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Ethiopian Church Patriarch reveals internal existential threat to the oldest church – Tewahedo Orthodox 

His Holiness Abune Mathias (Photo : screenshot from EOTC TV)

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Toronto – The persecution that the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has been facing from external forces – including from entities with tacit support from different levels of government – has been making news headlines for several years now. 

However, the challenge from within the church does not seem to be less threatening to the existence of one of the oldest churches in the world. 

His Holiness Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, revealed the causes of the internal challenges the church has been facing. He did so during an opening speech to the annual meeting of the Holy Synod ( the church calls it Rekebe Kahnat). 

In a way to highlight the main challenge, internally, is disagreement, he started his message with a verse from 1 Corinthians 1:1-10.  “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  He noted that the message was written because of the unity and peace of Christians in Corinthian facing a challenge. 

Furthermore, he noted that the Church has always been facing challenges, and the challenge is not from a certain direction; it is from many directions.  ” Not only is the temptation of the church external; it is internal, too. It is not from aliens only; it is from friends too. It has been established that the temptation from friends is stronger,” His Holiness said.  He elaborated his message by citing examples of how Judas led soldiers to capture Jesus Christ. 

He added, “At this time, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is in a severe problem.”  He revealed that although the problem emanating from external factors is inevitable, more than that the problem from within is stronger. He added that the internal problem has become a hurdle for the church not to execute its mission. 

Lust for acquiring ecclesiastical authority (enthronement) and money. He lamented that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Spiritual traditions of avoidance of seeking enthronement and money are forgotten. In its place, he added, lust for enthronement and money is reigning.  

His Holiness added that division and separation are broadening, words that do not represent our religion and culture, and their irresponsible expressions” have shocked our flocks, and are threatening to damage our acceptance among our flocks.  

In January 2023, three ethnic Oromo Bishops – with apparent support from those in political power – attempted to break up the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church – a development that triggered nationwide resistance. When the Church was on the verge of declaring an open nation protest following three days of mourning, Abiy Ahmed’s administration played a “neutral mediator” card with an apparent move to avert the impending danger. He intervened and personally brought the renegade bishops and archbishops to the patriarchate.  The ethnic Oromo nationalism that he wanted to exploit to weaken the church did not end there, however. This month, one of the Bishops in the Holysynod who openly supports Abiy Ahmed’s government, Abune Rufael, said that the seventh Patriarch is from “ethnic Oromo.” The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church did not respond to it but the matter has been a talking point among Ethiopians on social media. 

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