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News Analysis: Clashes between Orthodox faithful, local police claim “lives of many” in Shashemene; Holy Synod, government in war of words as both stick to their positions over Church schism

The clashes broke out during the trip to Shashemene by Abune Paulus, the newly nominated episcopate by the breakaway Archbishops for the West Arsi diocese. Picture showing the welcoming reception for the group. Photo: Sinoodoosii Oromiyaa

Addis Ababa – Clashes lash between followers of Orthodox Christianity and the local police in West Arsi zone, Shashemene city of the Oromia Region on Saturday 04 February “claimed the lives of many people”, an eyewitness told Addis Standard. The clashes erupted at St. Michael Church during a reception ceremony for members clergy appointed by the new “Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities.”

According to the eyewitness, the clashes happened when Abune Paulos, who is appointed by the “Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities” to serve the West Arsi diocese, traveled to Shashemene city and group of the church’s followers started to protest that the “bishop and his team” would not be welcomed.

Earlier some of churches in the city rang the church bells to call out followers of the church, the eyewitness said, adding that, “in a clash between the protesters and regional special police, two people shot killed immediately.” Both were shot dead by the police.

“Hearing the calls, [followers of church] started going to St. Michael church and closed the door of the church. The city police opened fire to disperse the crowd,” that was when the two young men were killed. “Four others were injured,” he explained.

But it is difficult to know the exact number of the causalities. Reports by church affiliated media published on Sunday and after claim the number to of casualties to be as high as 35. While Addis Standard couldn’t independently verify the number of victims, His Holiness Abune Petros, Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod, claimed in an interview with a YouTube based Anchor Media that the number has reached up to 30.

A relative calm has returned to the city after Saturday tense standoff.

In a statement issued following this incident, the Holy Synod strongly condemned the illegal arrests and harassment of its Beatitude Archbishops and Diocese Managers, Department Heads, Priests and faithfuls. The Holy Synod said that the faithful who came out to protect St. Michael’s church in the city of Shashemene in West Arsi Diocese was brutally attacked, condemning the “violation of human rights and the horrible act of death” against its followers.

And the Synod has also announced plans to stage nationwide protest rallies to be led by its Patriarch, Abuna Mathias, beginning from 12 February.

In a statement on 05 February, the federal government urges an amicable solution for the dispute between the leadership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church through internal channels. It also warned that law enforcement measures would be taken against those using the situation to incite civil unrest.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has announced that it will not accept the statement issued by the Government Communication Service yesterday. According to the latest statement by the church, the points made by the statement issued by the government under the title “Statement issued by the Government Communication Service on current affairs” ignored the dignity and history of the church. The church has informed that it does not accept the statement as it ignores the facts and allows people who do not have complete information on the matter to have a wrong understanding as the statement by the federal government mentioned both entities [the Holy Synod and the breakaway Archbishops] as “parallel”.

The fact that the statement issued by the government does not condemn the killings in Shashamane and does not express its condolences, shows the government’s stance, the church said, calling on the government to refrain from supporting those identified as “illegal” and to apologize for its support so far.

The Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) has declared the faithful to observe the upcoming three days of Fast of Nineveh which will be observed from Monday 06 to Wednesday 08 February, by wearing black to protest against what it said is a government supported coup attempt to overthrow the Holy Synod by the “illegal group.”

“On the occasion of the Fast of Nineveh, Christians all over the world wear only black clothes, take vows in fasting and prayer by being present in the premises of the Church. We wear black clothes to express perseverance in suffering,” the statement said.

The Synod also accused the government that “instead of enforcing the law, the government failed to uphold the law and rights of the church by giving support to illegal groups, so the Holy Synod understood that it is important to pray and make vows to our all-powerful God.”

Last week, addressing cabinet members who were convened for a six-month performance evaluation of government ministries, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed broke his silence with a remark on the ongoing controversy within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), and called on leaders of the Church to resolve their differences through dialogue and discussion. He also defended his government’s track record of helping the Church in the face of growing criticisms, including by the Ezema party, of roles being played by the ruling party to divide the church by helping the breakaway Archbishops.

The PM’s remark came amid growing criticisms that his government is siding with the breakaway archbishops and security forces are detaining and pressuring religious leaders who are against the breakaway archbishops.

In a strongly worded response to Prime Minister Abiy’ Ahmed’s remarks on the ongoing crisis that has fractured the EOTC, the Holy Synod of the church issued a statement on 01 February rejecting, rebuffing, fact-checking and criticizing the Prime Minister’s talking points point by point. The Synod also issued ultimatum to the government “to carry out the responsibilities assigned by the constitution by upholding the institutional supremacy of the Church, the rights and interests given to it by law, and by giving appropriate correction to the illegal actions” by the breakaway Archbishops, and alternatively, threatened to call for a worldwide protest if corrective measures were not to be taken.

Regardless of the continued protest by the Holy Synod and faithfuls, however, the breakaway archbishops have continued dispatching their 25 nominee episcopates to different dioceses in Oromia regional state. Nominee episcopate assigned to different dioceses are being dispatched and having received “overwhelming” public welcome from the faithful both in their respective destinations and on their routes, according to Hailemichael Tadesse, the spokesperson of Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities.


On 26 January the principal Holy Synod of the EOTC excommunicated three breakaway Archbishops and 25 appointee episcopates accusing them of involving in “illegal anointment” without the knowledge of the church. On Saturday 28 January, the three archbishops and 25 episcopate also excommunicated 12 Archbishops of EOTC Holy Synod members in a countermeasure, followed by dispatching over the weekend, bishops to their assigned dioceses.

The event that led to what has now potentially become a split of the EOTC happened at the Haro Beale Wold Church in Woliso city of the South-West Shoa zone in Oromia Regional State, on 22 January, where His Holiness Abune Sawiros (PhD), Archbishop of South West Shoa Diocese, together with two other Archbishops, appointed 26 bishops: 17 bishops for dioceses located in the Oromia region, and nine bishops for dioceses outside Oromia without the involvement of the Holy Synod, creating widespread shock and anger among many of the church’s followers.

His Holiness Abune Sawiros explained the decision to appoint the 26 episcopate was made to resolve long lasting problems within the church for failing to serve believers in their native languages and detached of their culture, which resulted in loss of millions of believers over the past years particularly in Oromia and Southern region.

However, the appointment was called “illegal” by his Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) who convened an emergency meeting to deal with the event he described as “a great event that has targeted the church.” AS

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