Addis Abeba — His Holiness Abuna Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), cautioned that the current challenges the ancient church is facing in Oromia and Tigray regional states are “going beyond” the Church and becoming people’s challenges that require wisdom to be addressed.
The Holy Patriarch said this in his opening speech of the Church’s annual convention of the assembly of priests, which kicked off in the capital Addis Abeba today.
“Especially since the challenges we faced in Tigray and Oromia areas are going beyond the church into the people, it is better to listen to the people’s questions and accept them with wisdom and love in a manner that respects the religion and the canon,” The Holy Patriarch said. “We should also share their losses. In general, by doing what fathers and mothers should do for their children, we should approach them and embrace them.”
The remarks from Holy Patriarch came at a time the Synod continued facing challenges from the Oromia and Tigray regional states, two regions posing separate challenges that came to the open over the last few months.
In late January this year, a never-before-seen schism had threatened to divide the Holy Synod when a group of breakaway archbishops from Oromia regional state declared the appointment of 26 bishops: 17 bishops for dioceses located in the Oromia region, and nine bishops for dioceses outside Oromia region resulting in heightened tension between the Church and the government, which the church accused of meddling in its affairs.
A few weeks later both sides announced that the have resolved their differences ending a near month-long schism through “constructive discussion” and according to “the canon of the church.”
But observers say the issue is far from over, and an upcoming annual summit by the Holy Synod may result in yet another controversy.
Similarly, the Church is fighting to bring back the Tigray Orthodox church, which had established its own See of Selama Kessate Beharan Archdiocese, Tigray Orthodox Tewahdo Church, a newly organized structure in the Tigray region.
The Holy Synod in Addis Abeba accused the religious leaders in the region of creating “a new illegal regional structure called ‘Menber Selama Tigray Archdiocese office” in a way that violates “the institutional unity and existing structural organization of our church.”
It was on 07 May 2021 that the Archbishops in Tigray first announced the formation of the new Tigray Orthodox Church, effectively cutting ties with the EOTC Holy Synod in Addis Abeba. The archbishops said their decision to severe ties with the Synod was as a result of the its silence while many priests were killed, monasteries and churches in Tigray were destroyed and religious heritages were looted during the war.
The Holy Patriarch cautioned the assembly of priests today that “at this time, we should make good use of the wisdom that taught us, ‘be as gentle as doves and wise as snakes.’ The problems faced by the church cannot be solved unless using this wisdom.”
He also said that the Church “must have the courage to ask for forgiveness and repent if there is anyone we have wronged, or offended.”
“We who teach to be reconciled, forgive, and repent should not find it difficult to ask for forgiveness and repent. There is no doubt that the problem can be alleviated with this Christian wisdom,” he further said.
The Holy Patriarch also made a point that the “peace situation in our country seems to be stable on one side, while on the other side, we are seeing that a conflict is happening,” and that will eventually hurt both the Church, the people and the development of the county. “…the Church does not exist without the country and the people, so we must work hard for peace with religious principles and spirit, with an independent position and an all-inclusive strategy to resolve conflicts peacefully, to ensure the unity and development of the people.”
He expressed his expectations of the assembly of the priests that it will be an assembly, “where we will make a decision by seeing in detail the important works that have been started, which are believed to be used as a tool to fulfill the great mission of our church.”
Furthermore, he said that Church needs to see in this conference ways on how “we can quickly reach our children and comfort and support the destroyed churches and displaced believers in the northern part of our country due to the unnecessary heavy war.”
The Holy Patriarch has once again repeated his call “to those who are currently involved in unnecessary conflicts to stop the conflict and try to solve the problems through peaceful dialogue.” AS