Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is one of the earliest Christian denominations, dating all the way back to 4th century CE. This ancient religion promotes belief in one God.
This church follows an expansive canon of scripture, emphasizing both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and several books not included in Protestant canons such as Enoch, Jubilees and 1 Esdras.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (Amharic: yateyopheyaa ortodoks tawahedo betakrestyan; IPA: [tewodo]) is one of the largest Oriental Orthodox churches, boasting 65-70 million members globally. Established around AD 330, it boasts rich and varied histories as a precolonial Christian denomination that is famed for its music, liturgy, and traditions.
Oriental Orthodox is part of the Oriental Orthodox family, along with Coptic, Armenian, Syrian and Indian Churches. Alongside Roman Catholicism and Byzantine Orthodoxy they formed what is often referred to as the “One Church” for four centuries until 451 when the Council of Chalcedon declared Christ had two natures–human and divine–which lead to its separation.
In 1959, the Coptic Orthodox Church recognized Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo as an independent polity and granted it a Patriarch of its own. Today, His Holiness Mathias, appointed Abuna of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo in 2013, holds this position.
He leads a Church that has existed for more than 1,700 years and boasts of 40-50 million members worldwide. However, his position is currently threatened.
There is currently a divide within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church over which Patriarch should be installed, with various opinions stating their support for one over another and even various factions voicing their preference for particular candidates.
Churches face further threats from groups claiming to represent ethnic minorities. Such groups use social media platforms like Facebook to spread falsehoods and advance localized narratives that attack religious faith.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently warned about this threat, labeling these divisions “commodities of division manufactured on the political marketplace of ethnocentrism and religious bigotry.”
There are solutions available to deescalate this crisis. The first step should be identifying its sources; secondly, consider solutions which may ease tensions between synods; thirdly, address how clergy and members feel they have been neglected by their governing bodies.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church is one of the primary Oriental Orthodox churches in Sub-Saharan Africa and claims over 36 million members globally. Led by its own Patriarch who serves as leader for all Oriental Orthodox world. Their theology centers around Holy Trinity teachings as well as St Cyril’s one nature doctrine – they also share communion with Coptic, Syrian, Armenian and Malankara Orthodox churches along with Syriac Orthodox Church of India (Tewahedo).
Although relatively large and influential, Ethiopia’s Orthodox church has suffered from internal division. Most recently in 451, two factions split off – likely as a result of ethnocentric political ideology that existed at that time and used religion to advance their goals.
Ethiopian Orthodox church is an influential religious institution in Ethiopia. As its largest church, it boasts its own Patriarch and Archbishop who ensure peace and unity within their respective congregations.
At one time, Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Coptic Orthodox church were close allies. When the Coptic emperors lost power in the 7th century however, Ethiopia became disconnected from outside Christianity – though Ethiopian Church managed to maintain contact through its monastery in Jerusalem.
Ethiopian Orthodox church music stands out among other denominations with its distinct rhythmic and dance elements, creating a truly Ethiopian experience for worshipers. Many special schools provide instruction in traditional church worship style music. Worship involving rhythmic movement is unique to Ethiopia and this form of service involves rhythmic dancing movements unique to Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Orthodox church adheres to a wide-ranging canon that includes not only the Septuagint as its primary Old Testament text, but also includes Enoch, Jubilees, 1 Esdras & 2 Esdras as well as Maccabees books 3 & 4, plus Psalm 151 in its canon.
Ethiopian Orthodox theology is highly mysticism-influenced, with Trinity doctrine being at its core. Ethiopians believe in “one God with three persons”, with Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing “in unison in divinity and three in humanity. This teaching known as s@llase (Ge’ez for “Trinity”) forms part of their theology and spirituality.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is one of the world’s oldest and largest monophysite churches, holding that Jesus only had one nature and rejecting any suggestion that Christ may have two separate personalities. It differs significantly from Eastern Orthodox doctrine in this regard.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church tradition is distinguished by adherence to certain customs, most notably that of taking off shoes upon entering Church buildings according to Exodus 3:5. This practice can also be seen among Jewish synagogues and Oriental Orthodox Christian traditions.
Women tend to cover their heads when seated in Church buildings and men and women are separated during worship services as an ancient custom which signifies their belief in Jesus being both God and Man in one person.
Notably, however, is that Ethiopian Christianity can trace its distinctive tradition back to the time of the apostles and not just to Orthodoxy as such; it also incorporates elements from pre-Christian religions such as Paganism and Judaism that may influence its beliefs.
Ethiopian Christians in the early Christian era adopted certain aspects of Old Testament faith, such as prohibiting pork consumption and following similar dietary regulations to Jewish Kashrut. Furthermore, other practices were implemented such as believing Saturday should be celebrated as holy day and commemorating Christ’s Resurrection on Sunday.
Ethiopian Christians belong to the Oriental branch of Orthodoxy, accounting for about 20% of global Orthodox population. Due to differences in doctrine and belief systems between Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy, they do not share communion.
Ethiopians follow various traditional Ethiopian religious practices, such as reciting the Hail Mary prayer before each meal or offering sacrifices at animal altars in front of temples. Furthermore, they abide by certain dietary laws, such as forbidding pork consumption or mixing dairy products with meat products.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church stands out with its distinctive liturgical style, which draws heavily from Alexandrian (Coptic) roots while drawing influence from Syriac tradition. Additionally, its services retain certain Jewish practices such as circumcision and following dietary laws.
Liturgy refers to the set of rituals prescribed for public worship within any Christian denomination or church and usually involves singing, praying, reciting of verses or the repetition of sayings with music accompaniment. Liturgy can include baptism, communion, kneeling singing praying sermon or homily sign of cross and benediction rites or elements as part of its practices.
Ethiopian Orthodox services typically begin with an entrance of the clergy into the sanctuary, followed by singing or canticling praise to God and reading of readings and psalms, followed by antiphonaries or canticles of intercession chanted one person at a time for every clause in a lesson psalm or canticle or lesson, followed by homilies similar to Western Rites services.
Ethiopian liturgy traditionally uses Geez as its language of instruction, though today modern Amharic translation is used.
Ethiopian churches typically take the shape of circular or octagonal structures with three concentric rings called Mekdes, also referred to as Qeddusa or Holy of Holies, consisting of a circular or octagonal Mekdes or Qeddusa structure with three concentric rings known as Mekdes or Qeddusa for short. Priests and deacons may only enter this sanctuary to perform services while a tabot or Ark of Covenant rests upon a Menbir Alter where its blessing by an Abuna (Head Priest) symbolizes its sanctity – without which services simply cannot take place.
Ethiopian Church doctrine adheres to strict Trinitarianism, holding that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all share an identical nature and identity. Furthermore, Ethiopian Christians observe both Saturday and Sunday sabbaths according to scripture – with God resting on the seventh day from creation through Christ’s Resurrection resetting their original calendar date for his day of rest – thus maintaining Sabbatarianism as part of their faith practice.