THE SUFFERINGS OF THE ERITREAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
State takes control of Church Finance
In December, Compass Direct reported that the government of Eritrea had wrested financial and personnel control away from the Eritrean Orthodox Church last week, the day after security police jailed nine staff of a Christian aid agency. In an ultimatum delivered to the church’s Asmara headquarters on 5 December, the state demanded that all offerings and tithes collected through the Orthodox Church be deposited directly into a government account, with effect from 1 January 2007. On 17 January fifteen Orthodox priests who had openly opposed this measure were ordered to “hold their tongues” by the office of Yeftehe Dimetros, the government appointed lay Secretary of the Holy Synod.
Sacreligious Treatment of Patriarch Antonios
On Saturday morning, 20 January 2007, Mr. Yoftahe Dimetros sent two priests Keshi Fitsum Tesfai (Priest at St George, Alfaramio, Asmara) and Keshi Gebretatyos Kidane (Priest at St Atnatios, Godaif Asmara). accompanied by three government security agents to the residence of H.H. Abune Antonios. Once there, they confiscated all his Patriarchal vestments and regalia, the Holy Myron and m any other personal effects.
As no one knows with any degree of certitude the physical condition of Abune Antonios, fears have been expressed that he might have been mistreated by the intruders and possibly sustained injuries.
We are saddened by the actions of Bishop Dioscoros, who, despite the anathema that has been placed upon him and against the canon of our church, is being groomed for his illegal and uncanonical consecration and enthronement to the seat of the Patriarch.
H. H. Patriarch Antonios was offered up to the Lord by his parents at the very tender age of five. He was chosen as the first Eritrean bishop to be consecrated in 1993. Also, in 1977, he was the first to be chosen by his fellow bishops to become the first archbishop of Eritrea. Yet again, in 2004, he was chosen from among his peers by a near unanimous vote to become the Third Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Many who know him closely attest to His Holiness being a person of few words. He is known for his foresight, wisdom, and a life given to prayer.
May God grant him his peace and health.
With Much Sadness,
Monks, Priests and Deacons of the Orthodox Church.
STATEMENT BY HIS EMINENCE METROPOLITAN SERAPHIM
4 February, 2007.
Recent reports about the shameful treatment of His Holiness Abune Antonios, Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church; to the effect that agents of Mr. Yoftahe Dimetros, the government appointed General Secretary of the Holy Synod, recently entered his place of confinement and removed his pontifical insignia and other personal effects, is further evidence of the indignities to which this holy and venerable prelate has been subjected since his illegal and uncanonical removal from office.
The despicable behaviour of Mr. Dimetros and of the faithless members of the Holy Synod under the intruded leadership of Bishop Dioscoros, and all those who willingly support their actions, are a shame and reproach to the Orthodox Church of Eritrea and the fruits of the apostasy and tyranny of the President of the Republic of Eritrea. These men have sat as false judges of Patriarch Antonios and, having demonstrated themselves to be without respect or pity for his consecrated calling, his health and well-being, have now placed themselves under the judgement of Almighty God.
I urge all Christians to pray fervently for the persecuted Eritrean Orthodox Christians and not to forget the Patriarch in his captivity but to keep him in special prayer and hold him and his righteous cause before the Lord in ardent supplication.
Patriarch Antonios forcibly evicted from official residence
In an indication of the Eritrean government’s increasingly oppressive tactics, Abune Antonios, was forcibly removed from his residence in the early hours of Sunday 27 May, and transported to an undisclosed location, according to sources in Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea.
A report from anonymous EOC sources on the Eritrean website www.asmarino.com says Patriarch Antonios was forcibly evicted from his official residence by members of the Eritrean security forces at 5 a.m. local time, and was taken to an unknown destination. The Patriarch suffers from severe diabetes and fears have been expressed for his continued wellbeing.
Patriarch Antonios was illegally removed from office in January 2006 and placed under stringent house arrest after increasingly resisting unwarranted government intervention in church affairs. Bishop Dioscoros of Mendefera, despite the anathema that had been placed upon him by Abune Antonios, was clearly being groomed by the government for his uncanonical consecration and enthronement was consecrated as Patriarch later that day in violation of the church’s constitution. It is thought that Patriarch Antonios was evicted to enable Dioscoros to make use of the official residence.
The anonymous sources concluded by expressing outrage and embarrassment that Dioscoros’ unlawful installation took place during celebrations of the Day of Pentecost, and lamenting the moral decline of the nation. In addition, most residents of Asmara are reported to be deeply saddened by the Patriarch’s forcible eviction.
Patriarch Antonios is one of around 2,000 Christians currently detained without trial or charge in Eritrea.
The Illegal Consecration of Abba Dioscoros as a Patriarch
The Diocese of North America of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church convened a special session yesterday, May 29, 2007. After careful deliberation, the Dioceses once more noted with sadness the state of schism and iniquity that has reigned supreme in the Church and passed the following resolutions.
- Abba Diosocors has been and continues to be under anathema by His Holiness Abune Antonios, the legal Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, neither to ordain others nor elevate himself to any church authority. As such, he has no canonical grounds either to ordain others to the priesthood or elevate himself to the seat of the patriarchate.
- Since the canon and church rules of the Orthodox Church in no uncertain terms prohibit the “consecration of another patriarch while the legal patriarch is still alive”, Abba Dioscoros’ consecration to the position of a patriarch is illegal, therefore, unacceptable.
- The Dioceses further rejects Abba Dioscoros for nullifying the canon of our holy Orthodox Tewahdo Church that has been operative for nearly 17 centuries and instituting a new and illegal path.
- Since Abba Dioscoros has usurped the seat of the patriarchate illegally, we implore all the Orthodox Tewahdo Churches not to mention his name in the liturgy. Also, we call upon the faithful everywhere to be steadfast in defending our ancient and apostolic church, and not be accomplices to the apostasy.
- We call upon all who have fallen victims of this historic schism in our church to turn from this destructive path. We entreat them to mend their ways and not throw their lot with the schismatic party that has taken over the Eritrean Tewahdo Orthodox Church.
We wish His Holiness Patriarch Antonios good health and long life. May God guard his Church and our country. The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, The Diocese of North America.
May 30, 2007
American Diocese sends fraternal greetings
To: His Grace Metropolitan Abba Seraphim
British Orthodox Church
From: The Eritrean Tewahdo Orthodox Church, Diocese of North America
Subject: A Special Meeting of Prayer for H.H. Patriarch Antonios
Date: June 26, 2007
May the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
The Eritrean Tewahdo Orthodox Church, Diocese of North America, sends its message of solidarity to all that are gathering on this blessed day to offer a special meeting of prayer and reflection so that we do not forget His Holiness Patriarch Antonios of Eritrea.
These are days when the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, among the first fruit of the missionary work of St. Athanasius of Alexandria and the daughter of the See of Saint Mark, is going through an excruciatingly painful period in its over 1700 years of existence. While our Church is ancient chronologically speaking, it is like an infant in many ways, having achieved its autocephalous status less than a decade and a half ago. Having limited experience in the ways of the world, the Church has fallen prey to those powers that wish it ill. The illegal deposing of the His Holiness and the subsequent uncanonical consecration of a schismatic patriarch is but part of a big problem in our church.
As you gather on this special day, we want you to know that the Diocese of North America stands with you; and we are encouraged beyond words to know that His Holiness is not forgotten during this time of great persecution in his life. Taking your example, the Diocese of North America has dedicated its 9th Annual Conference of August 2-4 in honor of His Holiness.
Again, thank you for the bold stand you have taken and your exemplary work. May God grant you his grace is our constant prayer.