A global faith

The Ethiopian church's practices and rituals have survived despite the efforts of the Jesuits and Mu

Today our church has over 40 million members, over 400,000 clergy, over 55 dioceses and over 100,000 churches with 1,000 monasteries.

The church is led by the Holy Synod, consisting of more than 45 bishops and archbishops. His Holiness Dr. Abuna Paulos is the church's Patriarch.

The church's hierarchical structure of ordination - deacon, priest and bishop, or episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate - can be originally traced to the Church of Alexandria from where St. Frumentius introduced Christianity to Ethiopia.

In the years following the Muslim invasion at the start of the 17th century, the Ethiopian Church passed through a crisis which had serious implications on the hierarchy. Even before then, the Jesuits had been working to bring the Ethiopian Church under the jurisdiction of Rome without success.

It was not until 1881 that the hierarchy was fully restored again when four Egyptian bishops were sent to Ethiopia. As the last of them died, the Church pleaded with the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria for the consecration of Ethiopian men as bishops for this Church.

As a result, five Ethiopian bishops were consecrated in 1928 and the recognition of the autonomy of the Church of Ethiopia was marked by the consecration of five further Ethiopian bishops in 1948.

Beyond the three-fold hierarchical structure each level has subdivisions. For example, the episcopate includes patriarch, archbishops and bishops.

Within the Ethiopian Church there are also numerous priests assisting the rector of each parish. In cities, these rectors are made by appointment but it differs in rural areas where the chief priest makes a selection based on character, ability, virtues and personal qualities.

Another position working alongside the rector of each church is the gebes. This is a priest who acts as treasurer and holds authority over the church property.

The priest is also supported by a group of deacons in every church, assisting the presbyters in worship and administration. Finally each church has its own archdeacon as leader among the deacons.

A unique feature of the Ethiopian Church is the debtera. This is an order of singers, similar to choirs in other churches. Although the debtera do not belong to the ordained hierarchy, they are a class by themselves and found in every Ethiopian Orthodox Church. They are closely associated with the priests and deacons in assisting the services of worship.

The debtera are educated and practised in Church music. Their ecclesiastical dance, performed with solemnity and sanctity, makes their role in the Ethiopian Church distinctly unique. With rhythmic movements, steps and musical accompaniment, their performance adds to the beauty of the worship and of special festive celebrations.

Until the present day, many of the churches and church institutions have remained the source of basic elementary education for the Ethiopian population, and this hierarchy plays a key role. Until the introduction of modern education, the teaching ministry was the prerogative of the teacher-priests of the church.

Most of the clergy are educated in the ecclesiastical language, Ge’ez. Ge’ez is a rich language with a large mass of theological, historical and biblical literature, with which many scholars of the Ethiopian Church are well acquainted.

In prayer, parts of our prayers, chants and hymns which are said by priests and deacons differ from those said by the faithful. The liturgy is referred and tells the life and teachings of Christ which relates to the sufferings of the saints and martyrs.

Finally we also use many symbols and rituals such as the signs of the cross, the censer, the bell, the chalice, the container for the holy water, the washing of hands by the chief priest, the bows and the whole elaborate vestment of the priesthood.

“Glory to The Father, The Son and The Holy Sprit, now and forever more, Amen!”

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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Should feminists talk about “pregnant people”?

Two writers present the arguments for and against.

NO

“I’m not sure what the public health issue is that would require a focus only on those who become pregnant, as opposed to any of those involved in pregnancy, either becoming pregnant or causing someone else to become pregnant,” Dr Elizabeth Saewyc, a Canadian professor in nursing and adolescent medicine at the University of British Columbia, recently told journalist Jesse Singal when he asked her for clarification on a study she conducted into trans youth and pregnancy.

Her statement is, on the face of it, extraordinary: unlike those who “cause someone else to become pregnant” (males), those who “become pregnant” (females) actually, well, become pregnant, with everything that entails from the risk of varicose veins and pre-eclampsia, to having an abortion or being denied abortion, to miscarriage or giving birth and living with the economic strain and social discrimination that come with motherhood.

As absurd as Saewyc sounded, her position is the logical endpoint of “gender neutral” language about pregnancy. Pressure on reproductive rights groups – especially those in the US – to drop references to “women” and instead address themselves to “people” have been growing over the last few years, and the American body Planned Parenthood now regularly mentions “pregnant people” in its communications. In theory, this is supposed to help transmen and non-binary-identified females who need reproductive health services. In practice, it creates a political void into which the female body, and the way pregnancy specifically affects women, simply disappears.

The obscuring of the female body beneath obscenity and taboo has always been one of the ways patriarchal society controls women. In 2012, Michigan Democratic representative Lisa Brown was prevented from speaking in a debate about abortion after she used the word “vagina”, which Republicans decided “violated the decorum of the house”. Now, that oppressive decorum is maintained in the name of trans inclusion: in 2014, the pro-choice organisation A is For was attacked for “genital policing” and being “exclusionary and harmful” over a fundraiser named Night of a Thousand Vaginas.

Funnily enough, trans inclusion doesn’t require the elimination of the word vagina entirely – only when it’s used in reference to women. A leaflet on safe sex for trans people published by the Human Rights Campaign decrees that “vagina” refers to “the genitals of trans women who have had bottom surgery”; in contrast, unaltered female genitals are designated the “front hole”. And it’s doubtful that any of this careful negation of the female body helps to protect transmen, given the regular occurrence of stories about transmen getting “unexpectedly” pregnant through having penis-in-vagina sex. Such pregnancies are entirely unsurprising to anyone who knows that gender identity is not a contraceptive.

It does, however, protect from scrutiny the entire network of coercion that is cast over the female body: the denial of abortion rights in the Republic of Ireland, for example, affects the same class of people who were subjected to the medical violence of symphysiotomy — a brutal alternative to cesarean, which involves slicing through the cartilage and ligaments of a pelvic joint to widen it and allow a baby to be delivered — the same class of people who were brutalised by Magdalen Laundries (institutions established to house “fallen women” which operated from the late 18th to the 20th centuries), the same class of people who are subject to rape and sexual harassment. That class of people is women. If we give up the right to name ourselves in the service of “inclusion”, we permit the erosion of all our hard-won boundaries.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who focuses on feminism.

YES

No matter who you are and how straightforwardly things go, pregnancy is never an easy process. It might be a joyous one in many ways, but it’s never comfortable having to lie on your back in a brightly lit room with your legs hitched in stirrups and strangers staring at parts of your anatomy some of them hesitate to name. Then there are the blood tests, the scans, the constant scrutiny of diet and behaviour – it may be good practice for coping with a child, but the invasion of privacy that takes place at this time can have a dehumanising effect. And that’s without having your gender denied in the process.

If you’ve never experienced that denial, it might be difficult to relate to — but many women have, at one time or another, received letters addressing them as “Mr” or turned up at meetings only to discover they were expected to be men. It’s a minor irritation until it happens to you every day. Until people refuse to believe you are who you say you are; until it happens in situations where you’re already vulnerable, and you’re made to feel as if your failure to conform to expectations means you don’t really deserve the same help and respect as everyone else.

There is very little support available for non-binary people and trans men who are happily pregnant, trying to become pregnant or trying to cope with unplanned pregnancies. With everything geared around women, accessing services can be a struggle, and encountering prejudice is not uncommon. We may not even have the option of keeping our heads down and trying to “pass” as female for the duration. Sometimes our bodies are visibly different.

It’s easy for those opposed to trans inclusion to quote selectively from materials making language recommendations that are, or appear to be, extreme – but what they miss is that most trans people going through pregnancy are not asking for anything drastic. We simply want reassurance that the people who are supposed to be helping us recognise that we exist. When that’s achievable simply by using a neutral word like people, does it really hurt to do so? I was always advised that manners cost nothing.

Referring to “people” being pregnant does not mean that we can’t also talk about women’s experiences. It doesn’t require the negation of femaleness – it simply means accepting that women’s rights need not be won at the expense of other people’s. We are stronger when we stand together, whether pushing for better sex education or challenging sexual violence (to which trans men are particularly vulnerable).

When men criticise feminism and complain that it’s eroding their rights, this is usually countered with the argument that it’s better for everyone – that it’s about breaking down barriers and giving people more options. Feminism that is focused on a narrow approach to reproductive biology excludes many women who will never share the experience of pregnancy, and not necessarily through choice. When women set themselves against trans men and non-binary people, it produces a perfect divide and conquer scenario that shores up cis male privilege. There’s no need for any of that. We can respect one another, allow for difference and support the growth of a bigger feminist movement that is truly liberating.

Jennie Kermode is the chair of the charity Trans Media Watch.