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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The boy who lies: what the Daily Prophet can teach us about fake news

The students at Hogwarts are living in an echo chamber of secrets.

They can make objects levitate, conjure up spirit animals and harness the power of invisibility. But perhaps the strangest thing about the witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe is that despite all their magic, they still rely on old-fashioned print media for their news.

Although the Daily Prophet bills itself as “the wizarding world’s beguiling broadsheet of choice”, the reality is that its readers have no choice at all. Wizards don’t have their own television network – the risk of muggles accidentally tuning in was deemed too high – they don’t generally use the internet, and rival publications are virtually non-existent. (No, Witch Weekly doesn’t count.)

JK Rowling clearly sought to satirise the press in her portrayal of the Prophet, particularly through its poisonous celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter and her tenuous relationship with the truth. And in doing so, the author highlighted a phenomenon that has since become embedded within the muggle political landscape – fake news, and how quickly it can spread.

In the run-up to the recent French presidential election, an Oxford University study found that up to a quarter of related political stories shared on Twitter were fake – or at least passing off “ideologically extreme” opinion as fact.

While they don’t have social media at Hogwarts – probably for the better, despite the countless Instagram opportunities that would come with living in an enchanted castle – made-up stories travel fast by word of mouth (or owl.) The students are so insulated from the outside world, the house system often immersing them in an echo chamber of their peers, they frequently have no way to fact-check rumours and form rational opinions about current events.

When the Ministry of Magic flatly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned – and uses the Prophet to smear Harry and Dumbledore – most students and their parents have no choice but to believe it. “ALL IS WELL”, the Prophet’s front page proclaims, asking pointedly whether Harry is now “The boy who lies?”

While Harry eventually gets his side of the story published, it’s in The Quibbler – a somewhat niche magazine that’s not exactly light on conspiracy theories – and written by Skeeter. He is telling the truth – but how is anyone to really know, given both the questionable magazine and Skeeter’s track record?

After Voldemort’s followers take over the Ministry, the Prophet stops reporting deaths the Death Eaters are responsible for and starts printing more fake stories – including a claim that muggle-born wizards steal their magical powers from pure-bloods.

In response, Harry and his allies turn to their other meagre sources such as The Quibbler and Potterwatch, an underground pirate radio show that requires a password to listen – useful to some, but not exactly open and accessible journalism.

Rowling is clear that Harry’s celebrity makes it hard for him to fit in at Hogwarts, with fellow students often resenting his special status. Do so many believe the Prophet’s smear campaign because they were unconsciously (or actively) looking forward to his downfall?

We are certainly more likely to believe fake news when it confirms our personal biases, regardless of how intelligently or critically we think we look at the world. Could this explain why, at the start of last week, thousands of social media users gleefully retweeted a Daily Mail front page calling on Theresa May to step down that was blatantly a poorly-edited fake?

The non-stop Hogwarts rumour mill illustrates the damage that a dearth of reliable sources of information can cause to public debate. But at the other end of the scale, the saturation of news on the muggle internet means it can also be hugely challenging to separate fact from fiction.

No one is totally free from bias – even those people or sources whose opinions we share. In this world of alternative facts, it is crucial to remember that all stories are presented in a certain way for a reason – whether that’s to advance a political argument, reaffirm and promote the writer’s own worldview, or stop an inconvenient teenage wizard from interfering with the Ministry of Magic’s plans.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

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