The twentieth century

At the beginning of the twentieth century a new wave of independence arose in the Ethiopian Church. Ever since Frumentius had been ordained the first Bishop of Ethiopia by Athanasius in the fourth century, the head of the Church had been an Egyptian appointed by the See of Alexandria. The anomaly of this situation, supported by a spurious addition to the Canon of Nicaea, was acutely felt by Ethiopians. It was also felt that reform and modernization of the Church could not be led by a foreign prelate who was more than likely ignorant of Ethiopia's history, traditions and language. With the death in 1926 of Abuna Mattewos, the last of the four bishops who had been appointed back in 1881, Ethiopia approached the See of Alexandria with the request that the new metropolitan should have the authority to consecrate native Ethiopian bishops. After a lengthy exchange, finally in 1929 Abuna Qerallos was appointed as metropolitan, with the authority to consecrate five Ethiopian monks as diocesan bishops. During the Italian occupation (1935-41), two of the new Ethiopian bishops, Petros and Marqos, joined the resistance and were subsequently executed by the Italians. Later Qerallos was deported to Rome, since he refused to participate in the Italians' plan to sever completely the Ethiopian Church's links with Alexandria, and the Italians installed a puppet abuna. After liberation in 1941, Qerallos returned and re-opened negotiations with Alexandria about the granting of autonomy, and about the recent excommunication of bishops. Alexandria had excommunicated Abraham, the first puppet abuna, who died in 1939, and his successor Yohannas, and their followers, many of whom were as much victims of political events as real collaborators. In 1948 the Coptic Synod agreed amongst other things that after Qerallos's death an Ethiopian metropolitan could be appointed. Qerallos died in 1951 and Abuna Basalyos, Bishop of Harar, became the first native Ethiopian head of the Ethiopian Church.

Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge to the Ethiopian Church in the twentieth century followed in the wake of the 1974 revolution. Although at the outset it was not a Marxist revolution, within the year power came into the hands of Colonel Mangastu Hayla Maryam and the Revolutionary Committee, known as the Darg, which espoused

Marxist ideology. In 1975 the Darg disestablished the Church and nationalized a large part of its extensive lands, and in 1977 Tewoflos, who had succeeded Basalyos in 1971, was arrested, imprisoned, and later executed. To replace him the Darg instructed the Synod to elect a new abuna, and a simple hermit monk was chosen who took the name of Takla Haymanot. But Alexandria complained that it was illegal to appoint a new patriarch while his predecessor still lived or had not abdicated or been removed by the Synod for infringement of canon law, and so refused to recognize him. This marked a complete severance of relations between the Coptic Church and the Ethiopian. Takla Haymanot died in 1988 and was replaced by Marqorewos, the erstwhile Bishop of Gondar, whose candidature had been suggested by the government. During the Marxist regime, though freedom of religious expression was an overtly declared policy, the Ethiopian Church suffered heavily, not only from the loss of a great deal of its lands and economic base, and interference in its governance, but also at the local level by some obstruction of ordinary worshippers. When the regime fell in 1991 and was replaced by a transitional government composed of erstwhile rebel movements, Abuna Marqorewos was removed from office by the Synod. A new abuna was elected in 1992 in the person of Pawlos, who had spent some time in exile in the United States. Marqorewos in turn fled Ethiopia and was followed by several bishops who had opposed his removal. These now live in the United States, where they set up an independent Synod and serve a large part of the Ethiopian Orthodox community resident outside Ethiopia, especially in North America.

After the collapse of the Marxist regime, Eritrea sought independence from Ethiopia, which was granted in May 1993. That same year the Church in Eritrea petitioned Pope Shenouda III to return to the jurisdiction of the Coptic Church in Egypt, who granted the petition with the agreement of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In Cairo in 1994 Shenouda ordained five new bishops for the Eritrean Church, and in 1998 Abba Filappos, Bishop of Asmara, was elected as the first patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

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