29 October 2015
Easter is celebrated in the Italo-Albanian Catholic village of Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily.
(photo: Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)
Not all Italian Catholics are Roman Catholics.
In the south of Italy, in the regions of Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria and Puglia, the island of Sicily, and even just outside the walls of Rome, there are Italians who follow the Christian rites and traditions of the Byzantine East.
These “Italo-Greeks” or “Italo-Albanians” form a small Catholic church that comprises two eparchies and a monastery, numbering fewer than 65,000 faithful. Although small, “the history of this 1,500-year-old church — with its highs and lows — offers insights into possible models for church unity between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East,” writes Chorbishop John D. Faris in his short history of the church.
To read the full account of this fascinating story of survival, click here.
27 October 2015
Orthodox icons seen in Larnaca, Cyprus. (photo: Hannes Magerstaedt/Getty Images)
By virtue of its dominant Hellenic culture, many consider Cyprus a part of Europe. Yet this eastern Mediterranean island of 1.2 million people — divided into Greek- and Turkish-speaking zones — also figures in the annals of Asian history. Cyprus lies just 45 miles south of Turkey, 63 miles west of Syria and 120 miles northwest of Israel.
The history of Cyprus is riddled with conflict. But one constant factor has maintained the isle’s Hellenic identity into the modern era: the Orthodox Church. This faith community constitutes about 90 percent of the island’s population and has served as a cultural repository and a bastion of faith even as rival Asian and European powers conquered Cyprus.
From its origins in Roman Palestine, Christianity quickly took root among the many Greek-speaking populations of the Roman Empire.
Largely through the evangelical efforts of Sts. Paul and Barnabas, who as described in the Acts of the Apostles first brought the faith to Cyprus, these Greek-speaking Christians formed urban communities that evolved into important Christian centers. Rather than rejecting their Hellenic culture, these churches embraced it, providing philosophical and theological vocabularies that later helped define the teachings of Jesus among the empire’s elite.
Cypriot Christian Orthodox devotees carry a bier depicting Christ’s preparation for burial during a Good Friday procession, at the Ayios Georgios Exorinos Church in the Cypriot Turkish controlled North on 18 April 2014 in Famagusta, Cyprus. (photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images)
The church of Cyprus, while linked to the churches of Antioch and Constantinople, flourished and became largely independent. In 488, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperor, Zeno, confirmed this independence and granted the church’s metropolitan archbishop certain privileges that remain to the present day.
While Cyprus was taken in the seventh century by invading Arab Muslims, for nearly 300 years Cyprus was governed jointly by Byzantine and Muslim Arab governors — an arrangement rare in the history of international law. In 988, however, the Byzantines asserted complete control and Christian life in Byzantine Cyprus flourished. Judging by the sophisticated architecture of the era’s churches and the quality of the art, Cyprus maintained close ties to Constantinople and its workshops.
These ties were ruptured, however, when soldiers of the Third Crusade, led by King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England, suddenly took the island in 1191, imprisoning the Byzantine governor. The Latins reduced the power of the island’s Greek-speaking Orthodox hierarchy, exiled the archbishop and expropriated church property. Resistance was dealt with ruthlessly. Latin Catholic missionaries flooded Cyprus and founded monasteries and reordered Byzantine churches for Latin Catholic use.
When Cyprus fell to the Muslim Ottoman Turks in 1570, the island’s Greek-speaking communities (who were considered neither Catholics by the Latins nor Orthodox by mainland Greek Orthodox clerics) greeted the Turks as deliverers. The sultan of the Ottoman Turks — who had taken Constantinople in 1453 and assumed the mantle of its emperors — banished the Latin hierarchy of Cyprus, recognized its long suffering Orthodox community, reconstituted its hierarchy and appointed the metropolitan archbishop as head of the Greek-speaking community, or millet. This reinforced the role of the Orthodox Church as custodian of Cyprus’s Hellenic culture, warden of the isle’s Byzantine identity and spiritual guardian of its Christians. But charging the Orthodox hierarchy of Cyprus with responsibility for governing its own people proved to be a double-edged sword.
Click here to read more.
22 October 2015
A Romanian Orthodox priest leads a religious service in Piata Universitatii Square, downtown Bucharest. (photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)
The modern southeastern European nation of Romania lies where the Latin, Greek and Slavic cultures collide. Diversity once marked the composition of the people living there. Large communities of Armenians, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Jews, Roma, Slavs, Turks and Rumani (ethnic Romanians) lived together — sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. Today, Romania is more homogeneous. About 83 percent of the population of 21 million is ethnic Romanian. Smaller communities of ethnic minorities remain, particularly in the central region of Transylvania.
The Orthodox Church of Romania is the largest religious community in the country — numbering more than 82 percent of the people — and the second-largest Orthodox Church in the world. Unlike other Orthodox churches, the Orthodox Church of Romania functions within a Latin culture and utilizes a Romance language in the celebration of the sacraments — legacies of the country’s Roman past. But Romanian, despite its Latin roots and syntax, includes words from Byzantine Greek and Church Slavonic, reflecting the early Romanians’ relationship with the Byzantines and Bulgarians respectively.
At the end of the 14th century, two Romanian principalities, Wallachia and Moldavia, emerged south and east of the Carpathian Mountains. Though Catholic communities existed in both states, especially among the prosperous German and Hungarian middle class burghers, the Orthodox Church — the faith of the Rumani majority — functioned as an arm of the princely families who governed the states. Monasteries opened and eparchies, erected. By the middle of the 14th century, the ecumenical patriarchate in Constantinople recognized a metropolitan archbishop of Ungro-Wallachia and half a century later a metropolitan archbishop of Moldavia.
Pastor Stefan Anghel celebrates with Romanian Orthodox believers the birth of John the Baptist on 7 January 2014 in Offenbach/Main, Germany. (photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
After the collapse of Byzantium and the Ottoman Turks’ capture of the capital, Constantinople, in 1453, Wallachia and Moldavia became vassal states of the Ottomans. Nevertheless, the Rumani principalities and its Orthodox churches thrived. Formidable monasteries and elaborate churches were constructed and adorned with frescoes — even on the exterior walls — revealing Byzantine, Renaissance and Turkish influences. Monasteries and eparchies established printing houses to publish liturgical books and theological works. Jewelers fashioned gilded reliquaries encrusted with mother of pearl and gems.
Rumani princes, bishops and abbots supported the impoverished ecumenical patriarchate in Ottoman Constantinople, restoring churches and endowing monasteries. Large monastic estates provided regular income to the ecumenical patriarchate and Mount Athos, a Byzantine monastic oasis that remains to this day.
While most of the Orthodox community in Wallachia and Moldavia spoke Rumaneste (Romanian), the church officially used Church Slavonic in the celebration of the sacraments until a local synod approved the use of the Romanian vernacular in 1568. Until 1863, the Orthodox Church used the Cyrillic alphabet to write Romanian liturgical texts, which was also common in civil society.
Despite centuries of challenges — ranging from oppression to collaboration in the modern era — the Orthodox Church of Romania has prospered. Parish life is vibrant; seminaries and monasteries are full; theological studies thrive and interchurch relations, especially with the Catholic Church, advanced significantly. Although immediately after the collapse of their Communist government in 1989 most elements of Romanian society seemed to have suffered posttraumatic stress disorder, the Orthodox Church was well poised to step in and assert leadership. Intellectually, pastorally and spiritually dynamic, it remains the most respected institution in contemporary Romanian society.
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20 October 2015
A Bulgarian Orthodox priest holds a vestment as he waits for Patriarch Neofit at the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia on 11 April 2015. (photo: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images)
Geography has helped shape the history of the peoples of the Balkans. This peninsula in the Mediterranean lies at the crossroads of the ancient Greek and Latin civilizations of southern Europe, a juncture where Orthodoxy and Catholicism mingle, where Islam meets Christianity, where Asia and Europe collide. For millennia, these Balkan encounters have sparked major cultural and political movements. Bulgarian Orthodoxy, despite centuries of setbacks, is one such example.
Closely aligned with the fate of the nation and its peoples, the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria has endured significant difficulties for much of its history, which dates to the baptism of Tsar Boris I in the year 864. These challenges have included the rise and fall of independent states, schisms, Ottoman domination and Greek oppression. Just in the last century, the church has sustained three regional and two world wars; abdications, assassinations, executions and rigged elections; isolation from the rest of the Orthodox world; 45 years of Communist control; and internal discord and schism. Dramatic demographic decline — Bulgaria has lost 14 percent of its population in the last two decades and, in some years, the number of abortions exceeds live births — has taken its toll on the church’s role and effectiveness in the 21st century.
Men dance in the icy winter waters of the Tundzha river in the town of Kalofer as part of the Epiphany Day celebrations on 6 January 2015. (photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)
While today some 82 percent of Bulgaria’s 7.3 million people identify themselves as Orthodox, most do not follow the rites of the church. Some observers believe up to half of the population is agnostic or atheistic. Bulgarian Orthodoxy, they contend, has become an ethnic or cultural symbol.
A general council, held in July 1997, attempted to address the role of the church in post-Communist Bulgaria. Under the guidance of its patriarch, the council called on the government to allow it to develop freely and publicly, utilizing mass media, catechesis in state schools and the restoration of chaplaincies in the armed forces, prisons and hospitals. The council also addressed the urgent need for the spiritual renewal of the Orthodox faithful and focused on the development of formation and catechetical programs. But the resurrection of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria — unlike the Orthodox revival in Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine — remains arduous.
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15 October 2015
Dedicated to the Dormition of Mary, this Greek Catholic church in the village of Ieud, in the Maramures district of Transylvania, was returned to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church in 1991.
(photo: George Martin)
The two weeks before Christmas 1989 were more frenzied than usual for Romanians. Fueled by the fall of the Berlin Wall, rallies in the Romanian city of Timisoara, first held to protest the ouster of a popular Protestant pastor, László Tőkés, became anti-Communist marches. Ruthlessly, the Romanian regime’s dreaded secret police, the Securitate, responded by firing on the crowds, killing hundreds. Riots spread to other Romanian cities, including the capital of Bucharest, where civil war soon erupted.
By Christmas morning, the violence had ended as quickly as it had begun: The nation’s dictator, Nicolae Ceauşescu, lay in a pool of blood with his wife, Elena. Both were executed after caught fleeing the capital. A provisional government restored order and began a new chapter in the life of the country, including abrogating orders of the former regime dissolving the Romanian Greek Catholic Church (also called the Romanian Church United With Rome) 41 years earlier.
Greek Catholics prepare to receive the Eucharist in the parish church in Sisesti, a village in the historic Maramures region of Romania. (photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)
Until Ceausescu’s spectacular fall, Romania’s surviving Greek Catholics rarely revealed their faith. Their last known bishops, jailed as “class enemies,” died in prison or under house arrest. Churches, schools and other assets were seized and turned over to the Romanian Orthodox Church, which had absorbed most of the clergy and laity after a government-sponsored synod of Romanian Greek Catholic priests severed ties with Rome in 1948. Now suddenly, in less than a fortnight, the nightmare for Romania’s Greek Catholics had ended, ironically beginning a painful process of regrouping and rebuilding, for which they were ill-prepared.
Who are Romania’s Greek Catholics? And what is the Romanian Church United With Rome? These questions are some of the most controversial in Central Europe. For what motivates this community of faith — who share the Byzantine legacy with their Romanian Orthodox brethren — is their ardor for their nation, which they helped nurture into being, and their union with Rome, itself prompted by their quest for civil rights.
Read a full account of Romania’s Greek Catholics here.
13 October 2015
A Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic seminarian prays before the morning liturgy
in Uzhorod, Ukraine. (photo: Oleg Grigroyev)
For more than a millennium, Central Europe’s Carpatho-Rusyns have been engulfed in a violent whirl of Magyar, Germanic and Slavic antagonism. Always subjugated, Rusyn peasants toiled soil, kept livestock or cut timber for their Hungarian, Austrian or Polish masters. Such conditions, coupled with centuries of serfdom and forced assimilation, hardly favored the development of a distinct Rusyn identity. Nevertheless, among the Rusyns such an identity did develop, sowed by their distinct Slavic language, nurtured by their Byzantine Christianity — which they received from Sts. Cyril and Methodius in the late ninth century — and reinforced by their full communion with the church of Rome.
Today, fewer than 900,000 Rusyn Greek Catholics are scattered throughout Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, North America, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. A unified church, gathering them all under one mantle, does not exist. Rusyn Greek Catholics — also called Ruthenians — make up three distinct churches that, while sharing the same origins, traditions and culture, remain independent of each other.
- In the United States, the Metropolitan Byzantine Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, with its three dependent eparchies of Parma, Passaic and Phoenix, is a particular or sui iuris church. It includes about 82,000 members.
- The Eparchy of Mukacevo in Subcarpathian Ukraine, which numbers about 320,000 people, is dependent directly on the Holy See.
- The Apostolic Exarchate for Byzantine Catholics in the Czech Republic is also dependent on the Holy See and counts 170,000 members.
Parishioners of St. Mary Protector, a Rusyn Greek Catholic church in Kingston, Pennsylvania, make and sell 4,000 peroghi a year to support the church. (photo: Cody Christopulos)
Rusyn Greek Catholics also belong to various jurisdictions of the Greek Catholic churches of Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and the former Yugoslavia. Complicating matters further, substantial numbers of Rusyns, all formerly Greek Catholic, have created communities within various Orthodox churches in North America, Poland and the Czech and Slovak republics. However, with the exception of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church — an eparchy formed in Pittsburgh in 1939 under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarchate in Constantinople — their Rusyn identity has largely eroded.
While a unified church may not yet exist, European and North American Rusyn Greek Catholics work together, assisting one another with financial and human resources. This mutual support is not limited to the Greek Catholic community alone. Guided by the ecumenical movement and encouraged by the foundation of nonpartisan societies dedicated to the study of Carpatho-Rusyn genealogy, history, literature and religion, relations among Rusyns of all faiths press forward.
Read a full account of the Carpatho-Rusyn Greek Catholic churches here.
8 October 2015
Indian Orthodox women bearing candles return home after attending an evening Divine Liturgy in Akkaparambu, Kerala. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Until the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived on the shores of southwest India at the close of the 15th century, India’s Christians flourished in a unified church. Referred to as Thomas Christians, they traced their faith to St. Thomas the Apostle, who evangelized the south of India after his arrival in the year 52.
India’s Thomas Christians were joined by 72 Christian families from Mesopotamia, who according to tradition, arrived in the southwestern Indian port of Cranganore in 345. Led by Thomas Knaniya — a merchant who belonged to the Church of the East, a community in Mesopotamia also founded by St. Thomas — these families brought with them a bishop, Mar (a Syriac honorific for “Lord”) Joseph of Edessa, four priests and several deacons.
While Thomas Knaniya’s Mesopotamian community prohibited intermarriage, thus forming a closed community, their priests strengthened relations between the Church of the East and India’s Thomas Christians. The catholicos-patriarch of the Church of the East — which adhered to the most ancient rites of the church, known as East Syriac — regularly dispatched bishops to India to ordain priests and deacons and regulate ecclesial life for both communities. Common commercial interests also deepened the relationship between the two.
Two Indian Orthodox women greet visitors in front of their church in Akkaparambu, India. (photo: Sean Sprague)
In the eighth century, the Church of the East’s catholicos appointed a Mesopotamian cleric as “metropolitan and Gate of All India.” Though exercising considerable authority within the church in India, he typically did not speak the language of the people. Consequently, real power resided with an “archdeacon of All India,” a dynastic office for native Indian clergy.
For nearly 1,500 years, India’s Thomas Christians were fully integrated into south Indian society. While their traditions and liturgical practices reflected their East Syriac roots, other elements of the spirituality and culture of the Thomas Christians — such as their method of praying for the dead, avoidance rituals associated with the caste system and eating customs — revealed their Hindu cultural heritage.
Portuguese colonization of south India, which also included efforts to bind the Thomas Christians to the Church of Rome, shattered their unity. Today, the spiritual sons and daughters of St. Thomas include more than ten million believers divided among seven jurisdictions — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. The Indian Orthodox Church is divided into two groups sharing the same Syriac rites and traditions. The largest, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, includes some 2.5 million members. Another 1.2 million Orthodox Indians belong to the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church. Most live on the subcontinent. But recently, thousands of families have settled in North America, Oceania and the Persian Gulf.
To learn more about the Thomas Christians, and the Indian Orthodox Church, click here.
6 October 2015
Tags: India Eastern Churches Indian Christians
Thomas Christians light votive candles at an outdoor shrine in Valliapally, Kaduthuruthy.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
In the deep south of India, an Eastern Christian community has flourished since ancient times. Originally a distinctive people united in faith, customs and caste, they are named for the Apostle Thomas, who according to tradition brought the Christian faith to the Malabar Coast of southwestern India after the ascension of Jesus. Today these Christians, all of whom belong to the Syriac Christian tradition, are fragmented into seven churches. The largest, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, each year exports priests and religious to northern India, Europe and North America, as it grows and flourishes.
Though Indian Christianity has often been described as rooted in Western colonization, its presence dates almost 2,000 years. According to the “Ramban Song,” an ancient Indian poem, St. Thomas arrived on the shores of the Malabar Coast (present-day Kerala) in A.D. 52. He preached the Gospel, baptized 32 Hindu Brahmin families, founded seven churches and, in the year 72, died a martyr’s death. His tomb, in Mylapore, Madras, remains an important site of veneration today.
Christians and Hindus kept alive the memory of the “holy man,” chronicling the apostle’s deeds and the sites associated with his life and work. Scholars have long debated whether or not Thomas the Apostle founded the church of India. But sufficient historical evidence — including archaeological finds validating the existence of first-century Jewish communities on the Malabar Coast — as well as the existence of contemporary accounts passed from generation to generation by Christians and Hindus indicate the likeliness of Thomas’s travels and deeds.
For more than 1,500 years, the Thomas Christians were fully integrated into South Indian society. While their traditions and liturgical practices reflected their Eastern Syriac roots, other elements of their spirituality and culture, such as the method of praying for the dead, revealed their Hindu cultural heritage.
Retreatants participate in a prayer service in the Archeparchy of Changanacherry. (photo: John E. Kozar)
The arrival of the Portuguese in May 1498 dramatically changed the lives of all on the subcontinent. To support his commercial interests and consolidate his real estate gains, the Portuguese king utilized the missionary zeal of several religious communities of the Latin (Roman) Church, especially the Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits. The erection of the Latin Catholic Diocese of Goa in 1533 — which claimed jurisdiction over all of India’s Christians, denying the authentic authority, rights and privileges accorded to the leaders of the Thomas Christians — ushered in an age of turmoil.
In 1599, Latin usages were formally adopted by a diocesan synod held in Diamper. The Thomas Christians reluctantly signed the synod’s directives, though most church historians question the legality of the synod. The impositions of Diamper radically changed the nature of the Syriac church of India. Thomas Christians retained a few elements of their tradition, but authority, customs and law rested with the Portuguese hierarchy.
Diamper polarized the Thomas Christian community, culminating with the historic Coonan Cross Oath in January 1653. There, representatives of prominent Thomas Christian communities formally severed their ties to Rome. Eventually, those Thomas Christians independent of the Portuguese pledged fidelity to the Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and today make up the two communities which form the Indian Orthodox Church.
Pope Alexander VII sent Carmelite friars to India to restore calm and church unity. And by 1662 most Thomas Christians returned to full communion with the Catholic Church, forming the core of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
Read a full account of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church from ONE magazine here.
1 October 2015
Ethiopian Catholic priests celebrate the Divine Liturgy at St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral in Emdibir, Ethiopia. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Widely celebrated for its coffee and long-distance runners, but notorious for its poverty, Ethiopia is the only sub-Saharan nation with a Christian culture dating to the earliest days of the church — a little known fact that it shares with Eritrea, its former province and northern neighbor. About 43 percent of Ethiopia’s estimated 100 million people belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, a dominant force that, with Ethiopia’s monarchy, had defined this ancient land and its people for more than 16 centuries.
But the entrenched church is losing ground to a burgeoning Sunni Muslim population in the country’s south and southwest — who now account for almost half of the nation’s people — and to successful proselytizing efforts among the Orthodox by evangelical Christians from the West.
Some 500 years ago, Ethiopia’s distinctive Orthodox Christian community faced the Counter Reformation zeal of the Jesuits, who worked to restore full communion between the Catholic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches. The Jesuits failed and Ethiopia slipped into civil war. Once the dust settled, hundreds of Catholic missionaries were expelled or put to death. Europeans were forbidden to enter this “African Zion,” which, more than any other factor, may have preserved Ethiopia’s independence during Europe’s empire-building land grab centuries later.
In the early morning, parishioners gather to celebrate the liturgy with prayer and intricate chant, according to their ancient faith tradition. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Modern Ethiopia’s small Ethiopian Catholic Church, led by its metropolitan archbishop of Addis Ababa, Cardinal Berhaneyesus D. Souraphiel, C.M., is often perceived as an affront to the dominant church. And while relations among some bishops of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with their Catholic peers are warm, the Orthodox leadership remains guarded.
The Ethiopian Catholic Church includes some 88,000 members in four eparchies in the country. (A separate Eritrean Catholic Church, which, along with the Ethiopian Catholic Church, adheres to the same traditional rites and liturgical language — known as Ge’ez — as its Orthodox counterpart, was erected by Pope Francis in January 2015.) Although tiny, the Ethiopian Catholic Church plays a disproportionately influential role in the lives of all Ethiopians through its schools, clinics and other social service institutions.
Click here for more on the Ethiopian Catholic Church from the pages of ONE magazine.
29 September 2015
Tags: Ethiopia Eastern Churches Ethiopian Christianity Ethiopian Catholic Church
Deacons celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Zion in the ancient capital of Axum.
(photo: Sean Sprague)
Ethiopia, from the Greek meaning “land of burned faces,” possesses one of the world’s oldest cultures. Though it has survived the tumultuous 20th century intact, this ancient Judeo-Christian culture has entered the new millennium weakened by the encroaching forces of modernity, especially globalization and secularization.
More than 43 percent of the nation’s 100 million people belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, a dominant force that has shaped Ethiopia’s people and defined its culture for more than 17 centuries. Yet, this church is losing ground to the proselytization among its members by evangelical Christians from the West — whose numbers have tripled in less than 15 years — and to a burgeoning Sunni Muslim population in the country’s south and southwest, who now account for more than a third of Ethiopia’s people.
Ethiopia is celebrated for its many ancient monasteries, foundations established by men who, in the footsteps of the early desert fathers, fled the world to fast, pray and celebrate the Qeddase, the eucharistic liturgy of the Ethiopian church. These monasteries also played a significant role in shaping the development of the Ethiopian nation, culture and identity. Monks even participated in the nation’s volatile political life.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Orthodox raise an illuminated cross to mark the observance of Meskel, a feast day celebrating the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helena. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the 19th century, as Ethiopia’s emperors and nobles waged war to defend or extend the nation’s borders, large monastic estates provided entire communities with education, employment, security and social assistance. With their vast landholdings, significant social prominence and influence with the court, monasteries wielded considerable power and eventually earned the enmity of jealous rivals.
In 1974, a group of military officers overthrew the aged emperor and, in a 17-year period, instituted a number of harsh, Marxist-inspired economic and social reforms. Known as the Derg, the revolutionaries eliminated the monarchy and the nobility and stripped the monasteries of their land and their traditional privileges and rights, “thus depriving them of the resources and rights necessary to look after orphans, support the underprivileged, supply emergency aid and provide leadership in community affairs,” writes one scholar of the period, Joachim Persoons.
“In many cases,” he continues, the “monasteries’ role as protectors of the nation’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage was seriously affected as well.
“Within one generation, the general public has taken for granted that monasteries are impoverished and regard monks as alien to society, which is not historically correct.”
Because of this Marxist rupture, tensions are now developing between the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy and its faithful. In the past, the priest or monk functioned as the community’s leader and adviser. Today, Ethiopia’s young Orthodox Christians no longer perceive the priest as the only source of wisdom. Often better educated than the clergy, they turn to their own experiences to find answers to life’s complexities. Meanwhile, as in the rest of Africa, evangelical Christians are succeeding in winning new converts.
To read more about the church, the guardian of the Ark of the Covenant, click here.