Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity is one of the oldest branches of Christianity and adherents believe their faith was passed down through apostolic history and publicized through ancient councils of their Church.

An air of tranquility pervades the monastery rooftop, which resembles a medieval village with dome-shaped huts. Few tourists visit it.


In 1959, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was granted autocephaly and independence from the Coptic Church. With 81 canonical books and 14 anaphoras as part of its canon, and worship services conducted exclusively in Geez – Ethiopia’s ancient language – worship services are conducted daily across this church that has seven official fasts for worshipers to attend.

King Ezana founded Tewahedo in the 4th century CE as part of Paganism and Judaism; before that it existed as part of Paganism and Judaism. Today it stands alone among pre-colonial Christian religions in Sub-Saharan Africa with over 36 million members globally – the largest Oriental Orthodox Church worldwide and boasting the name Tewahedo which represents Jesus as having both divine and human aspects to him.

Alongside its theological beliefs, Ethiopian Orthodox church practices various rituals associated with Judaism and Old Testament traditions. This includes circumcision, dietary restrictions and Sabbath observance – among many others. Furthermore, Ethiopian Orthodox church often blends Jewish practices with Christianity – believing that God’s Ten Commandments reside at Ethiopia. Furthermore, their ancient language “Geez” may even have links back to King Solomon and Sheba who may have fathered children together and shared an ancestry connection via King Solomon and Sheba having children together and Geez being similar to Hebrew!

Due to Muslim invasions of Ethiopia, the church suffered great damage. Yet enough manuscripts and artifacts survived to revive it during late 16th and early 17th century revival efforts.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, many new churches were constructed and monasteries opened; these included basilican, native, modern construction techniques and materials as well as using basilican styles. Up until recently, however, church was heavily influenced by government who supported and promoted its ideas; nonetheless it remained true to its faith while not permitting any form of apostasy or non-observance of its teachings.


Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian denominations worldwide, dating back to 4th century CE when its formation occurred. Still largely practicing pre-Christian traditions from Ethiopia’s pre-Christian days such as circumcision, diet restrictions, Sabbath services on Saturday as well as Sunday, Geez language has survived alongside Christianity as an everyday part of religious practice.

Ethiopian Orthodox church services and texts are conducted primarily in Ge’ez, an ancient language from Ethiopia that has since been translated to Amharic for modern consumption. Like Jews, Ethiopian Orthodox believers remove their shoes upon entering a church as they do on Friday for Shabbat and Sunday for Lord’s Day celebrations.

Ethiopian Christians share many similarities with other Christians in that they pray and sing at church, but Ethiopian orthodox church music stands out. Ethiopian orthodox church music derives its unique sound from 81 books of Tewahedo Bible which each contain songs and poems written specifically to each story in Tewahedo Bible.

The current split within the Tewahedo Church demonstrates how powerful and sacred institutions can be weaponized for political ends. Although synods have often been employed for this purpose in Ethiopia, this specific case stands out due to how far it strays from traditional doctrine and tradition of its doctrine and traditions of usage – in other words it appears as though its being utilized to promote exclusivist religious agendas and agendas of ethnic and racial communities alike.


Ethiopian Orthodox Church is both Africa’s and one of the world’s largest – it has 36 million members and represents 14% of global Orthodox population. According to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly all Ethiopian Orthodox Christians say religion is very important to them and over three-quarters attend services weekly – this translates into high rates of tithing/giving as well as attendance at weddings/funerals/celebrations etc.

As with other Eastern Orthodox churches, the Church of Ethiopia emphasizes Old Testament teachings and follows practices similar to Jewish observance. For instance, at Passover services they read from Song of Songs while celebrating circumcision on either the eighth or 10th day postbirth as a sign that boys have joined Abraham’s covenant. Furthermore, similar to Jewish kosher laws it prohibits consumption of pork or mixing dairy and meat products together for meals.

The Church of Ethiopia engages in numerous charitable activities and operates schools and orphanages. Additionally, this religious organization also boasts an enduring spiritual tradition with their Liturgy book as its own unique prayer book. It consists of 14 anaphoras or liturgical prayers sung during Holy Communion services. One such anaphora, entitled “Amen,” begins with “Amen, Lord God of hosts” and includes multiple hymns. Churches also feature their own type of hand cross, known as an Ethiopic Cross, composed of a main body, handle and tablet at its base. Clergy and faithful carry this form for blessings by kissing first the main body, then the handle, then finally the tablet at its base.


Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, commonly referred to as Ethiopian orthodox Church or Tewahedo Church due to a Ge’ez word meaning “unity”) is an Oriental Orthodox Christian autocephalous church with headquarters located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city. Global membership estimates vary between 40-50 million. Like many Eastern churches, Orthodox Christianity places greater emphasis on Old Testament teachings and has several practices unique to this branch of Christianity, such as circumcision of boys on the eighth or tenth day after birth similar to Jewish kashrut; adherence to dietary rules similar to those found in Judaism; and rejecting of the Filioque (the addition of God the Son into the Holy Trinity).

The Church teaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to the canonical Books of the Bible and follows its liturgy which includes two parts, Ordo Communis and Anaphora which culminate in Eucharist. Additionally, she upholds ecumenical creeds set forth by Nicea and Constantinople Councils.

Shelemay is the author of “An Image of Performance, an Emblem of Power: Saint Yared and Liturgical Music of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church”. Her research centers around religious art and culture in Ethiopia as well as its diaspora; her articles have appeared in various journals like Journal of African Literature as well as book chapters for Encyclopedia of Religion.

While she was a visiting scholar at Yale’s Center for Ancient Christianity and Ethiopian Studies, she collaborated closely with the Church of Ethiopia on various projects – from documentary filming church activities in Addis Ababa to lecturing to audiences throughout New Haven and London.


The Church believes that the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Ethiopia through an Ethiopian slave baptized by Philip (Acts 8). A synodal church was established under Frumentius, known in Ethiopia as Abba Salama Kassate Birhan (“Father of Peace and Revealer of Light”).

The Catholic doctrine rests upon five pillars: The Mystery of the Trinity, Incarnation, Baptism, Communion and Resurrection. Additionally, unique to Christianity is its teaching on one nature which represents its belief that Jesus possessed both divine and human characteristics simultaneously. Since 451, its doctrine has steadfastly maintained these core tenants of teaching.

Church is not simply about teaching doctrine but is also an example for social justice and education for its members. Additionally, the church boasts an extensive library that contains the Liqawent, a collection of religious texts compiled by Ethiopian ecclesiastical scholars.

Even as it has faithfully preached the Gospel throughout its history, Ethiopia’s Orthodox Tewahedo Church has often faced political and religious oppression from political authorities and has even operated under Marxist-Leninist regimes; nevertheless, this church remains strong, surviving efforts from these regimes to eradicate Christianity from Ethiopian soil.

Though many remain unable to access church, those who do attend are seen in large numbers on Sundays and Saturdays praying with their families. Furthermore, followers are expected to pray daily either personally or at home according to Fetha Negest laws – an ancient code which outlines fasting and prayer regulations – following which all church followers must pray daily according to Fetha Negest rules.

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