In many aspects of religious practice the Ethiopians were, and remain, conventionally Orthodox. Ordination to the priesthood and diaconate is the prerogative of a bishop standing in apostolic succession; their parish clergy are married; monasticism traces its roots to St Anthony; they share the religious calendar common throughout the Orthodox world; they recognise seven sacraments, of which Baptism and the Eucharist are held pre-eminent; they observe nine major festivals in honour of Christ: Nativity, Epiphany, Annunciation, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Transfiguration. However, as we will see, this was a Christianity deeply conscious of its Semitic roots, this consciousness reinforced by the fact that, since the centuries preceding the Christian era, Ethiopia has been culturally and politically dominated by Semitic speakers. Today, observance of the Sabbath as a feast day of equal status with Sunday is normative; circumcision is practised; Christian Ethiopians follow dietary prescriptions derived from the Torah; and they liken the altar (tabot) on which they celebrate the Eucharist to the Ark of the Covenant. Moreover, while marriage is de rigueur for the clergy, the church has not fully succeeded in imposing its views of marriage on the laity. Most Ethiopian Christians marry according to lay customs, and divorce is an accepted practice for the laity. However, church norms are recognised in that most Ethiopian Christians view their marriage practices as barring them from receiving the Eucharist, and instead channel their religious devotion into rigorous fasting.

Equally, the commitment to Alexandrian teaching as a touchstone of Orthodoxy did not lead to unanimity, but rather created a framework within which redefinition was constant. The monasteries constituted the restless frontiers of Ethiopian Christendom. They were organised into two broad orders, following the leadership oftwo saintly monks - Ewost'atewos and Takla Haymanot -of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Episcopal authority could do little to contain the orders, unless backed by the power of the state, which was comparatively weak. For virtually a millennium, following the seventh-century eclipse of Aksum, Ethiopia's kings ruled from roving capitals, seeking to dominate by their seasonal presence an agrarian society and the regional lay and clerical rulers who depended on the surpluses produced by that society. For most of its history, the Ethiopian Church had but one metropolitan bishop, and he a Copt. Only rarely did he have the support of suffragan bishops. Thus, in ecclesiastical affairs the monasteries played a role analogous to that played by foreigners would include E. Hammerschmidt, Athiopien: christliches Reich zwischen Gestern und Morgen (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1967); and F. Heyer, Die Kirche Athiopiens: eine Bestandsaufnahme (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1971).

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