History of the Church
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
is unique in its adherence to the faith and traditions of the prophets
"You are no longer strangers and
foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the
household of God,
having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus
Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone." (Eph. 2:19-20)
refers to the unique traditions and heritage of Ethiopia as the only
Christian nation to worship God, before and after the existence of
written laws (The Scripture), and to accept the promise of the new
means straight or true (Ortho) faith (dox). The name was adopted in 325
AD after the Heresy of Arius, who taught that Jesus Christ was created
by the Father before the universe, and that He was not equal to the
Father. Church scholars from different parts of the world met in Nicaea
under Constantine I and declared the faith of our fathers, which is
without blemish. The fathers who met in Nicaea named this faith of our
fathers Orthodox (straight or the true faith) to indicate that it is a
faith that has not been bent or twisted according to the wits and
philosophy of men, but revealed to us by God.
"... Flesh and blood has not revealed
this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 16:18)
It is a faith that is deeply rooted in
the teaching of the prophets and the apostles. It is a faith given once
to our fathers: "... the faith which was once for all delivered to
the saints." (Jude 3)
The name was adopted in 451 AD after the
heresy of Eutyches, and the council of Chalcedon, which declared that
Christ has two natures.
Christian is also Bete Christian: "When you come together as a
church..." (1Cor 11:18)
Christian also refers to the gathering or union of Christians:
"Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace
and were edified." (Acts 9:31)
also refers to the union of angels and saints in heaven: "But the
Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all."(Gal. 4:26)
"The Jerusalem that is above" is the church in heaven, the union of
angels and saints.
"But you have come to Mount Zion and to
the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable
company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn
who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of
just men made perfect..."
also refers to the union of the faithful on earth and the saints in
heaven: "You are the body of Christ, and members individually."(1
Characteristics of the Church
1. The Church is One.
"There is on body and one Spirit, just
as you were called in one of hope of your calling; one Lord, one Faith,
one Baptism; one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through
all, and in you all." (Eph. 4:5-6)
2. The Church is Holy.
is the Ark of Salvation, for all who are in it will be saved.
"Walk in it; then you will find rest for
your souls." (Jeremiah. 6:16)
foundation and the head is Jesus Christ.
"Therefore take heed to yourselves and
to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to
shepherd the Church of God, which he has purchased with His blood."
He is the head of the Body, the Church...” (Colossians 1:18)
purifies those who dwell in it.
3. The Church is
Jesus Christ died on the cross for all, so that all who believe in Him
and fulfill his will, may be saved.
"God did not send His Son into the world
to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."
"There is neither Jew, nor Greek, there
is neither slave nor free, there is neither male, nor female; for you
are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)
The Church is Apostolic
The church is led by bishops and
priests, whose line of priesthood succession goes all the way back to
the apostles and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ commissioned the disciples
to teach, baptize, and make disciples. Accordingly the disciples
appointed disciples (bishops & priests), who in turn appointed others to
preserve the direct line of succession to this day.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all
nations” Mathew 28:19
Purpose of the Church
purpose of the church is to cleanse one of his/her sin, and make each
one a child, and an heir to the kingdom of God, and God established the
church with His own blood for this purpose:
"Therefore take heed to yourselves and
to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to
shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood." Acts
Jerusalem Before and at the Time of the
Coming of the Messiah
The Israelites came to
the promise land after 400 years of bondage in Egypt. They lived
under the rule of Judges
after the death of Joshua until the time of the prophet Samuel for
about three centuries.
At the time of Samuel,
the rule of Judges was replaced by the rule of a king, and the
Israelites remained as one nation through the rule of King Solomon.
But the nation was divided into two, north and south after the reign
of King Solomon: The north with ten tribes, and the South with two
The North was called Israel, and the south, Judah with Jerusalem as
its capital. Israel was defeated by the Assyrians around 720 BC, and
it ceased to exist as an independent nation since then.
Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar around 595
After 70 years of captivity, and the conquest of Babylon by Persia,
some Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.
The walls of Jerusalem were built under the prophets Nehemiah and
In 330 BC Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, and
Jerusalem fell under the rule of the Greece as a result
In 63 BC, Jerusalem fell under the Roman Empire. It remained under
Roman Empire when the Messiah, Jesus Christ was born.
Effects of the rule of Jerusalem by
Different Foreign Powers
Introduction of foreign customs and
traditions: The Israelites had strict oral and written customs and
traditions. But they have been exposed to a great deal of foreign
customs during many years of captivity under different powers. These
include different practices of worship.
Creation of political and religious
Sadducees: were rich, well educated in the Laws of Moses, and consisted
of the chief priests. They did not believe in the resurrection of the
dead. (Matt. 22:23-24)
Pharisees: consisted of the common people, were conservative, and hoped
for the coming a Messiah who would free them from the rule of the
Romans. The Pharisees, unlike the Sadducees, believed in the
resurrection of the dead.
There were also other political factions known as Zealots, who sought to
expel the Romans by force. One of Jesus' disciples, Simon was a member
of this group.
Another faction, known as Essenes were as zealous for Jerusalem as the
Zealots, but did not believe in an armed struggle. They believed that
only God could deliver them from the rule of the Romans. They used to
practice an ascetic life.
The Birth of Jesus
Jesus Christ was born:
During the 27th year of the reign of
In the 40th year of the reign Herod, in Galilee of Judea
In Bethlehem, a province of Galilee, in Jerusalem
In a manger with farm animals
In the middle of a peaceful night, a night in which angels and
humans praised God in unison for the first time since the fall of
Adam and Eve
Jesus Christ on earth
After Jesus Christ was born, He was exiled to Egypt because King Herod
sought to kill Him. He returned to Jerusalem after three & half years,
after the death of King Herod, and lived in Galilee. (Matt. 2)
was baptized in the Jordan River at the age of 30, by John the Baptist.
went into a wilderness right after His baptism, where he fasted for 40
days and nights, and was tempted by Satan. (Matt.4)
started His ministry after this, and chose 12 disciples. (luke
went around the land of Judea, teaching the people, and performing
numerous miracles, i.e. healing the sick, raising the dead...
came into Jerusalem teaching and performing a great deal of miracles,
where children and many people received Him laying their clothes and
pine leaves, and singing, "Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He
who comes in the name of the Lord." (John 12)
few days after He arrived in Jerusalem, He was accused of:
Transgressing the Law of Moses
Claiming to be the Son of God
Claiming to be a King of the Jews
Refusing to pay tax for Cesar
Thus, the Jews took Him, and crucified Him on a Cross, with two other
criminals on a Friday. (Matt. 27)
Jesus was risen from the dead on the 3rd day, as He has spoken often to
His disciples. He appeared to the disciples often after His
resurrection, and taught them, and opened their minds & understandings.
He gave them the promise of the Holy Spirit, and commissioned them to go
and "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Mat. 28:19)
ascended into heaven on the 40th day of His Resurrection.
The 'Birthday' of the Church
Pentecost: The disciples received the Holy Spirit, according to the
promise of Jesus Christ, on the 50th day of His Resurrection (the 10th
day of His Ascension). Matthias was chosen to be among the 12 disciples
in the place of Judas of Iscariot, after the ascension of Jesus Christ,
and before the day of Pentecost.
day of Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Church, because
on this day, the disciples received the Holy Spirit, and started their
the House of Israel was established by the twelve children of Israel
(Jacob), the Church was 'born' on the foundation of the apostles, after
they received the gift and the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Eph. 2:19-21; Matt. 5:13-16)
The Era or Martyrdom
first three hundred years of Christianity was marked by a great deal of
persecution against Christians. Through a great deal of trials,
tribulations and martyrdom, the Christians of the first three centuries
preserved the faith.
Stephen is the first martyr of the first century. His death led to the
exile of Christians outside of Jerusalem. But this also helped spread -
the first mission of the Church outside of Jerusalem. (Acts 7 & 8)
James, the son of Zebedee (brother of John the apostle) was the first
martyr among the disciples. He was martyred in Jerusalem in 44 AD by
of the greatest evangelists of the first century, St. Paul was converted
to Christianity while on his way Damascus with a mandate to bound and
bring Christians to Jerusalem. (Acts 9) He was martyred in
Rome by Nero Cesar.
faithful in Antioch were the first to be called Christians. (Acts
The challenges during the Era of
friction among Jewish Christians, and the Gentiles who converted to
Christianity (Acts 15):
This friction led to a Council of the
disciples in Jerusalem - the 1st Holy Synod - and the disciples made the
apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you
with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and
keep the law” - to whom we gave no such commandment - it
seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men
to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their
lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent
Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth.
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no
greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things
offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual
Persecution by the Jews (Acts 7 & 8; 9:1, 9:23; 12)
Persecution by gentiles (Acts 14; 16:16-24; 19:21-41
Persecution by Kings & men of power
James, the son of Zebedee was martyred by Herod Agrippa
Peter & St. Paul were martyred in Rome by Nero Cesar.
the Apostle was exiled to the island of Patmos by Emperor Domitian.
Ignatius was thrown to lions in an exhibition stadium by Emperor Trajan.
Decius made a decree of idol worship.
Diocletian made the following decrees to put an end to Christianity:
made a decree to close all churches, burn all church manuscripts, and
confiscate all church properties.
also made a decree to restrict Christians from all public service & to
deny them all judicial rights and privileges.
Christians used to assemble and worship in a catacomb during this
the belief that human souls are trapped in an imperfect body, and a
material world, and that one can be free of these through spiritual
Sabellianism (Modalistic Monarchianism) (2nd Century): the view that
"God is one in person, and it is this only person of God that was
manifested at different times i.e. God the father was incarnate and
manifested as Jesus Christ, and was later manifested as the Holy Spirit"
This heresy was taught by Sabellius, a native of Libya.
Dynamic Monarchianism (3rd Century): The belief that "Jesus was a mere
man, until he received divine wisdom and power when God dwelled in him
after He was baptized in the Jordan River." Paul of Samasota, a Syrian
theologian was the architect of this view, and his teaching was
condemned in a council of Bishops in Antioch in 269 AD.
these hardships and challenges did not destroy the church, but
strengthened it. One of the early fathers of the Church said: "If
you fight against a man, you may defeat him of you may be defeated. But
it is impossible to defeat the Church. The church is always in a
struggle, but is never defeated."
The First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325 AD)
Issue: The heretic teaching of Arius - that 'the Son of God is a created
being, and did not co-exist eternally with the Father.' Arius was
condemned by the Church of Alexandria in 321 AD.
Outcome: The council of Nicaea was called by Constantine I. Three
Hundred Eighteen bishops and scholars attended the council, and
condemned the teaching of Arius, and excommunicated Arius and His
followers. The Nicene Creed was written at this council as a statement
of the Orthodox Faith.
The First Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381 AD)
Issue: The heresy of Macedonius - that 'the Holy Spirit has no form and
Outcome: 150 Church fathers met at this council, denounced this heresy
and excommunicated Macedonius with his followers. The article of faith
about the Divinity of the Holy Spirit was added to the Nicene Creed at
The First Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 AD)
Issue: The heresy of Nestorius - that 'Jesus had two persons and two
natures, and the Virgin Mary gave birth to the human person of Jesus,
and therefore should not be called the mother of God (Theotokos).'
Outcome: 200 church fathers assembled in this council, denounced this
heresy, and excommunicated Nestorius and his followers. The council,
under the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria decreed Jesus Christ as
one person, and that the Virgin Mary should be called Theotokos - mother
The Second Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (449 AD)
Issue: The heresy of Eutyches - that 'the humanity of Jesus Christ is
absorbed by His Divinity.'
Outcome: Eutyches was accused of the above-mentioned Heresy by Flavian,
Patriarch of Constantinople. But Eutyches denied the charges and
declared to accept the first three Ecumenical Councils. Thus he was
absolved of Flavian's condemnation. But St. Dioscoros, chairman of the
Council of Ephesus, later anathemized Eutyches because he continued to
spread the heresy he was accused of.
Pope of Rome was not present at this council, and only sent a letter in
support of Flavian - and declaring two natures in the one person of
Jesus Christ. This was a contradiction to the church's teaching and the
teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria - a teaching that was upheld as
Orthodox in 432 & 433 AD (after the First Council of Ephesus).
The First 'Ecumenical' Council of Chalcedon (451 AD)
Issue: The heresy of Eutyches and the Second Ecumenical Council of
Outcome: The Pope of Rome was not present at this council, but sent a
letter in support of a new doctrine - that 'Christ has two distinct
natures in one person.' Dioscorus was not allowed a seat in the council.
Instead he was condemned for refusing the Pope's new doctrine. The sour
outcome of this council was a schism among the Church: Chalcedonian &
Non-Chalcedonian. Dioscoros was exiled by the emperor, Marcian.
Non-Chalcedonian Christians are the Oriental churches that are in
communion with each other. These are the Ethiopian, the Coptic, the
Armenian, the Syrian and the Indian Orthodox churches.
Chalcedonian churches later split among themselves at 1054 AD over the
issue of papal primacy over the other patriarchs & the filioque
clause - a clause added to the Nicene Creed by the pope that
'the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father & the Son.'
The Beginning and Expansion of Islam
Islamic Religion was started around the beginning of the 7th century.
630 AD, Mohammed, the first prophet of Islam, took over Mecca.
636 AD, Jerusalem, in 639 AD, Syria, and in 641 AD, Alexandria was taken
over by Muslim Arabs.
Between 639 AD & 717 AD, Most of North Africa was taken over by Muslim
first schism of the church after the council of Chalcedon led to the
rapid expansion of Islam in the Middle East and North Africa. Most of
the regions that were taken over by the Muslims were strong and
historical centers of Christianity. Growing schism among Christian
nations led to the fall of Alexandria (641 AD) and most of North Africa
(639 - 717 AD) under Islam.
Martin Luther was a 16th century reformer, who began the Protestant
was brought up as a devout catholic, and became a monk.
95 theses in protest of the sale of indulgence (reduction or exchange of
temporal punishment for financial contribution) to finance the
construction of St. Peter Basilica sparked the protestant reformation.
Through this protest, Martin Luther introduced new teaching central to
the protestant reformation:
Justification by Faith: Only faith, and not works, is essential for
Universal priesthood: That everybody is a priest.
Bible as the sole authority: The Bible is the only source of the
Christian faith. Tradition is not essential.
There was a schism within the protestant reformation from the beginning
into the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches.
16th century was marked by a great deal of reformation movement, and the
political separation of the Church of England from the Catholic Church.
reformation movement was started to make changes within the Catholic
Church, but with the break up of the Church of England, and the
excommunication of Martin Luther, the movement led to a schism from the
Catholic Church, and the creation of many other protestant movements
result different protestant sects that rejected infant baptism, the
devotion to the Virgin Mary, intercession of saints, and many other
church sacraments were created.
History of Christianity in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is known as the land of Kush in the Bible.
is the grandson of Noah - the 10th generation patriarch from Adam.
also used to be called Ethiopis. He came to Ethiopia with Abis & Saba.
Accordingly the land was called the land of Kush, Ethiopia (derived from
Ethiopis) and Abyssinia (derived from Abis).
brought with him the practice of Judaism, and thus Ethiopians used to
worship God even before the existence of the Scripture. The fact that
Moses wife was Ethiopian is a testament of this fact.
Old Testament came to Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant through King
Minilik I, the son of Solomon & Queen of Sheba. (1Kings 10:9)
Priests and different goods of worship also came to Ethiopia with
the Ark of the Covenant at this time.
There are many historical sites that bear witness to Judaic worship in
different parts of Ethiopia, which served as centers of religious
worship since this period.
There is a strong consensus among Church historians and scholars that
one of the kings who brought gifts to Jesus Christ at the time of His
birth was an Ethiopian. There are some who argue that all were
Ethiopian. (Myrrh, one of the gifts the kings presented to Jesus
Christ, is a resinous material derived from a tree native to Ethiopia.)
Christianity was introduced in Ethiopia just a year after the
resurrection of Jesus Christ, through the Ethiopian Eunuch, Bachos - who
was baptized by Philip in 34 AD while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
(Acts 8) It is also believed that Ethiopians were among
the 3000 who believed and were baptized on the day of Pentecost.
the order of the priesthood came to Ethiopia in the early forth century
through Frumentius (Abuna Selama). Abuna Selama was ordained a bishop by
St. Athanasius in 351 AD, and Christianity became the state religion
ever since he returned to Ethiopia as a bishop.
Abuna Selama translated the New Testament into Ge-ez, and introduced the
sacrament and the sacrifice of the New Covenant to replace Judaic
sacrifice of the Old Covenant.
Christianity was further spread to many parts of Ethiopia through the
famous 9 saints who came to Ethiopia seeking shelter from the
persecution of Chalcedonians, after 451 AD. They embraced the culture
and the language of Ethiopia and founded monasteries that became centers
of theological studies and monastic life to this day.
Abuna Gebre Menfes Kidus and Abuna Teklehaimanot are among the most
notable saints that spread Christianity to the remote parts of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Christianity survived through many years of hardships:
Ethiopian Eunuch certainly faced resistance from the Ethiopian Jews when
he returned to Ethiopia with the gospel.
Athanasius of Alexandria was exiled by sympathizers of the Arians after
the First Council of Nicaea. These sympathizers also tried to replace Abuna Selama, for he was ordained by St. Athanasius.
Caleb of Ethiopia went to Nagran, southern Yemen, to save Christians
from the oppression by Jews. He made a vow to give up his crown if God
would give him victory. He came back victorious, and gave up his throne
according to his promise to lead a monastic life.
Islamic rulers of Egypt had a great deal of influence on the missions of
the bishops who came to Ethiopia from Egypt. The first mosque in
Ethiopia was built by an Egyptian bishop (probably in exchange for ease
the burden of Christians in Egypt). Ethiopia was left without a bishop
for several years due to the restrictions imposed by the Islamic rulers
Yodit Gudit, a Jewish woman took advantage of a weakening monarchy, came
to power in the 8th century. She ruled for 40 years, during which she
destroyed many churches, obelisks and manuscript.
Islamic Jihad (1527 - 1542) under Ahmed Gragn (the left handed) led to
the destruction of many churches, monasteries and manuscripts. Many
Christians were martyred during this period, and others changed their
faith for fear of being massacred. Ahmed led such massacre with the aid
of foreign Islamic fighters. The ill effects of his brutal campaign are
felt to this day.
Portuguese, who came to help Ethiopian Christians from onslaught of
Ahmed Gragn, created a doctrinal controversy that led to the conversion
of King Suseneyous to Catholicism. He persecuted and martyred many of
the faithful in an effort to convert the people to the Catholic faith.
The faithful were subjected to another affliction, before the wounds
from the Islamic invasion healed.
the son of Soseneyous, Fassiledes, came to the throne after his father's
death, he looked at the suffering of the people, and forced the
Portuguese to leave the country. He proclaimed the Orthodox faith again
as the official faith of the nation.
Italian occupation of Ethiopia during the 2nd world war was accompanied
by brutal massacre of the faithful and the clergy. The 20th century
saint of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abuna Petros, was executed by
the Italians for refusing to pledge support for the occupation and for
openly condemning the invasion.
perpetration against the church continues to this day. Islamic
fundamentalists are burning churches and literally butchering the
faithful in different parts of the country. Islamic terrorists are
proclaiming a 'holy war' against Ethiopia and Christianity.
the other hand, Protestants, supported by foreign evangelicals, are
trying to convert the faithful from the Orthodox faith. These and
Islamic fundamentalists pose the greatest challenge to the Ethiopian
Orthodox Church in the new Millennium.
the Church is built upon a solid foundation, which cannot be moved or
destroyed by any power: "the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
(Matthew. 16:18) So has it survived to this day, and will
continue to survive to the end.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church gained complete autocephaly from the
Coptic church in 1959 with the ordination of His Holiness Abuna Baslios,
as the first Patriarch of Ethiopia, in 1959.