Ethiopia: Matthias is elected new Patriarch of the Orthodox Church
|The newly elected patriarch Mathias|
Photo courtesy of Deje Selam
As Catholic faithful say goodbye to their pope, Ethiopia's 50 million-strong Orthodox Church prepares to welcome its new 71-year old patriarch
Giorgio BernardelliVatican Insider
As the Pope goes, a new Patriarch arrives. Completely by chance, as Catholics around the world bid farewell to Benedict XVI today, Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church elected its new patriarch, the 71 year old abune, Matthias, who was previously Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem. Matthias succeeds Abune Paulos who led this ancient Eastern Church - which currently has 50 million members – from 1991 until his death last August. Abune Matthias’ enthronement is expected to take place this Sunday in Addis Abeba.
The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia is an ancient Christian community with a tradition that dates back to the age of the apostles. The most famous element of its long history are the cave churches of Lalibela, on the plateau known as the Ethiopian Jerusalem, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Despite this century-old tradition, Matthias will only be Ethiopia’s sixth patriarch: until just over fifty years ago, Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church had an identity and a liturgy of its own (the ge’ez, forefather of today’s Amharic liturgy) but was also united with the Coptic Patriarchate in Alexandria, Egypt. In 1959, Coptic pope, Cyril VI recognised it as an autocephalous Church, crowning Archbishop Basilios as its first patriarch. But in little more than fifty years, the Church has been through some quite tough times: Dictator Mengistu put Theophilus, Basilios’ first successor in prison in 1976 and in 1979the patriarch was killed. The Ethiopian dictator appointed two successors who were not recognised by the other Churches. It was only in 1991 – when Mengistu’s dictatorship fell –that the hierarchy of the Ethiopian Church was restored with the election of Patriarch Paulos.
It is worth adding that the Mengistu’s regime forced the new patriarch, Matthias, to flee from Ethiopia. The patriarch has lived away from Addis Abeba for more than thirty years. Interestingly, his title (Archbishop of Jerusalem) is not coincidental: Ethiopian Christianity has maintained strong ties with what all Christians see as the mother Church. Its clergy lives in a monastery near the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. The strict rules of the community’s status quo make it possible for them to celebrate their rites in the very place where Jesus died and was resurrected.