Who Founded the Ethiopian Orthodox Church?

who founded the ethiopian orthodox church

Ethiopian Orthodox Church is an offshoot of global Christianity with members adhering to strict observance of Christian customs and traditions.

Ethiopian churches grew in isolation from western culture and, consequently, are more conservative than their counterparts.


Frumentius is widely credited with spreading Christianity throughout Aksumite Kingdom in northern Ethiopia – a major trading center of Roman Empire at that time – which eventually led to his martyrdom on October 27 in Catholic Church, November 30 in Orthodox and December 18 in Coptic churches respectively. He is commemorated each year on October 27, November 30, and December 18 by these churches respectively.

Frumentius was born in Tyre, an eastern Mediterranean Sea coastal city, during the fourth century. As an active missionary to Abyssinia he served as tutor to its emperor before later being consecrated bishop of Alexandria.

Frumentius and Edesius’ uncle Meropius’ ship was attacked, killing all but Frumentius and Edesius; they were saved by Axum’s King; his queen gave shelter; she eventually bore an infant son named Ezana who went on to become King himself.

He began searching for Christians among Roman merchants, introducing them to Christianity and encouraging them to meet for prayer meetings. With great success, many natives of Axum eventually converted.

Egyptians were concerned with the establishment of a church in Ethiopia. Since they had strong associations with Egyptian bishops who governed over their church there, and to protect their suzerainty over Ethiopia.

Constantius II was an enthusiastic supporter of Arianism. In an appeal sent to King Menelik of Ethiopia requesting that Frumentius be replaced by one who promoted this form of Christianity, which King Menelik refused and allowed Frumentius and his associates to remain. When Frumentius requested their return home despite pleas by Frumentius himself they allowed Frumentius and company to remain.

As he aged and gained wisdom, he emerged as an indispensable counselor and tutor to the Emperor of Abyssinia. Additionally, he led Greek immigrants living in Ethiopia under his care and was later consecrated bishop by Coptic patriarch Athanasius.

Frumentius was appointed Bishop by Athanasius in 330, and became associated with Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. A devout servant of God and dedicated pastor, he was revered by Ethiopians who affectionately called him Abuna or Our Father.

Due to his loyalty and fear that Frumentius would become a Christian bishop himself, the emperor wrote an official request letter to Ethiopia’s King that Frumentius be expelled and replaced with an Arian bishop. That letter still exists today as patronage to both Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic Churches.


At the beginning of the fourth century, two young men from Tyre, Frumentius and Aedesius, were travelling towards India when they were captured by natives in an African harbor and taken as slaves by an Aksumite king whom Frumentius converted to Christianity.

After King Lear’s death, Frumentius served as civil administrator to Queen Regent and tutored Crown Prince Ezana – when Ezana eventually ascended the throne he adopted Christianity as state religion.

The Ethiopian Orthodox church can trace its roots back to Frumentius and Aedesius who founded it in the 4th century as Monophysite Christian church and accepting the honorary primacy of Coptic patriarch of Alexandria as honorary primate. Focusing on orthodox teachings and practices such as circumcision, fasting and debtera performing liturgical music/dance as astrologers or fortune tellers are among its hallmarks of existence.

As one of the first Christian churches ever established in sub-Saharan Africa, it provides evidence that Christianity arrived prior to Rome and sheds light on how Christians played an integral part in building kingdoms that included them. Furthermore, it represents one of the first examples of long distance trading networks helping spread Christianity throughout Mediterranean world.

Aedesius and Frumentius were successful in founding the church in northern Ethiopia. They collected Christian disciples, organized prayer services and rituals, built churches, found Christian merchants for baptism, and spread Christianity throughout their kingdom.

Rufinus, a Western historian, indicates that Aedesius and Frumentius gained the trust of King Aksum (a power in northern Ethiopia) who allowed them to evangelize freely before appointing them bishops – these bishops then had authority to allow Christian merchants freedom of religious expression as well as evangelize their native country.

Once back in Syria, Aedesius shared his tale with Rufinus – who then recorded its history for future reference by writing his Histoire Ecclesiastique which still serves today by Ethiopian Orthodox Churches.

The Ethiopian Patriarchate

Ethiopian Patriarchate, one of the three Oriental Orthodox Churches, was founded by Frumentius in the fourth century under Emperor Ezana’s conversion to Christianity and sending Frumentius to Alexandria to approach Coptic Patriarch for appointment as bishop in Ethiopia.

The Patriarchate is an autocephalous church, meaning that it has its own governing body and set of canons of the Bible. Additionally, they are founding members of the World Council of Churches.

Though relatively small in scale, the Ethiopian Patriarchate makes an impactful impactful difference on the lives of Ethiopians. With more than 250 churches spread out throughout Ethiopia serving people living in rural regions.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity centers its worship around Eucharist, with many Ethiopians flocking to churches and monasteries for services. Steeped in Semitic theology and drawing inspiration from Jewish Temple worship practices, much of the worship at Ethiopian Patriarchate can often be described as being part of “Jewish Church of Ethiopia.”

While the Patriarchate of Ethiopia is based in Addis Ababa, its headquarters can be found in Axum where it exercises its highest legislative, administrative and judicial authorities. Here it meets twice annually under the chairmanship of its Patriarch; has diocesan archbishops responsible for church affairs within their dioceses; and a national parish council.

Since the death of its Patriarch, Ethiopia’s Patriarchate has been mired in turmoil and attacked by groups who claim support for it yet have no affiliation with it.

Association of Orthodox Christian Missionaries (AOCM). AOCM claims to be “Africa’s sole independent, non-hierarchical, non-political, non-profit and self-governing organization dedicated to the evangelization of Africa”. As its mission statement suggests, its main focus lies on furthering Church mission through local missions development and promotion.

AOCM is based out of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and boasts over 36 Million worldwide members. Although its membership covers many African nations, most adherents reside within Ethiopia itself.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Ethiopian Orthodox Church can be traced back to before European colonization in Africa. Frumentius, its founding bishop was consecrated by Athanasius the Great in Alexandria; making this one of the oldest Christian churches in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ethiopian Orthodox Churches are members of the Oriental Orthodox Communion, as well as founding members of the World Council of Churches. Additionally, Ethiopian Orthodox has many congregations outside Ethiopia such as North America and other African nations.

Christianity first entered Ethiopia during the 4th century through Frumentius, an Arab captive from Syria who brought with him his translation of the Bible into Ge’ez (the local dialect), leading to monasticism within Ethiopia itself.

St. Yared established scripture-based liturgical hymnody of the Ethiopian Church during the 7th century, creating some of the world’s most captivating prayer songs.

Today’s church is an extremely devout religious organization, with more than eighty percent of members attending weekly services and praying daily. On holy days such as Christmas or Epiphany they celebrate special holidays such as singing and dancing services that last up to several hours long and include singing.

As in many other Orthodox churches, this church emphasizes celebrating the divine Trinity or S@llase (Ge’ez for “Trinity”). According to church doctrine, God exists as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Church doctrine in Ethiopia also promotes a holy war between good and evil, evidenced by their practice of Sabbath observance and circumcising male children according to Jewish custom. Ethiopians may have connections to Jerusalem-area Semitic people that helped shape worship services and theological beliefs.

During Ethiopia’s Red Terror period, when communist authorities sought to replace Abune Tewophilos with someone more in line with government agenda. Abba Melaku, an obscure hermit monk known as Abba Melaku was appointed Patriarch. However, his election was denounced by Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church which refused to recognize and recognized only Abune Tewophilos as legitimate leader of Ethiopia’s Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria as legitimate head.

Scroll to Top