6 March 2012
Deacon Kassahun Teka, age 27, studies for the priesthood in his one-room, windowless dwelling in Meki, a rural town in southern Ethiopia. He belongs to St. Michael’s Church in Meki.
(photo: Peter Lemieux)
Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported on the evolution of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s role in encouraging those infected with H.I.V. to take their prescribed drugs while continuing to practice their faith rituals. Similarly, in the September 2009 issue of ONE, Peter Lemieux reported on how Ethiopian Orthodox clergy were adjusting to the many social and economical changes in Ethiopia. Among these changes being the general increase in public awareness of public health issues, including H.I.V./AIDS. These changes fueled adjustments to curriculum used in clergy training centers:
“When you see the potential that the members of the clergy have in such development activities, we have to get them engaged. We need to train them. The need is growing for our clergy to be more aware of what’s going on around the world rather than just limited to the Ethiopian situation.”
The program’s current curriculum already reflects this thinking.
“I’d say the curriculum is 60 percent development, 40 percent spiritual,” Dr. Legesse adds.
Participants learn about a number of issues, including alleviating poverty, gender equality, public health and environmental conservation. They also gain practical training in the latest agricultural techniques for the small-scale cultivation of fruits, vegetables, teff and beans. And they learn of the crucial importance of speaking openly with parishioners about traditionally taboo subjects, such as sexual behavior and H.I.V./ AIDS, as well as how to deal appropriately with individuals infected with the virus.
“In earlier times, a young girl went to a priest and told him she had H.I.V.,” recalls Abba Welde Gabriel of St. Michael’s Church in Meki, 12 miles from Ziway. “She asked for a blessing, and the priest said, ‘You’re too young for H.I.V. Go away.’ Now they’ve been trained to address that situation.”
The curriculum also aims to develop and strengthen the clergy’s interpersonal and communication skills. Traditional priestly formation emphasizes memorization, celebrating the liturgy, administering the sacraments, preaching and chanting. In general, this formation does not provide young clergy with the people skills required to lead a parish community in today’s fast-changing world.
“Some priests are born religious people and receive due respect, but others aren’t and don’t. They lack self-confidence,” says Abune Gregorius of Ziway. “You have to consider their position as role models for society. Priests have to live up to that requirement. The clergy training centers help them do that.”
Deacon Kassahun Teka, who serves St. Michael’s Church in Meki, recently completed the clergy training program. The 27-year-old credits it with having made him a more effective minister.
For more, read As It Was, So Shall It Remain?.
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Ethiopian Orthodox Church HIV/AIDS