Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are among the most conservative and religious people in the world. Although their beliefs are not universal, they remain a very important part of the Ethiopian culture. In addition to worshiping the Christian God, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church adheres to many other practices, including fasting, and the veneration of certain icons.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Christians have been fasting for over 400 years and have a rich history to boot. Their practices are not limited to religious events though. Fasting is a social affair and the family members are tasked with the task of feeding each other. Consequently, calorie restricted vegetarian diets are the norm. A number of studies have looked at the long term effects of fasting on obesity, heart disease and diabetes, but none have investigated the actual impact of fasting on the health of individual Orthodox Christians.
A recent survey of over 500 Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia revealed that a high proportion of the population were fasting in the presence of food. As a result, unhealthy dietary habits are on the rise. Among the more pressing issues are low productivity of local zebu cows and shortage of improved animal forage. Furthermore, lack of foreign exchange has forced the importing of cool and chilling facilities.
The Eucharist is the central mystery of Christianity. It is a ritual service that symbolizes God’s saving work for the world. During the liturgy, Christ is incarnated as both a human being and a divine being. In the Orthodox Church, the sacrament is offered as an expression of the ecclesiastical community.
There are two primary forms of rite for the Ethiopian Catholics. One focuses on worship, while the other emphasizes reverence. Both rites involve the use of an Ethiopian prayer book. During the Ethiopian Catholic rite, the altar is decorated with cloths or a screen. However, the altar in the Latin rite church is more open.
In the Latin rite, all ordinations are performed by the bishop during the Eucharist. For this reason, it is common for an Orthodox bishop to lead the sacrament. Many churches in the Eastern Orthodox church have an iconostasis, which separates the sanctuary from the nave. This is an effort to promote the eschatological character of the eucharistic service.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the second largest Orthodox body in the world. Icons of the Virgin Mary are a major theme in Ethiopian worship. This form of worship is unique among African nations in that it emphasises painting.
The Orthodox Church boldly draws an image of an invisible God. The Blessed Virgin is adorned with holiness and purity. Her image is surrounded by a golden border.
Some icons are credited with miraculous cures. Sacred art is under threat from the Communist military regime. Nevertheless, a revival of icon making is led by folk artists.
The Ethiopian hagiography is known for its unusual stories. It includes stories such as a saint’s death by suicide and water given from one’s own eye.
The Ethiopian Holy Trinity Altarpiece presents episodes from the sacred narrative in picture panels. It is a similar type of holy comic book.
Ethiopian orthodox Christians often carry a small neck icon for devotion. It is called a Matab and is an ancient symbol of faith.
Ethno-religious tensions in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has a rich history of religious tensions and conflict. These include ethnic, religious and geopolitical rifts. In recent years, these have escalated. The Tigray region is a major focus of the conflict. It includes forced displacement, the prevention of food and access to health care, as well as ethnic-based killings.
Historically, religious identity has not been a causal factor in armed conflicts. Rather, it has been the product of political agendas that crosscut warring groups. However, recent religious violence has heightened suspicions that Ethiopia’s government is trying to interfere in religious life.
Since the early 1990s, the country’s largest and most powerful party has been the TPLF. Its aggressiveness has fractured interethnic community relations in northern Ethiopia.
As a result, many members of the EOTC are seeking to reform the church’s organizational structure, aiming to move the EOTC towards the federal government’s political system. They are calling for a separate administrative unit to deal with EOTC’s needs.