On 11 July 2017 the ‘Holy Synod’ of the Eritrean Orthodox Church issued a statement declaring that the issue of Patriarch Abune Antonios had been resolved and that there was “a full reconciliation, peace and love with Abuna Antonios in the presence of Union of the Monasteries and Church Scholars.” Apart from the fact that the ‘Holy Synod’ ceased to have any credibility as the canonical authority of the Eritrean church at the moment that it concurred in the illegal removal of the Patriarch and supported the usurpation of the government-sponsored anti-patriarch, Dioscoros; the ‘Holy Synod’ is recognised as the mouth-piece of the Eritrean government.
Abune Antonios, now a frail 90 years old, has been kept under house arrest at an undisclosed location since January 2007. He suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure and in May 2017 it was reported that he had fallen gravely ill following having been injected with a harmful substance. It is believed that the Eritrean government is anxious to prepare the ground for his successor, whom many people believe may be Abune Luqas, who was uncanonically consecrated bishop by the late anti-Patriarch Dioscoros, prior to the latter’s death on 21 December 2015. Luqas is the “front man” who appears on official videos making statements on behalf of the church and formal greetings at New Year and other festive occasions. He is believed to be one of the main instigators behind the imprisonment of clergy and recently toured churches in the diaspora to raise his own profile, in what many people believe to be a preparation for his elevation to patriarchal rank. Having the appearance of reconciliation with the legitimate patriarch, Abuna Antonios, would ensure Luqas’s acceptance by other Orthodox churches.
Details of the service of reconciliation are sparse and not derived from any reliable and independent source. Father Bereket of the parish of Adikeyih, another Eritrean priest serving the interests of the government, is said to have read out a letter of apology to Abuna Antonios, who – despite his request – was not allowed to pray for those assembled or to make any public address on this occasion, whilst photographs of the event were blurry and restricted. The presence of plain-clothes security officers, pushing people out of the church compound, clearly revealed who was in charge of this sham reconciliation. Afterwards, Abuna Antonios was returned to house arrest. This cynical attempt at manipulation of this frail, but holy hierarch, is symptomatic of the ongoing persecution of Eritrean Christians; but we thank God that there are those in Eritrea who are not unaware of government strategy, whilst international organisations like CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide) which have been vocal supporters of Abune Antonios and persecuted Christians in Eritrea, have exposed this contrived attempt to conceal the reality of the ongoing persecution of the Eritrean Church. No statements by the “Holy Synod” can be regarded as dependable and unless events can be corroborated by a reliable and independent source, such as the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, they are of little value.
The British Orthodox Church continues to pray for Abuna Antonios and all those righteous bishops, priests, monks and faithful who stand for truth and justice against a cruel and oppressive régime.