Addis Abeba – Amidst escalating instability and widening schism within the the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC), the Holy Synod Secretariat has sent letters to five Archbishops in the Tigray regional state requesting for talks of “reconciliation.” The letter is reportedly the first formal communication between the Synod in Addis Abeba and the Tigray Diocese in over two years.
Addis Standard has confirmed that five copies were sent to Archbishops of Adigrat, Axsum, Shire, and two Archbishops who are based in Mekelle, the capital city.
Addis Standard also confirmed that a copy of the letter sent to Abune Merihakirstos, Archbishop of Adigrat Diocese, which was widely shared on social media, is authentic. The letter, which has the headlietter of the Holy Synod’s Secretariat, also bears the seal and signature of a remark by His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch of the Church.
The letter stated that as a result of the “unnecessary war” among brothers, which was caused by political problem, heavy loss of life and destruction of properties have occurred and it is known to the world. But it adds that despite being saddened by the problem during the time, the Synod failed to express its grief and condemn the act “due to political conspiracy.”
“No matter how late it might be, we will do whatever necessary after our meeting” the letter reads.
“Politicians shouldn’t separate the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from the Tigray people, the source of the religion and its doctrine. As a result it is necessary to leave behind the mistakes committed in the past and serve our people and our church as before”, it added.
Expressing its happiness for the peace accord signed between the federal government and Tigrayan authorities, and acknowledging Tigray’s displeasure as “appropriate”, the Synod called for restoring the relationship with the Diocese that has been failed due to the war and to discuss ways forward about administrative issues with the Archbishop.
But a source from within the Tigray Orthodox Church who wants to remain anonymous told Addis Standard the fact that the Synod’s letters were addressed individually to the Archbishops, instead of the newly established “See of Selama Kessate Birhan, Patriarchate of the Tigray Orthodox Tewahedo Church”, has created a discomfort among the Archbishops in Tigray on the account of the Synod’s “unwillingness to acknowledge the institution.”
“We can’t live with those who massacre us”
On 07 May 2021, Archbishops in Tigray announced the formation of the Tigray Orthodox Church, effectively cutting ties with the EOTC Holy Synod in Addis Abeba. The archbishops of Tigray Orthodox Church said their decision to severe ties with the Synod was as a result of the its silence while many priests were killed, monasteries and churches in Tigray were destroyed and religious heritages were looted during the war.
The most noticeable one often mentioned is the massacre by Eritrean forces of hundreds civilians, including children as young as 13, in the historic town of Axum, the Church’s holiest site, as early as November 2020.
Despite well documented reports, from rights organizations, including by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Synod has failed to denounce the massacre. It had also distanced itself from a remark by His Holiness Abune Mathias I, Patriarch of the Church, who described the massacre in Axum as “people left over the ground like leaves.”
Furthermore, Tigray Archbishops also accuse the Archbishops of the church and members of the Synod for publicly supporting, including financially, the Ethiopian military and its allies from Eritrea and Amhara regional state, who have documented track records of killing civilians, including inside churches, plundering properties and bombing religious sites.
A year ago on February 13, Abune Merihakirstos, who was then the Chairman of Tigray religious council, said that the Tigray Orthodox Church “will establish its own synod” as it seeks nothing from elsewhere. He also said that the link between Tigray and the Synod in Addis Abeba was “broken” adding that, “we can’t live with those who massacre us.”
A year later, in a joint statement issued to regional media on 07 February, three Archbishops of the Tigray Orthodox Church said that the Tigray Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which came into existence “with the blood of the Tigray people” is non-negotiable, and is not “up for sale.”
Abune Merihakirstos, told Deutsche Welle about the letter that nothing will be changed from their side. He said that, as a father figures “we trust, like and respect”, Patriarch of EOTC, His Holiness Abune Mathias I. “But with regard to the letter, it is known that we have previously said our relationship is severed; we said we have cut to rope. Whatever is written, we will respond, but our aim is one, which is to march forward…” he said, and added that “our stand is the same; we are living by respecting the dignity of [the Patriarch]. However, the See of Selama can only be strengthen, not weakened, from here onward.” The stand of all the four Archbishops in Tigray is the same, and that a written response will be sent to the Synod in Addis Abeba, according to Abune Merihakirstos. When asked to comment on the ongoing schism within the EOTC, his brief answer was “there is nothing we know about it”.
This week, Tigray Orthodox Church inaugurated the first of its kind Liturgy Book in Tigrigna and Geez languages. During the inauguration, it was stated that the book was published with the full permission and approval of “The See of Selama Kessate Birhan, the High Administration of Tigray Orthodox Tewahedo Church.” AS