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Early Christianity

Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Doctrines 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.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church closely follows the precepts of the Old Testament. Church members are expected to be circumcised, to follow the dietary practices set out in the Old Testament, and observe Saturday as the Sabbath.

History 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.

Symbols The finest examples of Ethiopian symbolism and iconography are to be found at the Cathedral of Axum, the site of the oldest church in Ethiopia. The cathedral is lavishly decorated with paintings of scenes such as the coming of the Ark of the Covenant, the Virgin and Infant, and the nine saints. The most treasured icon is what the church believes to be the Ark of the Covenant which according to tradition was removed was removed from the Queen of Sheba's retinue in the time of King Solomon. The ark has never been described by Christian sources since it is forbidden to see it. However, Muslim chroniclers relate that it is a large white stone inlaid with gold.

Adherents The church is estimated to have 22 million adherents in Ethiopia. The church also has members in America and Trinidad (Europa Publications Limited 1995, 1:1135).

Main Centre
 The Cathedral of Axum. The church can be contacted at the following address: POB 1238, Addis Ababa.