"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday 3 December 2010





Dom Colin Battell
 Pope John-Paul II in his apostolic letter, Orientale Lumen (1995), speaks of the
Eastern Churches as ‘an integral part of the heritage of Christ’s Church’. He goes on
to say that the eastern contribution and especially its monasticism is necessary for
‘the full manifestation of the Church’s authority’. East and west should not be seen to
be in opposition but to be complementary, the ‘two lungs’ necessary for a healthy
In a famous phrase, Khomiakov could speak of ‘a new and unknown world’ with
reference to Eastern Orthodoxy. That is perhaps less true now than when he wrote as
a result of easy travel and encounters through the Orthodox diaspora. While at first
sight such encounters might seem to be with a strange and exotic form of the
Christian faith, close contact soon reveals a fundamental similarity with Catholic
belief and experience. What we have in common is far greater than what separates
and divides us.
If Russian and Greek Orthodoxy, for example, might seem unfamiliar, for most
people this is far more true of the Oriental (ie non-Chalcedonian churches) and in
particular the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. According to recent figures from the
Ethiopian Patriarchate, there are 40 million believers, including 40 Archbishops,
400,000 clergy, and  1000 monasteries. This makes it the largest of the Orthodox
family of Churches after the Russian Church.
To enter the world of Ethiopian Orthodoxy is to be confronted with what at first may
seem an exotic and certainly unique form of Christianity. This is the result of its
distinctive history and geographical isolation even from other Christian communities.
Perhaps this should hardly be surprising. To the Biblical writers, Ethiopia stood for
the back-of-beyond, the extreme limits of the imagination. Cf Are you not as the
Ethiopians to me? Amos 9:14  and Psalm 87:4 . For them Ethiopia stood for
anywhere beyond the fifth cataract of the Nile. Herodotus identifies it with the
kingdoms of Nubia and Meroe. The much quoted verse from the Psalms: ‘Ethiopia
will stretch out her hands to God’ originally had reference to the incredible universal
extent of Yahweh’s sovereignty.
Certainly, Ethiopia was thought of as remote. Homer’s Odyssey could refer to the
‘distant Ethiopians, the farthest outposts of mankind, half of whom live where the sun
goes down and half where the sun rises’.
The word Ethiopia come from the Greek ‘Aithiops’  meaning literally a burnt face . The description Abyssinian comes from the people known as the Habasha, but is not
used by Ethiopians themselves.
According to the Roman martyrology, St Matthew was the apostle of Ethiopia and he
died there. By the fourth century there were some Roman merchants there who were
Christian. In the Emperor Haile-selassie’s  (his name means ‘might of the Trinity’)
reign (1930-1974) tourist posters described the country as ‘the oldest Christian
Empire in the world’ and certainly from about 332 the rulers were Christian almost
without a break until the communist take-over in 1974. The  leader during the
communist years Mengistu Haile-Mariam also clearly has a name that shows his
Christian antecedents.
Ethiopian tradition affirms that not all were converted from paganism but that some
were Jews and some were animists. ‘Before the coming of Christianity, one half of
the people was under the Mosaic Laws, the other half was worshipping the serpent’.
In the Fetha Negast (the Book of the Law of the Kings) a work which contains
secular and ecclesiastical material (insofar as the two can be separated in Ethiopia).
The queen of Sheba from Ethiopia was converted to Judaism by her visit to King
Solomon’s Court. ‘From this moment I will not worship the sun, but the Creator of
the sun, the God of Israel’. Although the Fetha Negast is a 13th century work in its
present form, it is acknowledged to contain material dating from a much earlier
period. As we shall see there is a strong Hebraic influence in Ethiopian Christianity.
The story of Rufinus
The story of the conversion of the first Ethiopian king, Ezana, is told by Rufinus of
Aquileia. Two boys Aedesius and Frumentius were among a party who were
shipwrecked and put in at the port of Adulis on the Red Sea. They were from Tyre in
Syria. Their companions were slaughtered but being young the boys were taken to
Axum, the capital of Ethiopia at that time, and attained positions of influence at the
royal court. This was probably at the time that the Ge’ez language was replacing
Greek as the language of the court. Aedesius who was less intellectual than his
confrere was made chief steward to the king while Frumentius became his secretary
and treasurer. Being foreign they were perhaps seen as independent of internal
politics and intrigues and therefore trustworthy. On the death of the king, the Queen
acting as regent for her son Ezana asked Aedesius and Frumentius to stay and assist
her in ruling the country. Since they were Christian they promoted Christianity and
encouraged the building of prayer houses for the Roman merchants who were present
in the country. When Ezana became old enough to take over the reins of power,
Aedesius returned to Tyre while Frumentius went to Alexandria and told the great St
Athanasius that there were now Christians in Ethiopia but no bishop or clergy.
Athanasius decided to consecrate Frumentius himself and send him back as the first
bishop. ‘What other man shall we find in whom is the Spirit of God as in you, who can accomplish these things?’ St. Frumentius is known in Ethiopia as Abba Salama
(Father of Peace) and Kesate Berhan (Revealer of light). The story of Rufinus is
confirmed by inscriptions celebrating victory over the Nubians and by the letter of
Constantius, the Arian successor of Constantine, encouraging Ezana not to follow
Athanasius. Aksumite coinage also testifies to the conversion of the king to the
Christian faith.
Coptic Links
From this we see the close links from the beginning between the Ethiopian and
Coptic Churches. The tradition begun by St Athanasius continued until the late 50s of
the 20th century with the Patriarch of Alexandria sending the Abuna to lead the
Ethiopian Church. Obviously there were difficulties in having a foreigner who often
did not speak the language as head of the Church on earth, but there were no
Ethiopian bishops until the 20th century. The calendar of 12 months of 30 days and
one of 5 or 6 with New Year’s day on September 11th is also Coptic.(It should be
noted here however that Ethiopians are not Copts a word derived from the Greek for
an Egyptian. However close the links may be Ethiopians are clearly not Egyptians.)
The Ethiopian Church shared in the Alexandrine Christology and hence the rejection
of the Council of Chalcedon which it saw as failing to safeguard against
Nestorianism. Nowadays, it would probably be true to say that this is not seen as a
fundamental theological difference. Indeed the rapprochement between the
Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches should perhaps be seen as a
major ecumenical break-through (western ecumenists please note!). It is also wrong
to describe Ethiopian Christians as monophysites. Ethiopian Christology is
essentially that of St Cyril. The official title of the Ethiopian Church is the Ethiopian
Orthodox Twahido (ie united nature) Church. The key phrase in Cyril writings is
‘mia physis tou logou theou sesarkomene’ (one incarnate nature of the  Word of God)
– ie ‘mia’ (one, not necessarily alone)  not ‘mone’ which would mean ‘only incarnate
nature of the Word of God’. In this St Cyril thought he was quoting St Athanasius
though in fact the phrase comes from Apollinaris. There have been fierce
Christological disputes within the Orthodox Church down the ages but the Twahido
doctrine is the official teaching of the Church. Correctly understood, this does not
mean as is sometimes alleged that the humanity of Christ was dissolved or swallowed
up in his divinity. The Christology of the Ethiopian church is that of  Severus of
Antioch and St Cyril. As a modern writer, Peter Farrington, has put it, the Oriental
Churches  ‘utterly repudiate any teaching in which the distinctions of the natures of
divinity and humanity cease to exist in the incarnation or any teaching which
damages the complete and perfect reality and divinity of which Christ is.( But
equally) in the incarnation and for our salvation, the Word of God has deigned to
unite, in a manner past our understanding, humanity with his divinity such that even
as there is no confusion or separation equally there is no division or separation, but we see ‘One Christ’ and one Lord as the creed confesses’.
So, from the 4th century apart from the odd aberration such as the Jewish, Queen
Yodit (Judith) in the 10th century. Ethiopia was Christian ruled by a monarch who
saw himself as vice-regent of God (the lion of the tribe of Judah) and head of a
theocratic state.
From the beginning Christianity was very closely identified with the social, political
and cultural life of the people. Of course it took time for the faith to spread. Unlike
the Roman Empire where Christianity took hold, broadly speaking, first among the
lower echelons of society and gradually worked upwards to the conversion of
Constantine, in Ethiopia the opposite was true. The court was the first to be
Christianized and then the faith percolated downwards to the people. Certainly for
centuries Orthodox Christianity has been an integral part of everyday life in a way
that is scarcely conceivable to secularized westerners.
Jewish influences
Here is a form of Christianity strongly Hebraic in character that has experienced
neither the Reformation nor the rationalism of Enlightenment thinking. Ge-ez is a
Semitic language and other Jewish influences include circumcision on the eighth day.
This does not mean that Ethiopians are unaware of Pauline teaching. In any case they
do not believe they were converted from paganism but from Judaism. ‘We are not
circumcised as the Jews because we know the words of St Paul who says
circumcision avails not, but the circumcision that is practised among us is according
to the customs of the country like tattooing on the face in Ethiopia and Nubia and the
piercing of the ear among the Indians. And what we do, we do not in observance of
the law of Moses but according to the customs of men’. Other Jewish influences
include the following of the distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ foods as
legislated for in Leviticus. The Sabbath is also observed as well as Sunday. There
was a long and bitter controversy about this in the 14th century and for a time the
supporters of Sabbath observance led by Eustatewos were outlawed but the issue was
resolved in their favour at the Council of Metmaq in 1450 by the Emperor Zara
Yacob. Moreover boys are usually baptized 40 days after birth and girls after eighty
days cf Leviticus 12:1ff
There is also a class of ecclesiastical professionals known as debteras who sing and
perform a kind of liturgical dance to the accompaniment of drums, sistra and with
prayer sticks (maqwamia) rather in the manner of the Old Testament Levites.
The division of Churches into three sections also follows the pattern of the Jewish
Temple. Every Church is divided into the Meqdes (the Holy of Holies where the altar
is situated and which only the clergy may enter), the Qiddest or place of Communion and the Qene Mahlet where the singers perform. Men and women have their separate
entrances and are accommodated separately too. The whole of the church compound
is regarded as part of the Church. Some who are doing a penance given to them by
their spiritual father (nefs abbat) for certain sins do not enter the building. Shoes are
removed on entering the church. Currently a massive church building programme is
being undertaken and even during the communist years (1974-91) two huge monastic
parish churches were built in Addis Ababa. Churches can be round or octagonal
especially in the south of the country reflecting the domestic architecture or basilica
style as is common in the north and are often decorated with scenes from the Gospels
and the lives of the saints in the very distinctive style of Ethiopian iconography.
Large numbers of clergy are attached to each church as two priests and three deacons
are normally needed to service the Liturgy .The Church is involved in aid and
development work but this is usually done by the laity as liturgical functions are a full
time job for the clergy. Careful preparation is needed for the reception of Holy
Communion and the bread and wine are prepared by the deacons in a special building
near the church known as the Bethlehem (house of bread).
Another Jewish influence is in the veneration for the Ark of the Covenant (tabot). The
original ark according to Ethiopian tradition was brought from  Jerusalem by Menelik
I son of King Solomon and the queen of Sheba to Axum where it still remains in the
Church of Debre Tsion Mariam closely guarded by a monk who after his appointment
to the post of Guardian never leaves the compound. The manner of its transport to
Ethiopia has been the subject of much speculation. (For a particularly fanciful
account see Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal cf Raiders of the Lost Ark etc.)
A replica of the ark is found in every Church, indeed it is the sign of the building’s
consecration and without it ceases to be a Church. Covered in richly embroidered
cloths the arks are carried in procession on the heads of the priests on important
festivals and are honoured with the greatest reverence.
The Nine Saints and the Monastic Tradition
The fifth century saw an important development with the arrival of the Nine Saints
from Syria. They were perhaps among the refugees from the Byzantine Empire who
refused to accept the Chalcedonian Christology. All of them were monks and all
established monasteries which became very important centers of learning and
evangelization. It would indeed be true to say that all evangelization and all education
in Christian Ethiopia was in the hands of monks until modern times. Monks trained
all the secular clergy and secular officials as well. (As in other Orthodox Churches,
clergy may get married before ordination, but bishops are chosen only from the
Many of these monasteries are still flourishing eg that of Debre Damo near the
Eritrean border, still only accessible by rope. Its founder Abba Aragawi was conveniently provided with a snake in order to ascend and make the foundation.
Wisely he insisted that the snake’s head should be at the bottom! All Ethiopian
monks trace their genealogy to one of the Nine Saints.
The Nine Saints translated the Bible into Ge’ez probably using the Septuagint for the
Old Testament. They also translated some extra books as well as monastic writings
so that the Ethiopian canon is much more extensive than any other church including
works such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didascalia, Enoch, Jubilees, Synodos etc.
As with some other Orthodox churches there is no definitive text of Scripture. It
raises interesting questions about whether the canon of Scripture is closed or open, at
least potentially, to further development.
St Aragawi received his monastic habit from Theodore, a disciple of St Pachomius.
There were Ethiopian monks in the Egyptian desert from early times eg St Moses the
Black who was head of a band of robbers until his conversion. He was changed one
day when he and his group attacked a monastery, intending to rob it. Moses was met
by the abbot whose peaceful countenance and warm manner overwhelmed him. He
immediately felt remorse for his past sins and joined the monastery. For years he was
continually tormented by his past ways and especially by lust until the prayers of his
abbot St Isidore the Great miraculously healed him. Near the end of his life he
became a priest and formed a monastery of 75 monks, the same number as his robber
band and was martyred in 405 at the age of 75.
So there has been a continuous monastic tradition in Ethiopia from this time though
there are some gaps in our historical knowledge.  Axum declined in the 9th century
and later the Zagwe dynasty emerged which was responsible in the 12th century for
the famous churches at Lalibella carved out of the solid rock and recognized as one of
the architectural wonders of the world. This dynasty was replaced in 1270 by the
Solomonic which traced its origins to the Queen of Sheba and her Son Menelik I
whose father was King Solomon.
The great monastic revival of the 14th century led to the establishment of the
monastery now known as Debre Libanos whose founders were St Tekle Haimanot
and St Ewstatewos two very great influential Christian leaders through whom the
monks of today trace their origins. The monasteries provided a counter-balance to a
heavily established and controlled Church.
In their extremes of austerity the monks provide a prophetic and eschatological
ministry in the Ethiopia Church. The bahtawi are an independent class of hermits
who represent the anchoritic tradition – modern successors of St John the Baptist
rebuking all including the emperor himself without fear or favour.  As Shimei reviled
King David, so the bahtawi have been know to hurl abuse at all and sundry including
the emperor. Some live completely separately from society, unseen by all, their bones
occasionally discovered after their deaths in the remotest of places. Others lived in trees (dendrites) or small holes in the ground. Often they live on leaves and bitter
roots and reduce sleep to an absolute minimum. (One who had found his way to New
York was taken to a mental institution after being found praying half-naked in the
snow!).Those living in wilderness zones on the edge of the empire had the effect of
expanding the empire because they invariably attracted followers. Evangelization was
not systematic but the effect was to extend the frontiers of Christianity by being so
successful in converting the surrounding population.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the spirituality of the laity in Ethiopia is
essentially a monastic spirituality. Some emperors even saw themselves as monkkings. ‘When Lalibella established the throne he submitted himself to a fast more
severe that that of the monks because to him the kingship appeared as the monastic
life’. This may have been the ideal but of course there was always a tension between
this and the reality. Emperors may have been the vice-regent of God on earth and
protectors defenders of the faith but they were not its exponent even though they may
have assisted in the settling of disputes eg regarding Sabbath observance. Moreover
their moral laxity often came in for monastic chastisement
Monastic austerity is seen in the great emphasis on fasting. cf St Benedict’s
somewhat unfashionable ‘love fasting’. The clergy fast 256 days a year, the laity 180.
On these days no meat or animal products are eaten and one meal is taken after the
Liturgy which takes place on those days at mid-day, finishing around three-o’clock.
All Wednesdays and Fridays except in Eastertide are fast days (cf the Didache) and
Lent lasts 56 days with an additional 16 days added in commemoration of the
conquest of the city of Harar. There is also a major fast of 15 days before the feast of
the Dormition of our Lady and Holy Week is observed very strictly indeed often with
a complete fast from food and drink during the Triduum. The Fethe Negast says
‘fasting is abstinence from food and is observed by man at certain times determined
by law to obtain forgiveness of sins and much reward, obeying thus the One who
fixed the Law. Fasting also serves to weaken the force of concupiscence so that the
body may obey the rational soul’.
Not to take part in fasting would still result in ostracism in many rural areas and
many will fast strenuously who perhaps do not practice their faith much in other
ways. The laxness of western Christians in this respect scandalizes the Ethiopian
faithful. Ethiopia is not a secular society in the western sense. The cadres who went
into the university to preach atheism during the communist years following the fall of
Haile-Selassie were mostly laughed at. Cf Psalm 53:1
Saints such as St Tekle Haimanot were renowned for their asceticism.  His life was
seen as a sign of the angelic life to the extent that he is often pictured with wings. He surrounded himself with eight spears to prevent himself  from falling asleep while
praying. The true ascetic we are told does not need to eat or drink or if he does then
the natural waste will be miraculously disposed of. We are in the world of the Desert
Fathers here. Such asceticism is greatly admired if not always emulated. It is seen as
an ideal to which all should aspire and as a superior form of the spiritual life rather
than as a special vocation. This finds an echo in Pope John Paul II’s words in
Orientale Lumen: the monasteries are a reference point for all the baptized.
But as well as fasts there are feasts too. Major saints have their feast day celebrated
every month and the faithful flock to the church named after him or her on that day.
On important festivals the tabots are brought out in procession on the heads of the
priests.Other major feasts with a distinctive ritual and enormous popularity include
Timqet (the Baptism of the Lord) when water is blessed and the faithful sprinkled or
even bathe in it! And Mesqel which celebrates the finding of the True Cross by the
Empress Helena in the 4th century. Bonfires are burnt in recognition that she was led
to the correct place by a mysterious smoke rising from the ground. 
St Tekle Haimanot
The founders of monasticism as known today are St Ewstatewos, the upholder of the
Sabbath observance in the 14th century and St Tekle Haimanot. The life of St Tekle
Haimanot may be given as an illustration of the world in which we are moving.
St Tekle Haimanot was from a family of priests. Miracles attended his birth. His first
recorded words were to object to receiving his mother’s milk on a fast day! He
learned the psalms by heart and was ordained at 15. He traveled round the
countryside demonstrating the power of Christ He met the devil occupying a tree
which was worshipped by the local people. He ordered the tree to come to him and it
was uprooted killing 21 people in the process. He raised these from death and such
was the ‘dynamis’ that went out of him he also raised the dead of a neighbouring
grave-yard. Since they were unbaptised, he baptized them then reburied them. He
converted a pagan king and studied in three monasteries for many years under the
great monastic saints Basalota Mikael, Iyesus Moa and Yohannes of Debre Damo.
Stability as propagated by St Benedict is unknown in Ethiopia. A monk may attach
himself to a teacher for many years then move on to another. After three pilgrimages
to the Holy Land he founded the monastery of Debre Asbo in Shoa, today known as
Debre Libanos. It was here he prayed for seven years on one leg until the other
dropped off and was given wings. Many miracles are recorded as the result of his
prayers. Such stories raise questions about our common pre-suppositions. As children
of the Enlightenment we tend to ask: did it happen? cf the quest for the historical
Jesus, and the careful research of the Societe des Bollandistes in their patient weeding out of legendary material to preserve the historical elements in the lives of the saints.
We need to understand these stories on their own terms not from the perspective of a
modern historian (cf Fr Raymond Brown’s tongue-in-cheek reply when asked if the
New Testament was true: yes, everything except the facts!).
A strong belief in the miraculous and its practice following the New Testament is
seen a strong tool for evangelization. The Christian missionary has to carry
conviction in a society where the exercise of magic is a normal source of power.
Exorcisms and confrontations with evil spirits are seen as normal. The faith spreads
by demonstrations of power as well as by catechesis. Animism is successfully
challenged and the power of Christ is seen to be superior to all others. The conversion
of King Matalome by St Tekle Haimanot is a symbol of the struggle with the
monarchy. The monasteries were centers of influence sometimes opposed to the king
and challenged the easy-going moral standards of the court. It has to be remembered
that in Ethiopia for many centuries there were no city churches, bishops or councils –
only monasteries. 
Monastic Rules
 The monastic  rules followed go back to St Pachomius and St Anthony with local
adaptations and are set out in the Book of the Monks and the Fethe Negast. There are
three professions symbolized by the girdle or belt (kedet), the skull cap (qob) and the
scapular (askema) There are hundreds of monasteries mostly smallish but with some
having as many as 500 monks. Usually monasteries started as a place of retreat for
the founder who then attracted followers who came to ask for prayers and for
education. A modern phenomenon resulting form the loss of land after the communist
take-over in 1974 has been the emergence of an urban monasticism which has led to a
Sunday School movement for adults as well as children. In the big cities there were
no monks at first. Now many parish staff and administrators are monks. The
emergence of this was also linked with the achievement of autocephalous status and
the need for a patriarchal bureaucracy.  Inevitably there is a certain tension between
the demands of urban life and monasticism – the word for monastery – goddam –
literally means a place of solitude and quiet. As one monk put it the pure ‘tedj’
(honey mead) of the rural areas is better than the watered down version available in
the cities! The monks have introduced evening prayers in church which are well
attended and promoted popular piety as well as being involved in catechetical
teaching.  Those with preaching gifts are much appreciated and long sermons are
preferred in a way that those used to the sound-bite may find difficult to appreciate.
Ethiopia has the only ancient written culture in sub-Saharan Africa. Church schools
are still active and there was no other education until the late 19th century. The educational system is highly complex. Clergy may seem often poorly or even
shabbily dressed and may seem to be lacking in the most elementary principles of
modern western education especially the sciences but that is not to say that they are
uneducated. Many have spent  years in disciplined study and are immensely erudite
in a tradition completely foreign to western models. The educational system is also
largely based on a tradition of oral culture. In contrast to a system that promotes
individual creativity and independence of mind Ethiopian Orthodox education comes
from a traditional society where the purpose is to fully integrate pupils into society.
That is not to say that lively theological debate and discussion is excluded – far from
it – and there were long periods especially of Christological controversy before the
Twahido doctrine emerged as normative in the 19th century.
Education begins with the Reading School (nebab Bet) which teaches the syllabary
and the reading of religious books in the Ge’ez language. Reading is aloud and the
murmuring of the law of the Lord day and night that this produces would certainly
win St Benedict’s approval. Then the first letter of St John is learnt by heart followed
by the Psalms, the Gospels and the Miracles of Mary. The Psalms (Dawit) are most
important in Ethiopian spirituality, monastic and lay. They are read  or chanted aloud
and memorized  since few books are available even for the Liturgy. The Qidane Bet
or Liturgy School teaches the deacons and priests and educates them in their liturgical
functions – the Liturgy is steeped in Scripture. The aim is to produce a mind-set
steeped in the Word of God.
In the Higher Schools the debteras are often the teachers – they also have a ministry
of healing linked with holy water and herbal remedies and are consulted to interpret
Church music in Ethiopia goes back to St Yared in the 6th century who is said to
have been influenced in his compositions by the song of the birds. It uses a pentatonic
scale and while Middle Eastern in character it differs from Coptic music. There was
no notation until the 16th century. It is mostly restrained and slow and in strophic and
ametric form. It also includes the hymns performed by the debteras at the end of
Mass and the use of drums, sistra and prayer-sticks Music is performed without any
The Qene Bet (poetry school) teaches a highly sophisticated poetry, the fruit of long
pondering on the Scriptures (= Lectio Divina) It is highly creative and requires
enormous skill. It generates lively discussion about the merits of a particular
composition  It uses word-plays so that there is a surface meaning and a deeper
hidden meaning (wax and Gold) in a way that is difficult to convey in translation.
Because it requires great skill many of its practitioners attain to high positions in the
Church. It takes many years to become a teacher in this field and a minimum of 12
years of full study is required for those who attend this school. 
Finally, the Metsehaf  Bet or Literature School studies the literature of the Church
and especially the  Amdemta Commentaries. These are collections of the comments
of the Fathers of the church  mostly on the Scriptures. Again all is memorized. Only
recently have these commentaries received any attention from western scholars  such
as Roger Cowley. The teacher comments on the texts , not critically but to expound
the text in a way that puts the student under the text. It is said to take 40 years to
follow the complete course!
From this it should be seen that many of the clergy are highly educated. This is a
living tradition. The Coptic monastic revival in recent times has been attributed in
part to an Ethiopian, Abd al -Masih el- Habashi , the teacher of the renowned
Matthai el-Meskin of the monastery of St Macarius in the Wadi el-Natrun He lived in
a cave there from 1935-1970  and is a modern successor of Moses the Black who was
also Ethiopian.
Concluding Remarks
As in Russia and Eastern Europe the Church underwent a testing time during the
communist years but perhaps emerged stronger and purified as a result of the
experience. Sometimes the Church could be compromised in its witness by its close
relations with the state. The Church and especially the monasteries also lost their
extensive land holdings though some urban property has been restored including the
Theological College in Addis Ababa. The Church is popular in the best sense of the
word and much loved by the ordinary people even though there may be criticism of
the hierarchy. Here is an example of a truly inculturated Church with a rich monastic
tradition. Whatever problems may be confronted as a result of western influence and
the secularism that so often attends urbanisation, it is an Ethiopian article of faith
that the psalmist’s prophecy will be fulfilled and ‘Ethiopia will continue to stretch out
her hands to God’ (Psalm 68:31  ).
Dom Colin Battell
Ampleforth Abbey
(Bamber Bridge)

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, greets the Ethiopian Patriarch

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

really an eye opener for me.

- Robson

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