The Portal February 2018 - Page 6

THE P RTAL February 2018 Page 6 Ethiopia & its Churches Fr Mark Woodruff continues the voyage of discovery “D o they know it’s Christmas-time?”, sang Band Aid in 1984 during Ethiopia’s famine.  Yet Ethiopians knew the season well, because their Marxist government was persecuting them as they kept it. We therefore realised that Ethiopia is a Christian civilisation older than most of Europe’s, since Emperor Azana embraced the Gospel in about AD 330. Ethiopia’s 100 millions comprise 90 different peoples and languages belonging to an ancient continuum of north African and Semitic civilisation: the lands of Cush stretching from Sudan, the Nile and the Horn of Africa, across the Red Sea to Saba (or Sheba ) in Yemen and Arabia, whence prized gifts were brought first by a queen to Solomon and later by the Magi to Jesus. We know Jewish tribes settled and traded across the region. Lady of Mount Zion Church at Aksum. No Ethiopian Church is considered consecrated until it enshrines its own replica of the Tablet of Ten Commandments (like English parish churches of old!)   The Ethiopian Church calls itself a “Tawahedo” (“oneness”) Church, one that upholds the fundamental belief that Christ is “united”, not “two in one”. Catholics and Greek Orthodox say that Christ has two natures, human and divine, distinct but inseparable, in one Islam may have arisen from such origins, but so too Person.  did the Christian Arabians known to Muhammed. On an island in the Nile near Aswan stood a Hebrew Ethiopians, Copts, Armenians, Syriac and Indian Temple from the fifth century BC to 700 AD; and Orthodox (the “Oriental Orthodox”) say that a person Ethiopian Jews remained until emigrating to Israel has one nature: Christ is God Himself come in the in the 1980s. Ethiopians were in the Holy Land much flesh, so his nature is both human and divine united, earlier, hearing Peter preach and receiving baptism neither mixed nor separate. from Philip; Bartholomew and Matthew are still honoured for their mission to Aksum, probably among This difference has divided us since the council of Jewish communities. To roots in Hebraic religion, Chalcedon in 451, which the Oriental Orthodox then, the Christianity of Ethiopia and Eritrea owes rejected. Recently we realised, however, that these some remarkable patrimony. terminologies are not incompatible, but different perspectives on the same faith in the Incarnation. Their rite came from Alexandria, like that of the Considerable strides have thus been made towards Copts in Egypt. St Athanasius ordained their first reconciliation. bishop. They have a larger number of books in both Old and New Testaments, fourteen Eucharistic prayers   This is just as well, because Catholic-Ethiopian (thirteen probably Syrian in origin, but they failed to relations have historically been uneasy. In the 16 th survive elsewhere), and an additional order of ministry. century, the Emperor appealed to the Portuguese in India to save Ethiopia from Islamic subjugation. But The debtaras are a kind of an intermediary between the Portuguese sought control for themselves, sending the faithful and the priests, seen like the scribes in Jesuits to make Catholic converts: not Muslims, but the time of Christ. Versed in the psalms and hymns the existing Christians. In 1623, Gregory XV inserted by heart, they thus have authority to lead the chanting Alfonso Mendez SJ as a puppet patriarch. with dance and drums, before an