At the start of this year there were numerous attacks on churches and mosques in the region of Tigray in northern Ethiopia, involving much loss of life and the destruction of historic and sacred religious centres.
The current Tigray War began in early November 2020. Tigray – once the ancient Kingdom of Axum – is the homeland of distinctive ethnic groups, comprising Tigrinians who trace their origin to early Semitic-speaking peoples whose presence in the region dates back to at least 2,000 BC. They speak Tigrinian and almost 90% are Orthodox Christians. The Irob people who are mostly farmers are largely Catholic Christians and speak the Saho language, whilst the Kunama people, who speak their own language are an ethnic group native to Eritrea of mixed Christian and Islamic faith. The Tigray Regional Government, led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) founded in 1975, claims to be a revolutionary democracy and is largely a Marxist-Leninist party. It is supported by its former ally, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF).
The Ethiopian civil war (1974-1991) which led to the overthrow of the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Empire under the rule the late Emperor Haile Selassie and its replacement by the Derg régime, which established Ethiopia as a Communist state, has been the source of generations of vicious political upheavals, which are contrary to the ancient Christian heritage of Ethiopia.
Tigray is the home to thousands of churches and monasteries some of the oldest of which are carved in the rock faces of the surrounding countryside. The Church of Saint Mary of Zion in Axum traditionally contained the Ark of the Covenant or Tabot, a gold-covered wooden chest containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, and which, according the Epistle to the Hebrews, also contained Aaron’s flowering rod and a pot of manna (Hebrews IX: 4). About a thousand people sheltered in that church complex but some 750 people were massacred. Also thousands of ancient Christian manuscripts, mostly written in Ge’ez and dating from the thirteenth century, have also been looted from churches and monasteries, and destroyed. Additionally even many historic Muslim sites have also been equally damaged and looted.
His Holiness Abune Mathias, Patriarch of Ethiopia, however, has lost confidence in the capability and willingness of the Ethiopian government to protect citizens from radical groups and has tearfully stated
“My children, I am a religious father. I am your guardian. Nevertheless I have been unable to protect you from slaughter. I have not saved you from death. I am not a military leader. I do not have the ability to bring your killers to justice. I carry a cross in my hand, not a gun. My children, I am tearfully praying to our God about your suffering. I am also continuing to plead with the government. Today I am deeply grieved. I have the urge to weep like a child. My heart is crushed by grief. My eyes have had no sleep, but many tears. In the hopes day to day for improvement, we have been asking the government to put a stop to it. However, we have seen nothing change. Instead I have caused my children to be massacred. While I was preaching to you about peace, those that do not know peace have deprived you of peace. My children do not hold a grudge on me. Do not think I am silent to your plight. I always weep for you. Lord send your judgement, or come down to us. Rather than showing me the suffering of my children, Lord, please bring my death closer. I have not been able to defend my children from what is being brought upon them. See it and render your judgement.”[Translation made by the Orthodox Cognate Page (OCP) Delegate Solomon Kibriye]
He has also called on members of the Holy Synod who started their regular session to make themselves ready in order to stop attacks on the church even if they mean death. He also advised his archbishops to console those members of the church whose hearts have been broken due to these attacks.
There can be no doubt that the loss of the ancient Ethiopian monarchy and the adoption of anti-religious Communism, is a serious cause of the current problems. Lij Teodrose Fikremariam, who is the Chairman of “Ethiopians for Constitutional Monarchy” has stated,
“We are not blind to the challenge before us. After 44 years, there are many who are hesitant to go back to a monarchy even if it makes perfect sense. As an organization comprised of volunteers who love our country dearly and who pray for our nation to do better, it is up to us to work assiduously in order to form a national consensus around the idea of restoring the Ethiopian crown. The road before us is long and arduous but rest assured that we are up to the task and we will remain faithfully committed to this cause.”
The British Orthodox Church, which is committed to historic Christian monarchy as the model for humane and responsible government, believes that the restoration of the Solomonic dynasty would ensure a significant amelioration of Ethiopia’s predicaments.