Introduction

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the largest of the Oriental Orthodox or non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches, with perhaps around 33 million members. The majority of Ethiopian Orthodox live in Ethiopia, but there are sizeable expatriate communities in the United States and Canada, in Australia, and in parts of western Europe. The Orthodox Church in Eritrea, which is historically part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and formally separated only in 1993, has around 2 million members. In recent years there have also been a number of converts in the West Indies, estimated at around 90,000.

The official name of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is in Amharic Yä-Ityopp-sya Ortodoksawit Täwahsdo Betä Krsstiyan, or the Ethiopian Orthodox Täwahsdo Church, in which the term täwahado, lit. 'unity' or 'oneness', professes the unity of the human and divine natures in Christ and reflects the pre-Chalcedonian formula 'One Incarnate Nature of God the Word'. The early and medieval history of the Church is intimately linked with the expansion of the Aksumite state and in particular the later Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, and as such its traditional members are of the Amhara and Tigrean ethnic groups. But in the wake of the political dominance of the Amhara in the region from the late thirteenth century many other ethnic groups were drawn into the Church as part of the intertwined processes of amharization and christianization.

The language of the liturgy of the Church, however, remained and is still Ge'ez (or Ethiopic), the language of Aksum at the time of the adoption of Christianity and the subsequent translation of the Bible and the liturgy. Within the service, however, sermons are delivered in the vernacular languages, mostly Amharic or Tigrinya, but some basic Christian educational material is beginning to appear in other languages of Ethiopia as part of the greater freedom of language use that Ethiopia has seen since the early 1990s.

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