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19 June 2007updated 27 Sep 2015 5:44am

An ancient and venerable faith

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

By Dawit Gebreyohannes Woldetsadik

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.

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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.

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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.