The Head Office of the Patriarchate of the Legitimate Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) in North America deeply laments and pleads to the Almighty God that He give His blessings and mercy to our people in Ethiopia, who are undergoing through a tremendous hardship, suffering, and despair, stemming from both political tyranny and economic injustice, and more importantly, from ethnically-motivated displacement of selected population groups from their homes and communities around the country. Even the most sacred of our religious sites, such as venerated statues and monasteries, have not been immune from government intrusion. It is against this backdrop, unfortunately, that we were observing The Great Lent (Abye Tsome) of fasting and praying— in the great tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church— as a remembrance of the 40 days and nights of fasting of our Lord Christ after His baptism. Surely, our usual upbeat celebration of this epic Orthodox Tewahedo tradition has been tempered this year by the grim reality of the many misfortunes afflicting our people back in Ethiopia.
His Holiness Abune Merkorios, Patriarch of the EOTC Holy Synod-in-Exile in North America, is keenly aware of the prevailing crises in our country that have created conditions detrimental to the lives of thousands of Ethiopians across the land. He wishes to send a spiritual message to all Ethiopians, including Christians and non-Christians in the Diaspora as well as at home, of hope and perseverance even under these very trying times of unjust political conditions created by the current regime in our homeland. He particularly appeals to the Orthodox Tewahedo faithful to pray ceaselessly for the victims of forced displacement, torture, and unjust imprisonment, and for others who are being prosecuted for demanding political and religious rights, as well as their freedom to live and move anywhere within Ethiopia, irrespective of their ethnic or linguistic backgrounds.
The most recent of the tragic events that have characterized life in Ethiopia under authoritarianism include, among other things, the following:
1) Overt and covert interventions by the regime in the affairs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, as illustrated in both the most recent selection of the 6th Patriarch and the newly announced government proclamation requiring that the functions of all faith-based organizations comply with the country’s existing laws and regulations. While claiming that freedom of religion is affirmed under the country’s constitution and that a wall of separation between the sate and religious organizations is constitutionally guaranteed, the regime still uses its unchecked power to place decrees on the EOTC, as a case in point, which for all practical purposes has had a 2,000-year of self-regulation based on Orthodox Tewahedo principles and practices. Under the new proclamation, it would be for the first time in Ethiopia’s long history that the EOTC would be required to register with, and become subject to the dictates of the government under the pretext of the new legal provisions, in the same way as other civic and business organizations are required under the law. In this regard, EOTC’s historic role of projecting a major symbol of identity and preeminence in Ethiopian society is gradually being eroded, and, therefore, the Orthodox Tewahedo faithful as a whole must voice their displeasure against such government intrusiveness with more vigor and diligence;
2) Ethnic cleansing targeted at members of the Amhara population group in the southern parts of Ethiopia in the past and recently in some areas of the same and, even more importantly, in the Benshngual-Gumez zone of the country’s west as of late. This is a new phenomenon that has taken place for the first time in our long and illustrious history.
3) Illegal and politically-motivated intrusion by the regime in the selection process of religious leaders, as was the case recently in both the Orthodox Church and the Moslem faith, thereby causing instability and disharmony within each religious entity while depriving the adherents of both religions the absolute freedom to manage their affairs and practice their beliefs;
4) Uprooting of indigenous people of the Gambella region through forced villagization in order to lease their land at cheap price to foreign investors. The consequences of this uprooting in human terms have been horrendous for those affected by it.
5) Physical abuse of monks and devout religious Fathers of the world-renowned monastery of Waldiba in the northern part of the country, while desecrating and pillaging the sacred properties of that religious sanctuary. This action is both inhuman and unspeakable; and
6) Arbitrary jailing and torturing of prominent journalists and political leaders under a law intended to terrorize political opponents and critics of the regime.
Describing the extent of the suffering of our people in details to which they are subjected today, as we hear and see it in daily media reports, is quiet too discomforting and heartrending. We trust that our Savior will ultimately bring salvation and redemption to our people who have endured the worst of regime atrocities ever recorded in our proud and long history. Given these circumstances, His Holiness pleads to the faithful within the Diaspora Ethiopian Orthodox community that we all engage in activities that not only bring unity of purpose and the mind amongst us, as children of the Lord, but also advance the interest of our people and promote their just cause in ways that we are capable of. To this end, His Holiness believes that the following actions would be appropriate for all of us to engage in:
1) Reach out to the Lord through prayers and vigils at all times and beseech that peace and harmony descend onto Ethiopia, so that our people would be free at last. Prayers, if conducted genuinely and in fellowship with likeminded believers, could be the basis of our deliverance;
2) Forge unity at all levels of interactions, but even more importantly among followers of the Orthodox Tewahedo faith, while bringing together all EOTCs in the Diaspora to pursue a common vision and mission for our church by eliminating differences among member churches or minimizing them thereof. In unity, we not only gain strength to accomplish our common goals, but also our prayers can be heard easier when we demonstrate to the Almighty God that we are in harmony, peace and fellowship, as Orthodox Christians;
3) Become an advocate of human rights by forging alliances amongst all the Orthodox Tewahedo faithful as well as with other fellow Ethiopians across religious and political lines so as to make a stronger impact on voicing our collective call for justice at home, using the art of diplomatic pressure on the regime in Ethiopia; the power of persuading others who bankroll the regime there to bring the desirable changes in our country should never be underestimated. World governments and international organizations that have the ability to influence the behavior of oppressive regimes, such as the one in Ethiopia, can be convinced to take action only when pressed by a collective voice of concerned citizens working in unison; our unity can overcome the weaknesses that we have had in the past; and
4) Remain active and involved in church-related activities, as well as in all community-based functions that advance and promote our heritage in our adopted countries, so that the shared goals and objectives that we cherish could be accomplished with minimum or no diversion from our mission. The guiding principle of forging collective harmony and peace among all Ethiopians must be nothing other than “unity in diversity,” a pragmatic way of looking at ourselves as we strive to attain our God-given rights as free people.
May God have mercy on Ethiopia, and on its people, who find themselves under the bondage of injustice carried on by the leaders of an uncaring regime!
Patriarchate Secretarial Office In Exile.