Addis Abeba – In a rare and strongly worded response to Prime Minister Abiy’ Ahmed’s remarks on the ongoing crisis that has fractured the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), the Holy Synod of the church issued a statement last night rejecting, rebuffing, fact-checking and criticizing the Prime Minister’s talking points point by point.
The Synod also issued ultimatum to the government “to carry out the responsibilities assigned by the constitution by upholding the institutional supremacy of the Church, the rights and interests given to it by law, and by giving appropriate correction to the illegal actions” by the breakaway Archbishops, and alternatively, threatened to call for a worldwide protest if corrective measures were not to be taken.
In a clear sign of a worrying times ahead, the Holy Synod emphasized that unless the crisis is resolved and the rights of the church are upheld, the Synod will organize worldwide demonstrations by its members against the government, to inform the international community the catastrophe the church is facing.
Addressing the Premier’s reflections that “the current situation in the Orthodox Church is very simple and it can be resolved through dialogue.” the Synod said he “underestimated” the seriousness of the matter and sidelined the decision by the Holy Synod to excommunicate the three breakaway archbishops and the 25 appointee episcopate, and accused the PM saying that Synod believes this description is equivalent to the state’s interference in the church’s internal affairs by putting aside the canonical decisions of the church.
With regard to the PM’s assertions that “both sides have truth, and both are our fathers, we do not favor or oppose one over the other”, the Synod criticized the statement as creating an equivalence between “the legally recognized church with the illegal group denounced by the church.” It added that considering the two sides as equals, encourages “illegality and sidesteps the government’s responsibility to protect and guarantee legal institutions”.
The Synod out-rightly rejected PM’s Abiy’s reflections for dialogue through negotiations saying that to be “united through negotiation,” gives the church in the position to violate religious guidelines, destroy canonical systems, and accept the breakaway group as equals in the administrative structure of the Church.
“The instruction not only encourages disorder but also imposes on the executives to hesitate in fulfilling their responsibilities and it nullifies their constitutional authority,”
The statement also lashed out at the PM’s instruction to members of his cabinet “not to interfere”, saying that it will cripple the efforts of government executives, at all levels, who have been making significant efforts to protect the peace and security of the people.
“The instruction not only encourages disorder but also imposes on the executives to hesitate in fulfilling their responsibilities and it nullifies their constitutional authority,” the Synod stated.
The Holy Synod told the government these issued should be rectified and the government must fulfill its constitutional responsibility of ensuring the rule of law and the security of institutions, as it is a duty that calls into question the rule of law, the statement underlined.
“State and religion are separate as it is clearly stipulated in the constitution and the church believes that the government should not interfere in the religious and canonical affairs of the church,” the Synod said.
It also stated serious accusations that “in East Wollega, Kelem Welega and Horo Gudru zones, members of the special forces of the Oromia National Regional Government, under the special patrol escort and care, forcibly broke into the legal institutions of the church, and the religious and administrative institutions of the church were invaded by the illegal groups.” Clerics and administrative staff of the church who opposed the illegal take over of the Church by the breakaway group were detained, legal vehicles of the church were denied of movement and to be used for any service.
“The fact that all these were done under the leadership of the state government led us to the belief that the government has violated the constitution and interfering in religious matters, and with its approval, a coup d’état on the synod is taking place,” the Synod said, further cautioning the government to ensure the necessary protection and life insurance for the bishops and officials of the church to carry out their responsibilities in the dioceses where they have been assigned to work without harassment or security risks in line with the legal status of the Holy Synod’s administrative structure.
On the remarks by the PM that with his government’s support “two patriarchs have been in charge of one chair” after the exiled Synod was returned home, the Holy Synod said it was factually incorrect and failed to reflect the reality on ground, as the roles of the late Abune Merkorios, the 4th Patriarch, after his return from exile were only to serve as spiritual figurehead of the Church and not who doubled as a Patriarch. This argument was rather forwarded as cover to allow “the illegal pontificate and subversion of the Synod” by the breakaway group in violation of the religious, canonical and administrative practices of the Church, the Synod said.
According to the statement, the appointment of the bishops who returned with the late Abune Merkoriosto to the country and become members of the Holy Synod was not made in violation of the canon, as was indicated in the PM’s remarks.
“The fact that all these were done under the leadership of the state government led us to the belief that the government has violated the constitution and interfering in religious matters, and with its approval, a coup d’état on the synod is taking place,”
The Synod also strongly reacted against the Premier’s remarks that neither he, nor his government can suppress the demands of people for the “right to serve” in one’s language. “The long history of the church proves that it has recognized language services in its laws, and even more so, especially since it has been providing language services” to the followers of the church living in the Oromia regional state. “The church contributed to the ministry by translating the Christian books of worship and rituals into Oromo language, including the three bishops who were revoked who had made their illegal appointment and the assignment of many bishops who speak the language was made,” according to the statement.
In what seemed to be an attempt to respond in detail to the accusations that the Church lacked the language diversity, the Synod further went on saying that “the church has opened spiritual colleges so that the indigenous people of the region can learn in their language and become fit for service. It organized priest training institutions in all dioceses and taught the gospel to thousands of serving priests, deacons, and preachers,” and demanded to “correct the explanation that the church opposed the language services and closed the doors.”
The other issued the Synod criticized the Prime Minister was his assertion that unlike any governments, his government granted land and property the church. The Synod said it was the legal property that the church has been using for centuries and it has been asking for it to be confirmed with a title deed; it was not new property that was acquired by the church with a grace of the state. Although it was not given to her as stated, and even if it was, given the fact that more than 75% of the population of Addis Abeba are followers of the Church, it shouldn’t have been counted as a special privilege as the PM portrayed it to be, the Synod contested
This rebuke by the Synod also extended to the PM’s remarks that his government has been helping the rehabilitation of the world heritage site at Lalibela Rock Hewn Churches Church, being financed by the French government. The site is a tourist destination from which the government is bagging permanent source of income, the statement said.
Refuting the Prime Minister;s explanation that there were no such uproar when religious fathers in Tigray decided to severe relations with the Synod saying that the “synod uttered nothing about religious fathers in Tigray, so it is inappropriate to protests when it occurred in Oromia”, the Synod has pushed back at the argument that saying religious fathers in Tigray region and the entire Christian population did not establish an “illegal Synod in violation of the laws and canons of the church. They did not appoint bishops.” It demanded the Prime Minister to correct the explanation given in “the comparison of the two unrelated actions in a situation that pretends to give legal cover to the illegal appointment and a coup d’état.”
On 26 January the principal Holy Synod of the EOTC have excommunicated three breakaway Archbishops and 25 appointee episcopate accusing them of involving in “illegal anointment” without the knowledge of the church. On Saturday 28 January, the three archbishops and 25 episcopate also excommunicated 12 Archbishops of EOTC Holy Synod members in a counter measure, followed by dispatching over the weekend, bishops to their assigned dioceses.
The event that led to what has now potentially become a split of the EOTC happened at the Haro Beale Wold Church in Woliso city of the South-West Shoa zone in Oromia Regional State, on 22 January, where His Holiness Abune Sawiros (PhD), Archbishop of South West Shoa Diocese, together with two other Archbishops, appointed 26 bishops: 17 bishops for dioceses located in the Oromia region, and nine bishops for dioceses outside Oromia without the involvement of the Holy Synod, creating widespread shock and anger among many of the church’s followers.
His Holiness Abune Sawiros explained the decision to appoint the 26 episcopate was made to resolve long lasting problems within the church for failing to serve believers in their native languages and detached of their culture, which resulted in loss of millions of believers over the past years particularly in Oromia and Southern region.
However, the appointment was called “illegal” by his Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) who convened an emergency meeting to deal with the event he described as “a great event that has targeted the church.”
Since then the breakaway Archbishops who formed the “Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities.” are dispatching nominee episcopate to their local dioceses and claim that they are being received with “overwhelming” public welcome from the faithful.
The Prime Minister’s remarks that the Synod strongly reacted to in its statement yesterday was the first public remark since the crisis, in which he said that on the controversy should be addressed with the leaders of the Church settling their differences through dialogue and discussion. He also defended his government’s track record of helping the Church in the face of growing criticisms, including by the Ezema party, of roles being played by the ruling party to divide the church by helping the breakaway Archbishop. AS