An ancient and venerable faith

Ethopia's Orthodox Tewahedo Church traces its foundation to the Bible itself

To write an account of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is not an easy task. Our church is one of the oldest in the world, if not the oldest.

Christianity came to Ethiopia in the early part of the first century, without the use of missionaries or the shedding of apostolic blood.

In the Holy Bible, the name “Ethiopia” is well known and referred to in several places. For the Ethiopian Church, the basis of belief and religious practice can be found in the teaching: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Ps. 110; Pro. 1:7)

Ethiopia and Ethiopians occupy a prominent place alongside other well known countries and places from the Holy Books, historical manuscripts and archaeological research from the Red Sea and the Nile Valley.

According to ancient history, the word Ethiopia denotes a geographical stretch of land which represents the area south of Egypt as far as the Indian Ocean. The term Ethiopian is also used to describe the shade of skin colour for the people dwelling there.

The geographical expanse of Ethiopia appears to have covered different areas and sizes at different times, but the centre has always been the area around where the Blue Nile has its source.

The Bible says: “And the name of the second river is Ghion: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia” (Gen 2:13) and the Lord’s prophet King David says also “Ethiopia stretches out her hands unto God.” (PS. 67:31)

It is almost 2,000 years since the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church came into being out of the First Apostolic teaching. According to tradition and historical evidence, Christianity in Ethiopia developed out of Judaism which gloriously proceeded from the true faith and worship practised by the Patriarchs of the old ages.

Our particular church was founded when the Holy Spirit spoke to St. Philip and directed him to the Ethiopian Eunuch, the treasurer of Queen Candace of Ethiopia (The Eunuch had travelled to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel as was the tradition of the Ethiopians).

After St. Philip explained the good news of salvation of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Eunuch believed him without any doubt and requested Baptism immediately (Acts 8: 26 – 40). Then, on his return to Ethiopia, he spread the good news to his government and people.

Even today, and ever since the historical meeting centuries earlier between our Ethiopian Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, many Ethiopians continue to make the yearly pilgrimage trip to Jerusalem.

In the fourth century (328 AD), Christianity became the official religion of the country, after Judaism, established by the Aksumite King Ezana. Since then, Orthodox Christianity has not only been the faith but also the source of identity for a significant proportion of the Ethiopian population.

This faith has inspired some of the most important artistic creation of the country, be it the monolithic churches of Lalibala, the icon paintings of the medieval and early modern periods or the elaborate illuminations adoring manuscripts. Moreover, the Church has also served as a repository for these artistic treasures.

Arch Deacon Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik, moved to London from Ethiopia as a young man. He writes in the faith column about the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
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One Day Without Us reveals the spectre of Britain without immigration

Imagine a country without its NHS workers, its artists and even its consumers. That's why immigrants are striking today. 

What’s the best way of making yourself heard in politics? Protesting in the street, or contacting the media? Writing to politicians? A badge?

One option, of course, is to walk out - and give people a chance to recognise what they’d be missing if you weren’t there. In the labour movement, that’s long been an option – a last-case option, but an option nevertheless – when your contribution isn't being recognised.

A strike is a tit-for-tat negotiation and a warning shot. “I’ll work properly when you employ me properly”, it says, but simultaneously: “Here’s what you’d lose if I stopped”. Done right, the worker’s absence can shift the power balance in their favour.

Normally, people strike according to their role, in pursuit of certain conditions – the tube strikes, or last year’s teacher's strike.

Yet there is also a long and rich history of walk-outs whose terms are broader and boundaries hazier. One of the most famous is surely the 1975 Women's Strike, in Iceland, during which 90 per cent of the country's women refused to participate in either paid or unpaid work.

In 2016, the formula was repeated in Poland, where women went on strike to protest against a draconian change being proposed to the country's already-strict abortion laws. (It worked.)

Immigrant strikes, too, have a history. In 2006, for instance, a coalition of Los Angeles Catholic groups, unions and immigration reform groups proposed a boycott in opposition to a bill which, among other things, called for new border security fences to be built between America and Mexico. (Ahem.)

The action grew to become a national event, and on May 1, the “Great American Boycott” took place, with immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere leaving work, skipping school and refusing to buy or sell goods.

Now, with Donald Trump in the White House and Brexit looming, some have decided it’s time for another strike. Enter “One Day Without Us”.

Today, immigrants here in Britain will strike not for pay conditions or holiday allowances, but for basic recognition and respect. Across the country, businesses will close and immigrants will leave work, many of them to take place in alternative actions like rallies or letter-writing campaigns.

The name of the protest pulls no punches. This, it says, is what it would be like if we all went away. (Subtext: “like some of you want”.)

Because – and let’s be honest here – it’d be bad. In hospital this summer, I was treated by migrants. After 24 hours in NHS, I took a count, and found that only about one in five of the staff who had treated me were identifiably English. Around 4.6 per cent of NHS staff nationally are from the EU, including 9 per cent of doctors. Immigrants clean buildings, make our food, and provide a whole host of other vital services.

One Day Without Us, then, could do Britain a huge favour - it provides us with a quick preview function before anyone ups and leaves for good, taking the heart of our health service, or our food supplies, with them.

In recognition of this, some businesses are actively giving their workers the day off. One 36-year-old owner of a support services company, for instance, is giving her staff a paid holiday.

“Not all my colleagues are taking up the offer not to come in”, she explained. “Some, both British and foreign-born, would prefer to work. That’s fine, I wanted to give colleagues the freedom to choose.

 “It will cause some inconvenience and I’ve had to explain to clients why we aren’t offering all our services for one day, but I feel doing this is the only way to show how much this country relies on migrants. I may be a businesswoman, but I’m a human being first, and it hurts my heart to see how foreign-born colleagues are being treated by some people in the current political climate."

The woman, whose staff is 65 per cent foreign born, has asked her company not to be identified. She’s heard her staff being abused for speaking Polish.

Of course, not everyone is able to walk out of work. I write this from Chicago, Illinois, where last week activists participated in an American predecessor to One Day Without Us called “Day Without Immigrants”. Type “Day Without Immigrants" into Google followed by the word "Chicago" and you will find reports of restaurants closing down and citizens marching together through the city.

But search for just "Day Without Immigrants", and the top stories are all about participants being fired.

One Day Without Us, then, encourages any form of engagement. From human chains to sessions during which participants can write to their MP, these events allow immigrants, and supporters, to make themselves known across the country.

Businesses and museums, too, are involved. The Tate, for instance, is offering free tours showing visitors artworks created or influenced by migrants, showing Londoners which of the paintings that they’ve seen a dozen times only exist because of immigration.

Because paintings, like people, come from everywhere, whether or not you remember. Britain is a mongrel country, and so its art and culture are as mongrel as its workforce: a persistent thread through the country’s history.

We risk a lot forgetting this. At its best, assimilation provides a way of integrating without forgetting one’s own unique identity. In a world where immigrants risk threats or violence, however, invisibility can be the best option. For some, it is better not to be recognized as an immigrant than be abused as one.

Those of us who don’t risk threats have a duty to recognise this. I dislike the glibness of “we are all migrants” – maybe, technically, but we’re not all getting slurs shouted at us in the high street, are we? Still, I also don’t like anyone forgetting the fact that their existence, in all probably, is contingent on someone once being given clemency in a place that was their own. The movement of people is woven into the fabric of society.

Of course, it is impossible to say how successful One Day Without Us will be, or how many people’s lives will be directly affected. But I hope that, even as a gesture, it works: that people think of what would be missing from their lives without immigration.

We ignore it at our peril.

You can view all the One Day Without Us events on the organisers’ website, or contribute to a fund to support businesses which are closing for the day here.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland