlooks the critical fact that leadership is about service, not about accumulating accolades. This perspective is a disservice to the spirit of collective progress and undermines the potential for a synergistic relationship between the government and the Church. It’s a concerning pattern that seems to manifest not just in isolated incidents but as a pervasive attitude that colors the Prime Minister’s engagements with important societal pillars.

On a personal note, witnessing this behavior is both frustrating and disappointing. The continuous need for appreciation and the penchant for boasting reflect a narcissistic disposition that is incongruent with the humility and selflessness that leadership, especially in a context as rich and multifaceted as Ethiopia’s, demands. Such traits not only hinder productive dialogue but also erode the foundational values of respect and mutual support that are essential for the nation’s harmony and progress. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its deep historical roots and moral authority, deserves to be engaged with reverence and a genuine spirit of partnership, not reduced to a mere recipient of governmental ‘favors.’

History teaches us that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as Martin Luther King Jr. powerfully articulated. The Church’s reluctance to address injustices and stand firm in its foundational principles of truth and righteousness risks not only its moral authority but also its cherished legacy. The silence in the face of adversity is a betrayal not just to its followers but to its very mission.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has always been more than a religious institution; it is a beacon of hope, a source of strength, and a guide through the darkest times. As it is written, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). These words remind us that courage and faith are inseparable allies in the face of trials.

In the heart of Ethiopia, where history and spirituality intertwine, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) stands as an example beacon of faith and hope for millions. Its roots delve deep into the fabric of Ethiopian society, bearing witness to centuries of cultural and spiritual heritage. Yet, recent events have cast a shadow over this storied institution, raising poignant questions about the role of spiritual leadership in times of moral crisis and social injustice. The silence that we witness from the Church’s leadership, amidst these trying times, is both perplexing and disheartening. It belies the expectation of moral guidance and advocacy that the faithful have historically sought from their spiritual leaders.

The Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s regime actions not only threaten the Church’s standing and influence but also undermine the very principles of freedom and dignity that are foundational to both the nation and the faith. Despite these challenges, the response from the Church’s hierarchy has been notably restrained, marked by a silence that speaks volumes to its congregants and to the wider world observing.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, with its vast following and moral authority, has the capacity to be a formidable force for justice and human dignity. Its leaders, ordained as shepherds of their flock, carry the responsibility not just to guide in matters of faith but to advocate for righteousness and justice. The teachings of the Church, steeped in a tradition of resistance against oppression, call for an active engagement with the world and a defense of the oppressed.

As the Church observes the solemn period of Lent, culminating in the observance of Good Friday, the themes of suffering, sacrifice, and redemption resonate more profoundly. This sacred time offers a moment for reflection and a call to action. It is a reminder of the Church’s duty to not only minister to the spiritual needs of its followers but to also embody the principles of justice, compassion, and courage in the face of adversity.

The silence in response to governmental suppression and the passive acceptance of injustices inflicted upon its members and leaders put the Church at a crossroads. Will it remain a bystander in its own fate and the fate of its followers, or will it reclaim its historical role as a beacon of hope, justice, and resistance against tyranny?

The Church’s leadership must recognize that their silence is perceived as complicity in the eyes of the faithful and the oppressors alike. It is imperative for the Church to vocalize its disapproval, to stand firmly against the injustices being perpetrated, and to advocate for the rights and dignity of its followers and all Ethiopians. The legacy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of resilience in the face of adversity, of moral conviction amidst moral ambiguity. Now, more than ever, this legacy must be upheld.

I have unwavering faith that the Church will prevail, as my father believed. However, history will remember the leaders who stood firm in the storm and those who sought refuge in silence. The legacy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, built upon the sacrifices of countless faithful servants like my father, deserves leaders who embody the same courage and conviction. 

As we observe this solemn period of Lent, leading to the remembrance of sacrifice and redemption, let us also remember that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). It is not enough to have faith; we must act upon it, especially in times of injustice and hardship. The Church must rise to its calling, to be a voice for the voiceless and a defender of the oppressed.

The path forward for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is clear: to embrace its role as a moral compass, to challenge oppression, and to lead with the courage and conviction that have been its hallmark for centuries. Let us honor the legacy of those who served with unwavering faith, like my father, by standing firm in our principles and acting with righteous purpose.

In summary, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is at a crossroads, facing challenges that test its resolve and integrity. It is a time for bold leadership, for voices that will not be silenced by fear or oppression. The legacy of the Church, and the memory of those who served it faithfully, demand no less. Let us move forward with courage, conviction, and a renewed commitment to the values that have always defined us.

(Essulesanu@gmail.com)

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

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1 COMMENT

  1. Rev. Dante Stewart reflected this thinking in an essay entitled, “How I Learned that Jesus is Black.” Rev. Dante Stewart reflected this thinking in an essay entitled, “How I Learned that Jesus is Black.”

    Some Black activists have led a movement to discard the White Jesus. Black theologians like the Rev. Albert Cleage have depicted Jesus as a man of color and a revolutionary. And during the George Floyd racial reckoning in 2020, some activists called for statues depicting a White Jesus to be torn down along with Confederate monuments.

    Some Black theologians who say Jesus was Black aren’t being literal: They’re making a larger statement against how Jesus has been traditionally portrayed — as a White man at the top of the social hierarchy. The Rev. Dante Stewart reflected this thinking in an essay entitled, “How I Learned that Jesus is Black.”

    “I saw why they insisted on saying Jesus is Black,” Stewart, author of “Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle,” referring to Black theologians like James Cone and author Toni Morrison.

    “They were not talking about his skin color during his earthly ministry, though it definitely wasn’t white,” Stewart says. “They were talking about his experience, about how Jesus knows what it means to live in an occupied territory, knows what it means to be from an oppressed people.”

    Some also say that Jesus’ color matters because of history.

    Blum says the image of a White Jesus has been used to justify slavery, lynching, laws against interracial marriage and hostility toward immigrants deemed not White enough. When Congress passed a law in the early 20th century to restrict immigration from Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe, White politicians evoked the White Jesus, he says.

    “One of the arguments was, ‘Well, Jesus was White,’ ‘’ Blum says. “So the theme was, we want America to be profoundly Christian or at least Jesus based, so we should only allow White people in this country.”

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