1. History of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the five so-called monophysite churches, characterised by their rejection of the Council of Chalcedon (451). In contrast to Chalcedon's doctrine that Christ is one person existing in two natures the Ethiopian Orthodox Church affirms that Christ's humanity cannot be separated from his divinity. After the incarnation the thoughts and actions of Jesus were those of a single unitary being.

Ethiopia, the land of Judeo-Christianity, is one of the most ancient predominantly Christian countries of the world. It is marked with a fascinating history, unique civilization, culture and religious life. The Book of Genesis recounts: “And the name of the second river is Ghion: the same is it that compasses the whole land of Ethiopia” (Geneses 2:13). The Psalmist David also says: “Let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out her hands to God” (Psalms 68:31).

Furthermore, historical and archaeological evidences reveal another interesting fact that Ethiopia is the only African country, which has developed its own alphabets and written language. This great land and its people were known by the ancient Greek poets and historians such as Homer, who referred to them as, “Blameless Race.” Herodotus also indicated the country’s landscape as the area south of Egypt and around the Red Sea extending as far as the Indian Ocean. He said that the Ethiopians “lived a long life” and characterized them as “the most just men.”

Christianity in Ethiopia dates back to the 4th century. It was brought to the region by a Christian captive, Frumentius, who later became Ethiopia's first bishop. Frumentius was consecrated by Athanasius the Great in Alexandria, an act which placed the Ethiopian church under the jurisdiction of the Coptic Church of Egypt. Monasticism was introduced towards the end of the 5th century by nine monks from Syria who are believed to have translated the Bible into the local language, Ge'ez. From the 7th century Ethiopia was cut off from the rest of the Christian world by the Islamic conquest of North Africa. Chronic skirmishes between Christians and Muslims led to the outbreak of civil war in the 16th century and the sacking of monasteries and the burning of churches. In the 17th century the conversion of the emperor to Roman Catholicism and the attempt to impose his faith on his subjects produced fierce resistance and the martyrdom of many thousands of Christians. In 1959 the Ethiopian church became independent from Egypt when an Ethiopian patriarch was elected.

The Old Testament tells the pilgrimage of the Queen of Sheba to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon (1Kgs. 10:1-13). Ethiopic tradition maintains that the relationship that followed paved the way for the introduction of Old Testament to the country. Menilik I, Queen of Sheba’s son from King Solomon, made possible the coming of the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia. Since then, Judaic belief and practice became the norm for the daily life of its people. Ethiopia is well known as the Kingdom of Aksum, established by Emperor Menilik I. Historical documents trace the beginning of an independent Ethiopian monarchy as far back as 4522 B.C. At present, in Aksum, the ancient capital and birthplace of Ethiopian civilization and Christianity, antiquity is still present along with its standing obelisk and other artistic features. Aksum has thus remained a religious center to this day.

2. The Introduction of Christianity

The beginning of Ethiopian Christianity could possibly be traced to the apostolic era. The Book of Acts gives the account of the Ethiopian Eunuch of the Queen Candace, who was first evangelized and then baptized by the apostle Philip (Acts 8:286-36). Eusebius, the great Church historian, refers to the Ethiopian Eunuch as “the first fruit of Christianity in the whole world.” In addition, Rufinus followed by Theodret, Socrates and Sozomen also recorded this remarkable event. Nevertheless, it was not until the 4th century that Christianity became the official religion of the Aksumite Empire. This period also saw the inauguration of the Bishopric see and administration of the sacraments.
 This is because St. Athanasius of Alexandria consecrated St. Frementius as the first bishop of Ethiopia during the reign of Emperors Ezana and Syzana (also called Abraha and Atsbaha). King Ezana removed from his coins the sign of the moon and replaced it with the sign of the cross. By doing so, “he became the first sovereign in the world to engrave the sign of the cross on coins.” In A.D. 356 the Arian Emperor Constantius wrote to the king of Aksum requesting that the Orthodox bishop Frementius as “a corrupter of true Christianity be sent back to the Roman Empire.” Obviously, he wanted the Ethiopian King to become an Arian, but his effort was failed. 
St. Frementius later known by the Ethiopians as Abba Selama (i.e., the “Father of Peace”) and Kesate Berhan (i.e., the “Revealer of Light”). Moreover, as the first bishop of Ethiopia, he was given the title “Abune” (our father) as an appellation carried henceforth by all primates of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church accepted the three Ecumenical Councils – Nicaea (A.D 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381) and Ephesus (A.D 431). Therefore, the Nicene-Constantinople creed has become the symbol of its faith.

 The life of the Ethiopian Church was further strengthened by the coming of the Nine Saints who came from the Byzantine Empire (479 A.D.). They translated various sacred texts from Greek and Syriac into G’eez, spread the Gospel and introduced monastic life. The Ethiopian Church entered a new era during the 6th century, which is marked with the rise of St. Yared, the founder of the Ethiopic Hymnody. The time between the 4th and the 7th century A.D. was a time when remarkable religious activities were undertaken. Ethiopia is considered as the center of Christianity in the Horn of Africa, which preserved its own Christian heritage and history, and became the symbol of independence throughout centuries.

3. Monasticism in Ethiopia

Monasticism began to flourish in Ethiopia after Christianity became the official religion of the country. The Ethiopic monastic tradition is introduced from the order of St. Anthony in Egypt upon the arrival of the Nine Saints in A.D 480. Thus, Ethiopian ecclesiastical history regards the 4th-6th centuries as the Golden Age. This period was characterized by great evangelical and literary activities.

4. Holy Scripture

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church understands Holy Scripture as “the fruit of the Holy Spirit grown on the tree of tradition.” The Church’s canon of Scripture comprises the all the Septuagint Old Testament including the Books of Enoch, Jubilee, the fourth book of Ezra, three books of Maccabees. Besides, the canon also consists of twenty-seven books of the New Testament.

5. Doctrinal Teaching

The doctrinal teaching of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is firmly grounded in the five pillars of mystery, namely: the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, Mystery of Incarnation, Mystery of Baptism, Mystery of Holy Communion and Mystery of Resurrection.

    5.1 The Mystery of the Holy Trinity: - belief in the Triune God is the fundamental core of Christian faith. This doctrine is a mystery since it could never be known unless revealed by God. “No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). The One God in whom we believe, as is one in divinity and three as distinct persons. The Ethiopian Church accepts this teaching as absolutely central to its theology and spirituality. “There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one” (1 Jn. 5:7).

   5.2 The Mystery of the Incarnation: - is the saving entrance of God into human history. The main reason for the incarnation is because our disease needed a physician (Lk. 19:10), our darkness needed illumination (Matt 4:12-17; Jn 8:12), and our captivity needed a redeemer (Gal. 5:1). Thus, the Creedal confession reads, “For us men and for our salvation the Word of God came down from heaven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made men.” The Ethiopian Orthodox Church upholds the “miaphysite” Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria: “One United Incarnate Nature of God the Son.” In other words, when the two natures – humanity and divinity –united, Christ thus became one person and one nature from two natures. The union of the Word of God and humanity took place in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Therefore because of the incarnation, all the attributes of the flesh can be given to the Word of God and vice versa.

Due to this perfect union, which took place without division, separation, confusion and mixture, we can no longer speak of two natures. The Johannine prologue says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn 1:14) Thus, Christ is truly human and truly divine. Theologically, this happened through communicatio idiomatum – the exchange of properties. As St. Athanasius of Alexandria notes, “The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine.” This in turn makes possible the divinization of humanity, which enables us to become partakers of the divine nature of God (2 Pet. 1:4).

5.3 The Mystery of the Baptism: - is the main entrance into the Church and participation in its sacramental grace. It is called mystery because we receive the invisible grace of spiritual adoption through the visible performances of the sacrament. “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mk. 16:16; Jn. 19:34-35; Acts 2:38) Being the sacrament of initiation into Christian faith, Baptism is performed only once and never repeated (Eph 4:4-7; Jn 3:3-8).

5.4 The Mystery of the Holy Communion: - the sacrament of Holy Communion is instituted by Christ during the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday. Our Lord Jesus Christ commands the disciples to remember His sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection in their Eucharistic celebration. (Matt. 26:26-30; Lk. 22:19) St. Paul also says, "For as often as you eat this bread, and drink the cup, you do show the Lord`s death till He comes" (1Cor. 11:26). Because it is not offered by man to God, but by God to humankind, the Eucharist is a sacrament through which we are far off from the dominance of sin and attain to communion with God (Jn. 6:53-57). The Eucharist stands at the heart of the early Church’s faith and life. Subsequently, a sacrament became a meeting point on which all the issues of theology converge.

    5.5 The Mystery of the Resurrection: - is the mystery of the eternal life in the world to come after our bodily resurrection from dead, which happens at the glorious Second Coming of Christ. Just as every seed must decay first, and then germinate (Jn. 12:24; 1 Cor. 15:26), so also we all will die and then rise up again to enjoy the eschatological hope of the Kingdom. The Church’s belief in our resurrection is based on the triumphal resurrection of Christ, the first fruit of our resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-22). The consluding phrase of the Creed affirms, “And we believe in the resurrection of the dead.”