A Brief History Ethiopian Christianity
The name where the Septuagent translators rendered the Herbrew
in Ps. 72:9 and 74:14. Cush is one of four sons born to Ham.
He had at least six sons of his own, most of whom were listed
as progenitors of different tribes (Est. 1:1). The word occurs
in the ancient Greek literature, as the name of race to be
found in the extreme East and in the extreme West. The descendants
of Cush settled in Ethiopia and they got their names from
Cush. Axum was named after him. Axum is the birth place of
It is generally agreed that after Herodotus and throughout
the New Testament era Ethiopia was referred to the territory
south of Egypt and bordering the west Bank of the Red Sea.
Historians in Greco- Roman world believed that Ethiopians
were the first humans on earth. (Diodorus 3.2) In its early
days, Ethiopia also embraced regions to the east of Red Sea,
and included some of the territory represented today by Saudi
Arabia and Yemen. (Homer 1.22-23; Herodotus- hist 7:70)
The etymological root of Greek Aithiopia 'burnt face",
describes the pigmentation of the people who were called Ethiopians.
Consequently, not only does Ethiopia refer to a geographical
territory, but it also indicates ethnicity. (Jer
Much of the history of Ethiopia is similar to that of Egypt.
Historians suggested that Ethiopia is older than pharaonic
Egypt. In Axum itself, the fallen obelisk is 37.5 meters high.
It is taller than the greatest Egyptian obelisk. The Sabeans
in Yemen and Arabia were the extensions of the Sabeans in
Ethiopia. South of Arabia was part of the kingdom of Axum.
Ancient Ethiopia was wider as to incorporate many different
people than under the Sabean hegemony.
The Ethiopians embraced Judaism.(Ps. 87:4) Beyond the rivers
of Ethiopia one may refer to Ethiopia, where Jewish community
had apparently settled along with Semites from Southern Arabia.
(2 Ch. 21:16; Isa. 18:1; Zp. 3:10).
The Sabean migrants who crossed the Red Sea in the first
millennium B.C and settled in Ethiopia brought with them Judaism
and practiced it. The visit of Queen of Sheba to King Solomon
in Jerusalem is recounted there. On her return, according
to tradition, she bore him a son, whom she named Menilek.
When Menilek grew up he visited his father in Jerusalem, and
returned home accompanied by Azerias, the son of Zadok the
High priest and many other Israelites. They carried with them
the Ark of the Covenant, and kept it in special place in Axum.
Judaism was introduced to Ethiopia and practiced throughout
the country. Therefore the country became the first nation
to worship in one God in the continent of Africa. We have
strong evidence also that before Queen Sheba visited Solomon;
she used to worship in one God. This is why she mentioned
the named of God when she addressed to Solomon saying; "
blessed be the Lord your God, who delighted in you, set you
on the throne of Israel". (1 Kin. 10:9).
Christianity in Ethiopia
In the Acts of the Apostles Ethiopia is referred to the Nilotic
Kingdom of Candace, who ruled at MeroN, where the capital
had been moved during the Persian period. (Ac.8:26-39) Ethiopia
embraced Christianity and has maintained its doctrine from
the era of the apostles to the present day. This chapter recounts
the story of the Ethiopia eunuch who was baptized by St. Philip
in 34 A.D.
The Ethiopian Enunch reading the Book of the
Prophet Isaiah (Isa. 53:4-9)
The baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch was the fulfillment of
the prophecy of David which says; "Ethiopia will quickly
stretch out her hands to God" (Act. 8:36; Ps. 68:31).
This eunuch was a minister of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia.
Later tradition identified the eunuch as the first Gentile
convert, and the founder of the Ethiopian Church (Eusebius,
hist. Eccl. 2.1.13).
The Ethiopian Enunch being baptized by Saint
(Ps.68:31; Act. 8:36)
Irenaeus also writes that he preached the Gospel to the
Ethiopians. Tradition further records that the apostle Matthew
preached the Gospel to Ethiopians. The two church historians,
Socrats and Rufinus support this tradition.
The Orthodox Church
The story of the conversion of the Axumites has come down
to us in the work of the contemporary church historian, Rufinus
(d. 410 A.D) Meropius, a pilgrim from Tyre, came to Ethiopia
accompanied by the two young men, Frumentius and Aedesius,
both Christians. Apparently they followed the usual itinerary
of the time along the African coast of the Red Sea. In the
course of their journey they ran short of provisions and put
in at a port on the Red Sea. The local inhabitants, however,
were hostile to outsiders, and they massacred Meropius and
all aboard the ship, sparing only the two boys. The two boys
were taken to the king. Soon they gained his interest and
won his confidence. The young Aedesius, he made his cup- bearer
while the elder Frumentius, who showed signs of wisdom and
maturity, became his treasurer and secretary. The king died
early, leaving his wife with an infant son as heir to the
throne. Now the dying king had given Frumentius and Aedesius
leave to return to their own country if they so wished, but
the Queen Mother who was left as a regent, begged them to
remain to help her administer the kingdom until her son grew
up. The young men agreed and stayed to carry out the task
The thoughts of Frumentus now began to turn towards matters
of evangelizing. He sought out Christians among merchants
settled at Axum, and encouraged them to establish meeting
places for prayer. The young king himself became a convert.
When he was old enough to rule the country alone, Frumentius
and Aedesius asked him for permission to leave Axum. Aedesius
returned home to Tyre, but Frumentius went to Alexandria and
laid the whole affair before the newly appointed Patriarch,
Athanasius, beginning him to appoint a bishop to minister
to the needs of the growing Christian community at Axum. The
patriarch summoned a Council of Priests to consider the matter.
It was agreed that Frumentius himself should be consecrated
as the first bishop of Ethiopia. Therefore Frumentius was
consecrated on December 18, 330 as the first bishop of the
country. He was known there as Abba Selama, Kassate Berhan,
"Father of peace and Revealer of light".
The introduction of Christianity to Ethiopia was during
the reign of King Ezana (320 - 356), the first African king
to become a Christian and make Christianity the official religion
of his country. Since then up to the fall of Emperor Haileselassie
(1974) for about 1644 years the official religion of Ethiopia
was Orthodox religion. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, indigenous
of Africa, is one of the oldest churches in the world and
a founding member of the World Council of Churches.
Ethiopian Orthodox church is one of the five Eastern Oriental
Orthodox Churches. They are: Armenian, Syrian, Coptic, Ethiopian
and the Syrian Church of Malabar in India. They are called
Eastern Oriental Orthodox Churches; they only recognize three
ecumenical synods; namely the Synod of Nicea in 325, the Synod
of Constantinople in 381 and the Synod of Ephesus in 431.
They reject the Synod of Chalcedon(451).
The Nine Saints, who came to Ethiopia about 478 A.D from
different parts of the Eastern Roman Empire, also made a large
contribution to the growth of the church by translating the
scriptures from Greek and Aramaic to the classical Ethiopian
language of Geez.
The Major Turning Points
For centuries the Christian Ethiopians fought for maintenance
of the Christian faith against internal and external foes.
In 968, a Jewish persecution of Christians occurred under
Yodit. There was also constant hostility from the Moslems
the Red Sea coast. In 1528, Ahmad Gragn attacked the country
with the aid of Ottoman Empire. For more than a decade churches
and monasteries were sacked and burned, and ancient manuscripts
and other works of art were stolen and destroyed. The other
problem was the attempt of the Roman Catholic Church from
1520 - 1631 to bring the Ethiopian Christians under the jurisdiction
of Rome. In the time of Pope Julius III (1550 - 55), Portuguese
Jesuits entered the country. They impressed the court, but
alienated the clergy. In 1614 belief in Christ's two natures
was imposed on pain of death. It was the Chalcedon formula
of 451, which the Ethiopians had rejected. The people revolted,
civil war broke out, and thousands were killed. After the
death of Susneyos in 1631, his son Fasilades expelled the
Jesuits from the country. From the beginning, the Ethiopian
church affiliated itself with Alexandrian Church. After the
death of Abba Selama, the first bishop of Ethiopia on July
26, 380 A.D., the Egyptian bishops were appointed to head
the Ethiopian Church. This continued until early in the twentieth
century. However, numerous problems, such as language, and
distance from Alexandria made it imperative to have native
bishops. After a long period of struggle, finally agreement
was reached with the Coptic Patriarchate in 1950. In 1959
the Ethiopian Orthodox Church became autocephaly, while remaining
in canonical union with the Coptic Church
The Ethiopians residing in Boston have carried out a very
commendable joy by sacrificing their money, knowledge, manpower,
and buying a church. They are working hard to preserve their
identity, faith and culture. The benefit of acquisition of
the Church building is not limited for the spiritual and temporal
service of Ethiopian alone. It is also for the permanent use
of the generation to come and for the non Ethiopian believers
of the faith as well. Debre Selam St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox
Church is a testimony to their forbearance, strength of faith
Boston Debre Selam Saint Michael Ethiopian
Tewahdo Orthodox Church
Mattapan, MA 02214