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Friday, June 19, 2015

Why Christians Are Fleeing One of Africa's Oldest and Largest Christian Homelands
Image: Marc Veraart / Flickr
April was a terrible month for Ethiopian migrants. Tescma Marcus and his brother Alex were burned alive during xenophobic attacks in South Africa. One week later, Eyasu Yekuno-Amlak and his brother Balcha were dramatically executed in Libya by ISIS, along with 26 others.
One reason Ethiopians were involved in high-profile tragedies at opposite ends of the continent: Their nation is the second-most populous in Africa as well as the second-poorest in the world (87 percent of Ethiopia's 94 million people areimpoverished).
Roughly two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians. The majority of these belong to the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church; the rest primarily to Protestant denominations such as the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Makane Yesus (which recently broke ties with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over theological concerns).
The Orthodox and Protestants have long had in common the search for a better life. Increasingly, they share even more.
Veteran SIM missionary Howard Brant celebrates that “the two groups are coming closer and closer together” in Ethiopia, which he calls “one of the great success stories of evangelical Christianity.”
The martyred migrants in Libya, he said, likely belonged to the Orthodox church. “But if they were strong enough believers to refuse to deny Jesus on pain of death,” he said, “then God knows their hearts.”
The Tewahedo church—like its Orthodox sister church in Egypt—celebrates its history of martyrdom. It claims descent from the Ethiopian eunuch converted by Philip in Acts 8, and dates formally to the preaching of Frumentius in the early fourth century and the acceptance of Christianity in A.D. 330.
The name means "unified" in Ge’ez, the ancient and still liturgical language of Ethiopia. It refers to Christ’s one nature, both human and divine. In A.D. 451, the Oriental Orthodox churches rejected the Council of Chalcedon’s pronouncement of his two natures.
But despite joint confession of the A.D. 325 Nicene Creed, relations with Ethiopian evangelical groups have traditionally been poor. The Orthodox hold to an 81-book canon of Scripture, engage in deep veneration of Mary, and believe the Ark of the Covenant is housed in their St. Mary’s of Zion Church,said to be brought in the 10th century B.C. and kept in secret.
Some evangelicals accept the ark legend as well, said Ralph Lee, an expert in Ge’ez and Ethiopic theology who has partnered extensively with the Orthodox. Despite these barriers, he believes there is much room for cooperation.
“The gospels always come first and all is to be interpreted in their light,” he said. “There are many within the church who are seeking to help the laity develop a better understanding of their faith and its meaning.”
Unfortunately, he says, there are others who do not fully realize the importance. The Bible is widely available in Amharic, the national language, and the Bible Society in Ethiopia works with all denominations. But some Orthodox bishops oppose a vernacular liturgy, and priests are generally not given an academic education in the Scriptures.
One bishop, however, has authorized a Bible translation in the local language of the heavily Orthodox region of Tigray, along the northern border with Eritrea.
The Orthodox church’s late leader, Patriarch Abune Paulos, was hailed by Lee and many Ethiopians as a champion of ecumenism, serving as a president of the World Council of Churches until his death in 2012.
Source: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/june-web-only/why-christians-are-fleeing-africa-ethiopia-orthodox.html