Ethiopia Orthodox Church says row over as rogue bishops apologise

Thursday February 16 2023
Abune Mathias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Abune Mathias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, briefs journalists in Addis Ababa on February 11, 2023. The church has said a crisis that emerged after a group of rebel archbishops created their own synod has been resolved. PHOTO | AMANUEL SILESHI | AFP


Ethiopia's Orthodox Christian Church, one of the oldest churches in the world, says a crisis that erupted after a group of rebel archbishops created their own synod has been resolved.

“The three archbishops who set up the rival body in Ethiopia's largest and most populous region of Oromia have apologised,” the Church leadership said in a statement posted on Facebook late Wednesday.

The church leadership said the recent problems created in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church had been solved by face-to-face discussions.

The three archbishops, who were excommunicated last month after their actions would be reinstated.

Meeting brokered by Abiy

The announcement followed a meeting on Wednesday brokered by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who himself is from the Oromo community and had been accused of backing the rebel clergy.


"This is a strong church and we have agreed to bring back the lost sheep," Abiy said at the meeting.

According to the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission, tensions in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church had spilled over into violence earlier this month when eight people died in attacks on a house of worship in the Southern town of Shashamene.

"Security forces and their civilian collaborators used disproportionate force leaving at least eight dead by either gunshot wounds or beatings," the state-affiliated but independent body said in a statement last week.

Expulsion from churches

Beatings, intimidation, expulsion from churches, forced restriction of movement and unlawful detentions had been carried out in various areas on individuals.

The crisis had threatened the unity of the Ethiopian church, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the country's 115 million population and for a decade headed by Patriarch Abune Mathias.

The breakaway bishops accused the Church of discrimination and linguistic and cultural hegemony, saying congregations in Oromia are not served in their native language, claims rejected by the patriarchate.

Expand services

In Wednesday's statement, the Church said it would provide resources to expand services in Oromo Oromia and other areas of southern Ethiopia.

The church called for peaceful protests over the crisis last weekend, a move that saw the internet and social media briefly restricted, but they were later called off after talks with the government.

The church had accused Abiy's administration of interfering in its affairs and making comments that effectively recognised the "illegitimate group".

Orthodox leaders have long complained of persecution, including the burning of churches several years ago, and relations with the government have been tense in the past, including over the Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia.