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December 30, 2007 05:39 PM PST
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The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (in transliterated Amharic:Yäityop'ya ortodoks täwahedo bétäkrestyan) is an Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia that was part of the Coptic Orthodox Church until 1959, when it was granted its own Patriarch by Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa Cyril VI.
The only pre-colonial Christian church of Sub-Saharan Africa, it has a membership of about 40 million people (45 million claimed by the Patriarch),[1] mainly in Ethiopia,[2] and is thus the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches.
History
Origins
Tewahedo (Ge'ez ተዋሕዶ tawāhidō, modern pronunciation tewāhidō) is a Ge'ez word meaning "being made one" or "unified"; it is cognate with the Arabic word توحيد tawhid, meaning "monotheism".
Tewahedo refers to the Oriental Orthodox belief in the one single unified Nature of Christ; i.e., a belief that a complete, natural union of the Divine and Human Natures into One is self-evident in order to accomplish the divine salvation of humankind, as opposed to the "two Natures of Christ" belief (unmixed, but unseparated Divine and Human Natures, called the Hypostatic Union) promoted by today's Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Henoticon [1]: the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and many others, all refused to accept the "two natures" doctrine decreed by the Byzantine Emperor Marcian's Council of Chalcedon in 451, thus separating them from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox — who themselves separated from one another later on in the East-West Schism (1054).


This Ethiopian icon shows St. George, the Crucifixion, and the Virgin Mary.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches, which today include the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Church of India, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, are referred to as "Non-Chalcedonian", and, sometimes by outsiders as "monophysite" (meaning "One Nature", in reference to Christ; a rough translation of the name Tewahido). However, these Churches themselves describe their Christology as miaphysite.
The Ethiopian Church claims its earliest origins from the royal official said to have been baptized by Philip the Evangelist (Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 8):
"Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, Start out and go south to the road that leads down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he set out and was on his way when he caught sight of an Ethiopian. This man was a eunuch, a high official of the Kandake (Candace) Queen of Ethiopia in charge of all her treasure." (8:27)
The passage continues by describing how Philip helped the Ethiopian treasurer understand a passage from Isaiah that the Ethiopian was reading. After the Ethiopian received an explanation of the passage, he requested that Philip baptize him, and Philip did so. The Ethiopic version of this verse reads "Hendeke" (ህንደኬ); Queen Gersamot Hendeke VII was the Queen of Ethiopia from ca. 42 to 52.
Orthodox Christianity became the established church of the Ethiopian Axumite Kingdom under king Ezana in the 4th century through the efforts of a Syrian Greek named Frumentius, known in Ethiopia as Abba Selama, Kesaté Birhan ("Father of Peace, Revealer of Light"). As a youth, Frumentius had been shipwrecked with his brother Aedesius on the Eritrean coast. The brothers managed to be brought to the royal court, where they rose to positions of influence and converted Emperor Ezana to Christianity, causing him to be baptised. Ezana sent Frumentius to Alexandria to ask the Patriarch, St. Athanasius, to appoint a bishop for Ethiopia. Athanasius appointed Frumentius himself, who returned to Ethiopia as Bishop with the name of Abune Selama.
From then on, until 1959, the Pope of Alexandria, as Patriarch of All Africa, always named an Egyptian (a Copt) to be Abuna or Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church.
Following the independence of Eritrea as a nation in 1993, the Coptic Church in 1994 appointed an Archbishop for the Eritrean Church, which in turn obtained autocephaly in 1998, with the consecration of the first Eritrean Patriarch.
Middle Ages
Union with the Coptic Orthodox Church continued after the arab conquest in Egypt. Abu Saleh records in the 12th century that the patriarch always sent letters twice a year to the kings of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Nubia, until Al Hakim stopped the practice. Cyril, 67th patriarch, sent Severus as bishop, with orders to put down polygamy and to enforce observance of canonical consecration for all churches. These examples show the close relations of the two churches concurrent with the Middle Ages.
In 1439, in the reign of Zara Yaqob, a religious discussion between Abba Giyorgis and a French visitor had led to the dispatch of an embassy from Ethiopia to the Vatican.
Jesuit interim
The period of Jesuit influence, which broke the connection with Egypt, began a new chapter in Church history. The initiative in the Roman Catholic missions to Ethiopia was taken, not by Rome, but by Portugal, as an incident in the struggle with the Muslim Ottoman Empire and Sultanate of Adal for the command of the trade route to India by the Red Sea.
In 1507 Matthew, or Matheus, an Armenian, had been sent as Ethiopian envoy to Portugal to ask aid against the Adal Sultanate. In 1520 an embassy under Dom Rodrigo de Lima landed in Ethiopia (by which time Adal had been remobilized under Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi). An interesting account of the Portuguese mission, which remained for several years, was written by Francisco Álvares, the chaplain.
Later, Ignatius Loyola wished to essay the task of conversion, but was forbidden. Instead, the pope sent out Joao Nunez Barreto as patriarch of the East Indies, with Andre de Oviedo as bishop; and from Goa envoys went to Ethiopia, followed by Oviedo himself, to secure the king's adherence to Rome. After repeated failures some measure of success was achieved under Emperor Susenyos, but not until 1624 did the Emperor make formal submission to the pope. Susenyos made Roman Catholicism the official state religion, but was met with heavy resistance by his subjects, and eventually had to abdicate in 1632 to his son, Fasilides, who promptly restored the state religion to Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity. He then expelled the Jesuits in 1633, and in 1665, Fasilides ordered that all Jesuit books (the Books of the Franks) be burned.