|A Familiar Crime in the name of the Eritrean Orthodox Church|
|Tuesday, 04 October 2011 21:21|
Let us look at two glaring examples of the tragedy of the failure in leadership in the Orthodox Church in Eritrea in times past - the pre-independence era. This, regrettably, leads one to dig into unpleasant events that shed important light on the tragic depth into which the church has descended today.
Criticizing the men at the helm, however, should take away nothing from the Orthodox faith, its adherents’ piety or the faithful ministry of the countless parish priests across the width and breadth of the country. This criticism of the failed “leadership” notwithstanding, it is only fair to still hold on to an abiding belief that, as everywhere else in the world, the Orthodox Church in Eritrea still has so much to offer.
Tumultuous Years: 1935-1950
In Aynfelale, from which the above statement was quoted, Mr. Tesfai concludes that: “It is inconceivable to think that a decision of this magnitude on such serious spiritual matters could have been taken or that the possibility of such an action could carry the requisite weight without the assent of the [Orthodox Church’s “hierarchy”]. Nor can we in any way underestimate the immense distress such stance might have brought to bear on the faithful.”
As the above quotation reveals, some of the leaders of the Orthodox Church in Eritrea, cut off as they were from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church since the period of Italian colonialism, availed themselves in the service of the forces that stood against Eritrea’s independence and served as an important tool in the Unionists’ arsenal in the 1940s. When, to this end, Unionist leaders issued the aforementioned decree and many other similar documents, no doubt with the full consent and blessing of certain leaders of the church, there were stinging responses from partisans of the Independence Bloc.
In the second edition of Hanti Ertra (One Ertrea), the pro-independence weekly, a writer spoke in a prophetic voice against the church’s profligate actions and denounced the Orthodox officials for their un-Christian political role. In an article entitled an “Un-erasable Injustice” (zeyHkeK bedel), the author denounced the deplorable acts of the leaders of the church. In doing so, the author cited two specific injustices (bedelat) perpetrated by the church hierarchy in the fifteen years between 1935 and 1950.
Harkening first to the events of 1935 when the Italian fascists were engaged in the massive and brutal invasion of Ethiopia, the author of the article began by recalling the shameful collaboration of officials of the Orthodox Church in Eritrea with officials of the Italian fascists. Here is how the author put it:
The author of the article then goes on to construct a shameful pattern of behaviors of the leaders of the Orthodox Church in Eritrea in the political climate of the 1940s, now prostituting themselves to yet another power – Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia - and standing squarely against those Eritreans who put their lives on the line for Eritrea’s independence.
“And at this very moment , as the people of Eritrea – irrespective of religion - Christians and Muslims alike - attest, the same church [authorities] has once again denied her holy and divine mysteries to all her peaceful and faithful adherents who are fighting for the independence of Eritrea. It has, just as in 1935, denied them a Christian burial, condemning them instead to be buried without the cross as if they were donkeys or mules.”
The author concludes by criticizing the church hierarchy of their failures:
Mr. Tesfai informs us that such searing an indictment of the sad role of the authorities of the Orthodox Church in Eritrea could only have come from the pen of Ato Woldeab Woldemariam, a figure widely recognized as the midwife of Eritrean nationalism and, along with Ato Ibrahim Sultan, the father of the nation. The unionists seem to have come to the same conclusion as to the identity of the author of the aforementioned article as well. According to Mr. Tesfai, this was borne out by the fact that a third attempt was made on the life of Ato Woldeab Wodemariam on February 4, 1950 – the exact same date that the above article appeared in Hanti Ertra.
Today, the Eritrean Orthodox Church is savagely being assaulted. As one recent article described her deplorable situation, the church is “being systematically dismantled” by a government that is hostile to religion and is bent on destroying any vestiges of religious faith from the country.
The ruling regime in Eritrea has mastered the evil lessons of fascist Italy of the 1930s in Eritrea and the ploys of Emperor Haileselassie in the 1940s to completely nationalize (take over) the Eritrean Orthodox Church in order to manipulate and use it for the regime’s own sinister political end.
Under such circumstances, the likes of Abba Dioscoros and his clique of bishops in Eritrea have become enthusiastic collaborators and tools of the PFDJ, the sole godless ruling party in Eritrea. Because of the church’s new role as political enforcers of the regime in priestly garbs, the EOC hierarchy, now under a short government leash, has turned the church into just one of the regime’s “mass political organizations.” In doing so, they have sold their church down the river for a mess of pottage.
How have Yoftahe Dimtros, the government appointed lay person who holds the odious title of “General Administrator” of the EOC, Abba Dioscoros, the government-installed false “patriarch” and their clique of bishops become partners in the present zeyHkeK bedel [Un-eraseable Crime]? The most deplorable action of the church hierarchy begins with their collusion in the unseating and imprisonment of H.H. Abune Antonios, the legitimate patriarch of the EOC, and so many prominent priests of the Eritrean Orthodox Church for so long without ever being charged with any crime.
Since the dethronement of H.H. Abune Antonios in January 2006, the rape and destruction of the EOC by the cannibalistic ruling regime in Eritrea and its collaborators within the church has gone on unchecked.
Besides the continued imprisonment of the leading lights of the EOC, scores of others in Asmara and its surroundings have been purged from their parish ministry because of their alleged refusal to jump on their band wagon. According to reliable sources, as recently as a few weeks ago, several archpriests in the sub-regions of Areza, Adi Quala, Guch’A and Mai-Mine were rounded up and held in detention. They were accused of sympathizing with Abune Antnios. Monks in several monasteries across Eritrea have met the same fate.
The same group of church officials and bishops that have collaborated in having their peers incarcerated; the same clique that has usurped power for their own benefit and care less about the church and its apostolic mandate; the same group that cheered the government on when it outlawed other denominations and put to jail nearly 3300 members of the EOC as well as leaders of other denominations in jail for their faith; the same clique that has betrayed Patriarch Antnios and offered him as a sacrificial lamb to their political bosses; this same clique is today in the service of the brutal and autocratic regime of Mr. Isaias to destroy the church from within. Today, these same leaders are repeating what Ato Woldeab Woldemariam condemned nearly 60 years ago as zehHkeK bedelat.
Here again, it is instructive to note that the main player in the drama of the 1940s was none other than the notorious Qeshi Dimetros, the very father of Yoftahe Dimetros. The adage that the apple never falls far from the tree rings ever true here.
The purpose of the pamphlet goes beyond that. Using the same old tactics of the Unionists of the 1940s, the church hierarchy now threatens Orthodox Eritreans in North America to “listen and obey” only to government sanctioned priests, thereby attempting to strike fear in the hearts of followers of the Orthodox church.
Let us look at one example of the new role of the authorities of the EOC. As everyone is well aware, the main source of revenue for the ruling regimes in Eritrea has been the so called 2% “tax” required of every Eritrean national who lives abroad. Since payment of this extortionate “tax” is a must if anyone needs any consular service affecting themselves and family members, many have little choice but to grudgingly pay up. Anyone who might own any property in Eritrea, is trying to bring loved ones to visit for any reason or request any minor consular services, such a persons would have to provide proof of payment of this “tax”. One of the documents required for such payment is one’s W-2 form for proof of income.
The Eritrean Orthodox Church, now under complete control of the government, is made to play the role of a collection agency for the regime in the enforcement of this strange scheme of extortion. For instance, if someone wants to go back to Eritrea and bring back a bride, as many do, one of the requirements by church officials is that the bridegroom (and occasionally, a bride) shows proof of payment of the 2% “tax” to the government. If someone dies abroad and the remains is to be taken to Eritrea for burial, church officials refuse to conduct the burial service (ftHat) unless the deceased and the relatives of the deceased show proof of payment of the 2% “tax”. This is straight out of the Unonists’ manual of the 1940s against the followers of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
A Call to Adherents of the Eritrean Orthodox Church:
The faithful of the Orthodox Church must unequivocally call on the government of Etritrea to keep its hands off the church. The Yoftahe-Dimetros clique should not be allowed to prostitute the church to the service of a godless state.
The government should be ashamed for forcing the church hierarchy to deny the faithful of her holy sacraments as a means of control. The church should never be used as a collection agency for the regime. The sacraments of the church are not and should never be for sale. There is absolutely no scriptural basis for the Yoftahe-Dioscoros group to deny the faithful of the holy sacraments simply because one, for whatever reason, has refused to pay an illegitimate and confiscatory tax to an illegitimate government. Nor is there anything in the teachings of the church Fathers or the traditions of the church to support such a strange and un-Christian role for the church.