Tuesday, 28 February 2012 11:46

15 centuries of Ethiopian Orthodoxy

Written by  Fekade Daniel
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Ethiopian Orthodox church is the oldest of all Eastern Christianities (although Armenians would argue it). There are at least three separate bodies of Tawahedo church with their own administrations in Addis Ababa, Jerusalem and North America (also in Jamaica and Europe). Sometimes Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo Church is called Coptic, which is due to the fact that till the early fifties the head of Ethiopian church was selected in Alexandria, Egypt and this tradition was changed under Haile Sellassie. Before the revolution the numbers of Ethiopian clergy were big, since Orthodoxy is usually very vested in monastic order. They say that during the Red Terror (1975-78) over 200 thousands monks were executed in Ethiopia.

The Orthodox monk is the best expression of the difference between Western and Eastern Christianity. Without too much theology to go through, it could be said that the Orthodoxy (monophisits) believes in one nature of Christ and it is fully divine. That doctrine results in this strong division between two realities -- Man's and God's. An Orthodox believer has to make a more radical choice since there is no middle ground between Hell and Heaven. Selecting God, a monk separates himself from the earthy matters, including social and political aspects of life (which is very different from the history of the Western Christianity which not only played active political role in shaping the fate of Europe, but perhaps was the teacher of all European politics).

The Orthodoxy was and is criticized for its apolitical stand, but the division between the social and divine is a deep-rooted concept, not a matter of strategy and tactics. The single nature of Christ is to emphasize that there are two world based on different priciples. The Orthodox iconography resisted the adaption of the art discoveries in realism, including the third dimension (perspective). The Orthodox painters thought that God's space and time are organized differently from our reality. The famous reversed perspective in icons (when the faraway figures are positioned on foreplan) manifests their understanding that in angelic reality "the far is close and the close is far"...

There are many consequences of this principle of divinity, including the concept of Trinity and even the philosophy of history. The separation of the Western Church and the Orthodoxy is not barely historical (thousand years of Bizantine Empire), it's a theological (I would say philosophical) thought. The Orthodoxy doesn't like the "evolution," which is accepted by the Western mind. There is very little "progress" embeded in Orthodox mentality. According to this viewpoint, we do not change little by little, but the contact with God is radical and asks for a full personal transformation. In a strange way there are similarities between the Orthodoxy and the Protestant Thought, when the Church is your "personal" (not social) institution.

Perhaps, because of the Orthodox attitude, Ethiopian Christianity never had full-scale holy wars and has to tendency to missionary. This Church coexisted with different rulers and regimes, lived next to Muslims and pagans and had no history of reformation or religious wars the Western Christianity went through.

by: Anatoly Antohin, April 18, 1999

He teaches theatre and film at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and direct. And write. He has his graduate degree from Moscow Film Insitute, his wife Esther is a UAF graduate student of Anthropology.

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 07:11

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