His Holiness Abune Mathias I and his delegation in Mekelle. Photo: Tigray TV
Addis Abeba – His Holiness Abune Mathias I, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), said “the scourge against the people of Tigray” during Ethiopia’s two years atrocious war is “something new,” and “to a point where we said whether this act has ever happened in the world before.”
The Patriarch said this during his visit today to Mekelle, the capital of Tigray regional state, where he couldn’t succeed to meet with Tigray Orthodox religious leaders, but only with regional authorities, including the president of the regional interim administration, Getachew Reda.
In a statement he gave after the event, the Patriarch admitted that conducting a “dialogue was not bad”, and that “we didn’t know” Tigray’s religious fathers “had reasons” for declining to participate in EOTC’s affairs.
“It was possible to express ideas through dialogue,” His Holiness said, and “it would have been important’ to explain the damages sustained.
“I think the committee and the archbishops who are with us here understood the suffering that befell Tigray,” he said.
The Church is “happy” that the “the distress and suffering” subsided a bit since the Pretoria cessation of hostilities agreement, which was the reason for the delegation’s visit to Tigray. “It is good and we all support it,” he said.
However, he admitted that the peace dividend did not extend to the Church. “It is necessary to make efforts,” he cautioned, adding that there is “nothing bad” in having face-to-face dialogue.
But unlike widespread expectations, the Patriarch revealed that the delegation “did not meet with the Holy Fathers” from the region.
After their arrival in Mekelle, the delegation met with the Interim Administration president, Getachew Reda, and handed over 20 million birr the Holy Synod of the church pledged for Tigray in Humanitarian aid in May.
After the handing over of the cheque, Getachew explained to the delegation that part of the complaint from the region’s religious fathers, who he “met and discussed with”, is that “no one intervened” to stop some religious leaders and members of the Synod who made inciting public speeches during the devastating war.
Other than suggesting the need for dialogue, the regional government has no standing to intervene in the matter, Getachew said. “I have no responsibility and interest to force them” [the religious leaders from Tigray], he said, but he expressed his hopes that “even if it could be too late, there may be some possibilities for a solution.”
Today’s visit to Mekelle by the Patriarch and his delegation came after Synod issued official apology letter last week for failing the Orthodox Church in the Tigray region and its followers during the Tigray war.
Although there was no official response from Tigray’s newly established See of Selama Kessate Beharan Archdiocese, Archbishop Nebur’ed Tesfay Tewolde, Archbishop of Shire Ende Sellasie Diocese and executive member of the See of Selama Kessate Beharan Archdiocese, said that the apology was “a good start, but it’s not enough.”
The visit was aimed at reconciling the the Holy Synod in Addis Abeba with the Tigray Orthodox Church, which separated itself from the Synod in the wake of the two years devastating war in the Tigray region. The Tigray Council of Bishops blamed the Synod for endorsing a “war of genocide that was declared on the people of Tigray.”
In a smuggled video published online in May 2021, the Patriarch condemned the atrocities taking place in Tigray, including in the Churches and Monasteries as attempts to “erase Tigrayans from the face of the earth.” He also revealed that he was forced into silence by the Synod, which had quickly distanced itself from the Patriarch’s remarks saying they were not approved by it.
Since then, the Archbishops in Tigray have announced their decision to, cut ties with the EOTC Holy Synod in Addis Abeba. The archbishops in the region said their decision to severe ties with the Synod was as a result of its silence while many priests were killed, monasteries and churches in Tigray destroyed, and religious heritages were looted during the war. Attempts at reconciliation have since not yielded a positive result.
In a joint statement the Tigray Orthodox Church Council of Bishops issued on 09 February this year, it said Tigray received a rhetoric of toxic hate speeches from some members of the Synod which had [played a role in aggravating the war, led to acts that included the burning of Tigrayan civilians, a rhetoric advocating for the erasure of Tigrayans from history and people’s conscience, and speeches from bishops who “chose Satan over people”.
The Council denounced the precedent as “unforgivable historical mistake” and has since went on establishing and consolidating what is now known as the See of Selama Kessate Beharan Archdiocese, marking the end of relations with the EOTC in the center.
However, the Synod in Addis Abeba did not recognize the new structure in the region and had accused the religious leaders of creating “a new illegal regional structure in a way that violates “the institutional unity and existing structural organization of our church.”
The Patriarch said today that they “have strong hope for the future…and our hope will not die.” He also pleaded with the regional government to “pay attention” to the issue, and for the dialogue to kick start. AS