An Unorthodox Idea for the Tewahdo
Feb 13, 2013-
Ethiopian's take pride in their faith, tradition and history as the custodians of the Holy Ark and as a people who continue to believe that the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC) was “inspired, preached, guided and consolidated by the revealing power of the Holy Spirit!”
I write as a firm believer who grew up learning about the traditions of my ancestral faith and history from some highly dedicated followers of Christ and servants of the EOTC. I learned from men of the the Holy Cross, who claim decent from levites and the “Royal Priesthood of Israel and the Aarnoic institutional priesthood” by way of their ancestor the high priest Azarias, the leader of the Israelites who accompanied Minmeleak and the Holy Ark of the Covenant about a milenium before the introduction of Christianity to Axum, through St. Philip the Evangelist during the time of the early Apostles of Christ.
Over the last three millenia, the decendants of the first custodians of the Holy Ark have demonstrated their faith and character by maintaining an unbroken chain of custody and trust. Our ancestors were able to safe guard their tradition and the mystries and secrets of their church, overcome many trying times and existential threats and uphold the sanctity of the EOTC because of unwavering faith and strength of character. The Holy Ark still remains under the custody of their faithful decendants at the ancient Cathedral of Kidist Mariam of Zion in the historic and holy city of Axum in Tigray, Ethiopia.
The decendants of the Axumians have also respected and maintained the traditions, teachings and interpretations of the apostolic era in perpetuity and continue to uphold and teach the traditions entrusted “unto the early disciples and their successors” as the core of the EOTC's teachings and traditions.
Unfortunately many of us in the diaspora have failed to rise above our petty differences and continue to define ourselves and our causes as “anti”something or worse somebody. Even those who stand “for” something are often discouraged from mobilizing sufficient support because of the beligirent and distructive tendencies of the “anti” forces. This disgraceful conduct is unbeffiting of our faith tradition and culture, it must change! We have to leave our progyny a positive legacy and an Ethiopia they can be proud of. A wise man I know, in the diaspora, likes to quip “we are all casualities of a cultural conflict.” How true. We need to rediscover who we used to be and what we used to know in order to regain position and perspective.
A quick pick into the crevices in the body politic of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church in exile (EOTCE) indicates an unhealthy dynamic between competing political groups within the church resulting in conflicts, rancour, disillusionment and disenfranchisement of many parishners.
A concerned elder of the church decried the lingering ethnic naratives in the “politics” of the EOTC in the diaspora. He was surprised that twenty years later church pulpits in the diaspora continue to be used to dispense partisan politics or condemn, disparage and denigrate rivals and perceived enemies. He said, “I wish the clergy would focus more on their pastoral duties and show their congregants the way to the 'truth and the light'.”He is dismayed that he had to drive a long distance to find an accomodating church. He resents the fact that he was forced to leave the closest parish despite his advancing age and desire to encourage his grandchildren to remain connected to their religeous tradition and culture. Many others are also unimpressed or do not feel comfortable with all the extra excelestiatic happenings at their churches. It is not unusual for liturgy and Sunday mass to be followed by partisan sermons that leave many church regulars buffled, disappointed and dispirited. Many are openly asking what went wrong?
What happened to the calling many of the exiled religeous fathers signed up for?
It is apparent that some way ward opposition politicains in the diaspora (diasposition) have taken over the EOTCE. It is an open secret that some exiled men of the cloak have directly and/or indirectly encouraged unwaranted collective attack on the people of Tigray, the people who have anchored the core identity and character of Ethiopia and Ethiopianism in general and the EOTC in particular.
It boggles the mind to hear that some among the exiled clergy have proudly declared a non cause, i.e., the cause of a, “supposedly disenfranchised and disrespected,” nation, the Amhara people as their cause celebre. Oh brother! Whoever said the historic and proud Amhara, who continue to heroically defend their nation and the traditions of the EOTC needed a “saviour!” It seems to me this dangerous act of desperation may be a last act by some misguided clergy men who of late have been running high on emotions and displaying some swagger and puffery of “righteousness.”
It is difficult to fathom that our religous leaders, the decendants of a deeply religous people and a sanctified and ancient church, would adopt an image of God that doesn't deeply and compassionately consider others. Weren't we all “created in the image of God?” or as some prominent modern theologians have asserted, does “our image of God create us?”
One thing is clear, no man or group is bigger than the church. It is time to examine the fruits that our beliefs and the sermons of our clergy bear and challenge ourselves for more humility. We can't let disgruntled individuals drive bigger wedges among the people and exploit old sentiments and percieved fault lines to advance their political ambitions. A clear delineation between spritual and worldly issues can be a good start. Enough already!
Some in the exiled church have been dragging the EOTC into smallness. It reminds me of the supposed encounter between Emperor Theodros and the fabled Aba Gebrehana. The story goes like this: the Emperor, during his inaugural visit of a Church, admired the workmanship and archtecture of the building and exclaimed, “this is big!” While everyone present nodded in agreement, the Emperor noticed that the Aba didn't seem to be impressed . The Emperor then wanted to know what was on Aba Gebrehana's mind and asked this is a big church, isn't it? The Aba retorted, yes indeed; it can definitely accomodate two priests and three deacons! At the time Emperor Theodros was working hard to reform some of the excesses of the church. So he did not remain in good stead with many of the church leaders and the clergy who made much of his reign difficult.
A historical parallel can be drawn between the delegitimizing efforts by some of the exiled church leaders and their supporters, both towards the reign of his Holiness Abune Paulos and the leaders of the ruling party and/or the government of Ethiopia and that of the relationship between the Emperor Theodros and the Aba Gebrehana's of his time. The impact of the soured relationships and accompanying vicereal reactions, between the church and the government of the day, however, invariably distract, detract and diminish all involed; but not equally. Some observers believe the internecine conflict between the mother church and the exiled church leadership has disproportionately diminished the stature of the exiled fathers.
As a matter of fact, people who have no brief for the late patriarch, his Holiness Abune Paulos, think he had served the EOTC with grace and dignity and was a rare scholar who understood the deep history and traditions of his ancient church, used his knowledge and credibility to shepherd the church in a righteous path and worked tirelessly to restore it to prominence and glory.
Many observers also believe despite being unfairly demonized by his detractors since the early days of his enthronment, he remained open to peaceful resolution of differences and any outstanding contentious eclesiastical issues in the hope of reconciling and unifying the church. Unfortunately, his wish and efforts couldn't be realized within his life time. May the almighty keep him in his favour!
So in the parlance of Aba Gebrehana, do the exiled Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTCE) leaders think they are content with a church that can barely accomodate “two priests and three deacons?”
Close observers of the exiled church point that the inscesant rancour, political manoevering and rivalry among the disparate political backers of the exiled church has become a constant source of discord among the laity and has dragged the church to smallness and is forcing it to titer on the edge of irrelevance.
Many have now started to write off the ability of the exiled church and its leaders to influence the Holy Synode and the majority of the faithful as marginal and temporally limited. Infact, some have gone as far as stating that “it is highly unlikely that the exiled church will be able to justify its existence beyond the life time of Abune Merkorious and the few elderly ex-officio fathers. It will simply die off along with its founders or possibly return to the fold of the mother church out of necessity.” It is now evident that time is not on the side of the exiled fathers and their bag holders.
So far, some of the most concerted efforts at reconciling the exiled church leadership with the Holy Synode and the patriarchate in Addis have been twarted because of behind the scenes political machinechines of the political backers of the exiled church and some exiled church fathers who have failed to recognize that:
• disputes related to any historical, traditional, legal and procedural matters can be resolved by utilizing the wealth of the recieved wisdom within and among members of the Holy Synode or when necessary by tasking an independent research commission which can be composed, from among the church scholars within and without, to clarify the issues and provide facts and impartial opinions.
• their primary interest lies in not leaving a legacy of a weak and divided church in the diaspora
• since their departure two decades ago the demographic, social, cultural, religeous, political and economic landscape has significantly changed which necessitates the reexamination of the practicality and relevance of some of their preconditions and demands
• their power and legitimacy derives from the church and the faithful; and over the last two decades some of the influence, sympathy, support and loyality they garnered within the EOTC may have waned and that they may have very limited leverage on the Holy Synode and the EOTC.
• the window of opportunity created by the early depature of the late patriarch, Abune Paulos, could have better been utilized to negotiate a return to the fold of the mother church in order to participate and/or attempt to influence in the selection of the new leadership of the EOTC. Furthermore, the possibility that the exiled leaders may not be presented with a similar opportunity due to their advanced ages and the likelihood that any of their exiled successors may not be afforded a simmilar opportunity by the Holy Synode.
• the church's and the leadership's interest is better served by a negotiated settlement, i.e., if the church fathers wish to restore the sanctity of the Church and their good names and standing within the EOTC.
• political agendas are best left for the many career politicians that attempt to spin any percieved religeous cleavages and issues to raly political support and simply want to use the church as a cover.
• Pronouncements and condemnations, where warranted, should be used with extreme care and due diligence.
All may not however be lost. Despite the premature failure of recent mediation efforts and an increasingly narrowing window of opportunity, many are hoping for restoration and glorification of the EOTC and the resolution of the wedge issues that have caused so much acrimony and disunity within the ranks of the family of the church.
So at this moment of reflection , when Orthodox Tewahdo Christians in Ethiopia and other members of the Ethiopian Tewahdo Orthodox Church (EOTC) family are once again praying for a righteous shepherd who can confidently and competently lead his flock; guide and show the way and the light; and protect and shepherd his flock “ in purity and righteousness”, consider the following unorthodox thought:
The precedent setting resignation of Pop Benedict XVI and the alleged “abdication” of the seat of Abune Tekle Haimanot by his Holinnes Abune Markorious can be a blessing in disguise. It means no absolutes are violated when the head of a church for one reason or another abdicates his seat and is replaced before he departs to meet his maker. In fact many theologians are now of the opinion that the life-long reign is fraught with problems. Some are asking what would happen if a pontif or a patriarch suffers from dementia or another deblitating illness? It is not clear how the EOTC would deal with such eventuality. What is clear is the EOTC won't be beholden to a tradition that may have outlived its usefulness. A progressive church requires an ability to choose dynamic and effective leaders.
It would also allow the church to reconcile with the leaders of the exiled church by allowing the dethroned patriarch, his Holiness Abune Merkarious, to segue to a life of pope passim with his dignity intact and a latitude to continue with a modified duty within the church heirarchy. The role can be negotiated between the ex-officio patriarch and the Holy Synode. However, the church can't have dual seats of power; so the outgoing patriarch should pledge to go to the sunset by surrendering all power to the incoming patriarch and possibly into a life of prayer and contemplation. Once out of office, he can't be allowed to meddle or contradict the edicts of the presiding patriarch.
Another caveat offcourse would be that any decission for vacating the throne would be left to the patriarch and can only be exacted with his full consent and autonomy. The separation of church and state enshrined within the constitution provides a legal shield and can be used to protect the institution of the EOTC and the Patriarchate from external and involuntary push.
So as all concerned somberly consider the merit of the above proposal, in the spirit of peace and reconciliation, may the almighty give them courage and wisdom. Amen!
Entehabu Behe, Ph.D. (Can) - is a Principal Analyst and Consultant in emerging trends, opportunities and options.