Christianity in Ethiopia

Christianity in Ethiopia

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Christianity in Ethiopia'
Start a new discussion about 'Christianity in Ethiopia'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia



Christianity in Ethiopia dates to the first century AD, and this long tradition makes Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 unique amongst sub-Saharan African countries. Christianity in this country is divided into several groups. The largest and oldest is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the predominant Oriental Orthodox Christian church in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Church was administratively 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...

 (in Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ኦርቶዶክስ ተዋሕዶ ቤተክርስትያን Yäityop'ya ortodoks täwahedo bétäkrestyan) is an Oriental Orthodox church in Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 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
Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria
Father Mina became Pope of Alexandria on 10 May 1959 . In accordance with the old Coptic church tradition, Pope Cyril VI was the only monk in the 20th century to be chosen for papacy without having being a bishop /Metropolitan first...

.

The only pre-colonial Christian church of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian Orthodox church has a membership of slightly more than 32 million people in Ethiopia, and is thus the largest of all Oriental Orthodox churches. Next in size are the various Protestant
P'ent'ay
P'ent'ay or Pentay is a slang term widely used in modern Ethiopia, and among Ethiopians living abroad, to describe Ethiopian Christians who are not members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo, Ethiopian Orthodox Tehadeso, Roman Catholic or Ethiopian Catholic churches...

 congregations, who include 13.7 million Ethiopians. The largest Protestant group is the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus
Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus
The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is a Christian denomination in Ethiopia. It was created in 1959 with the merger of Lutheran and other congregations established by missionary work in that country, taking its name from the first congregation in Addis Ababa, Mekane Yesus...

, with about 5 million members. Roman Catholicism
Roman Catholicism in Ethiopia
The Catholic Church in Ethiopia is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome.The Ethiopian Catholic Church, the primary organization of Catholicism in the country, is especially close to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, whose doctrine and...

 has been present in Ethiopia since the 16th century, and numbers 536,827 believers. In total, Christians make up 62.76% of the total population of the country.

Christian Roots


Although Christianity existed far before the rule of King Ezana the Great of the Kingdom of Axum, the religion took a strong foothold when it was declared a state religion in 330 AD. Pinpointing a date as to when Christianity emerged in Ethiopia is uncertain. The earliest and best known reference to the introduction of Christianity was when the Apostle Philip converted an Ethiopian traveler in the 1st Century AD from the Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles , usually referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age...

. Although the bible refers to them as Ethiopians, scholars have argued that Ethiopia was a common term used for encompassing the area South-Southeast of Egypt.

According to church historian Nicephorus
Nicephorus
-Rulers:* Nikephoros I Komnenos Doukas, Despot of Epirus 1267-1297* Nikephoros I Logothetes, Byzantine emperor 802-811* Nikephoros II Orsini, ruler of Epirus 1335-1338 and 1356-1359* Nikephoros II Phokas, Byzantine emperor 963-969...

, the apostle St. Matthew, preached the Christian Gospel to modern-day Ethiopia
Ethiopia
Ethiopia , officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million inhabitants, and the tenth-largest by area, occupying 1,100,000 km2...

 (then called Colchis
Colchis
In ancient geography, Colchis or Kolkhis was an ancient Georgian state kingdom and region in Western Georgia, which played an important role in the ethnic and cultural formation of the Georgian nation.The Kingdom of Colchis contributed significantly to the development of medieval Georgian...

) after having preached in Judea
Judea
Judea or Judæa was the name of the mountainous southern part of the historic Land of Israel from the 8th century BCE to the 2nd century CE, when Roman Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina following the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt.-Etymology:The...

. Other traditions have the convert as a Jew who was a steward in the Queen’s court. All accounts do agree on the fact that the traveler was a member of the royal court who succeeded in converting the Queen, which in turn caused a church to be built. Rufinus of Tyre
Tyrannius Rufinus
Tyrannius Rufinus or Rufinus of Aquileia was a monk, historian, and theologian. He is most known as a translator of Greek patristic material into Latin—especially the work of Origen.-Life:...

, a noted church historian, recorded a personal account as did other church historians such as Socrates and Sozemius. The Garima Gospels
Garima Gospels
The Garima Gospels are believed to be "the world’s earliest illustrated Christian manuscript" and the oldest surviving Ethiopian manuscript of any kind.The Gospels are housed in Ethiopia's Abba Garima Monastery. They have never left the monastery...

 are thought to be the world's oldest illuminated Christian manuscripts.

Frumentius


After being shipwrecked and captured at an early age, Frumentius
Frumentius
Saint Frumentius was the first Bishop of Axum, and he is credited with bringing Christianity to the Aksumite Kingdom. He was a Syro-Phoenician Greek born in Tyre....

 was carried to Axum where he was treated well with his companion Edesius. At the time, there was a small population of Christians living there who sought refuge from Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 persecution. Once of age, Frumentius and Edesius were allowed to return to their homelands, however they chose to stay at the request of the queen. In doing so, they began to secretly promote Christianity through the lands.

During a trip to meet with church elders, Frumentius met with Athanasius, Archbishop
Archbishop
An archbishop is a bishop of higher rank, but not of higher sacramental order above that of the three orders of deacon, priest , and bishop...

 of Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

 who was second in line to the pope. After recommending that a bishop be sent to proselytize, a council decided that Frumentius be appointed as a bishop to Ethiopia.

By 331 AD, Frumentius returned to Ethiopia, he was welcomed with open arms by the rulers who were at the time not Christian. Ten years later, through the support of the kings, the majority of the kingdom was converted and Christianity was declared the official state religion.

Isolation as a Christian Nation


With the emergence of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 in the seventh century, Ethiopia's Christians became isolated from the rest of the Christian world. The head of the Ethiopian church has been appointed by the patriarch
Patriarch
Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a compound of πατριά , "lineage, descent", esp...

 of the Coptic church in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, and Ethiopian monks had certain rights in the church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is a church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a few steps away from the Muristan....

 in Jerusalem. Despite the expansion of Islam, Ethiopia was the only region of northern Africa to survive as a Christian state.

Jesuit Missionaries


In 1441 some Ethiopian monks traveled from Jerusalem to attend the Council in Florence
Council of Florence
The Council of Florence was an Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It began in 1431 in Basel, Switzerland, and became known as the Council of Ferrara after its transfer to Ferrara was decreed by Pope Eugene IV, to convene in 1438...

 which discussed possible union between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches.

The arrival of the Ethiopian monks caused something of a sensation. It began two centuries of contact in which there were hopes to bring the Ethiopians into the Catholic fold (the doctrinal problem was that they inclined to the monophysite heresy associated with the Coptic church of Egypt). In 1554 Jesuits arrived in Ethiopia to be joined in 1603 by Pedro Páez
Pedro Páez
Pedro Páez Jaramillo was a Spanish Jesuit missionary in Ethiopia. Páez is considered by many experts on Ethiopia to be the most effective Catholic missionary in Ethiopia...

, a Spanish missionary
Missionary
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

 of such energy and zeal that he has been called the second apostle of Ethiopia (Frumentius being the first). The Jesuits were expelled in 1633 which was then followed by two centuries of more isolation until the second half of the 19th century.

21st century


In March 2011, International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern is a non-denominational, non-governmental, Christian watchdog group, located in Washington, DC, whose concern is the human rights of Christians...

 said that a Muslim group spurred Muslim youths to burn up to 50 Ethiopian Christian churches and kill one person on the basis of accusations that Christians had desecrated the Koran.

See also

  • Protestantism in Ethiopia
    Protestantism in Ethiopia
    Protestants in Ethiopia are mostly known by the name Pentay or short for Pentecostal even though Pentecostals proper are a small minority by comparison...

  • Roman Catholicism in Ethiopia
    Roman Catholicism in Ethiopia
    The Catholic Church in Ethiopia is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome.The Ethiopian Catholic Church, the primary organization of Catholicism in the country, is especially close to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, whose doctrine and...

  • Christianity in India
    Christianity in India
    Christianity is India's third-largest religion, with approximately 24 million followers, constituting 2.3% of India's population. The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings and 14th century Portuguese missionaries created an illusion to convert Indians that Christianity was introduced to...