|An Eritrean Bishop’s Game of Cat and Mouse--ICFC Special Report|
|Wednesday, 04 February 2009 00:00|
When the government of Eritrea dispatched a bishop of the Eritrean Orthodox Church to the United States in October 2005, it was a calculated move. Since May 2002, it had ruthlessly banned all evangelical and charismatic churches in the country, picking off their leaders and dispersing them into its notorious prisons across the country. Not long after (2004,) the government directed its fury on the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
With the EOC, Mr. Isaias’ government figured one thing: having full control over the church would give him control over nearly half the population of the country. In order to accomplish that, however, potential opponents within the church would have to be removed. Thus, many of the leading lights of the church were rounded up and sent to prison. Scores of other clergies were simply removed from their parishes.
The biggest obstacle Mr. Isaias faced was the head of the church, Patriarch Abune Antonois. Isaias mistook the piety and humility of the patriarch for docility and thought he could walk all over him as he was accustomed to doing so to many others. Much to Mr. Isaias’ chagrin and surprise, however, he discovered that underneath the pious and humble monk, was a defiant and unshakeable granite of a man.
Totally ignorant of church polity and of the ramifications of his acts, Isaias had the patriarch deposed and sent to the dungeons. By that time, the only orthodox body that could pose the threat of any organized resistance to this gross interference in the EOC was the Diocese of North America.
The solution the government came up with as a response to such a threat was sending a bishop who could also serve as a political cadre. But the man chosen for the task – Abba Sinoda - was hardly equipped intellectually, spiritually or temperamentally for what awaited him.
No sooner than his arrival in October 2005, Abba Sinoda was dispatched from one city to another to do the bidding of his handlers at the Embassy of Eritrea in Washington D.C. He wreaked havoc on the Diocese by using all the dirty tricks of his bosses in the PFDJ, the sole ruling party in Eritrea.
Immediately upon the arrival of Abba Sinoda to the U.S., the presiding Patriarch, Abune Antonios, still the head of the church at the time, dispatched an urgent letter dated …..informing the North America Diocese and followers of the EOC that the bishop had left Eritrea neither with his approval nor knowledge. Fully aware what was about to happen to him personally and the political nature of the bishop’s assignment, the Patriarch rejected it outright.
ICFC has recently learned that, not only did Abba Sinoda come to the U.S. on a diplomatic visa, but that his salary, at least in part, has also been coming straight from the Embassy’s coffer, presumably for his service to his political bosses.
One of the many tasks of this political cadre in a clerical garb was to serve the regime as a source of deployment for the government’s early campaign of false rumors to sully the name of the patriarch, many leading priests in North America and lay leaders.
Since day one of the bishop’s arrival, once again, to the utter surprise of the regime, a flood of complaints of gross incompetence from even among the churches that show less reluctance to accept Abba Sinoda as their “bishop” have been flooding into the Embassy of Eritrea and the Synod. People who saw in him nothing spiritually redeeming but a political hatchet-man, wanted him recalled to Asmara. Alarmed by such negative reaction to the man, ICFC has learned that the synod has ordered the man returned to Asmara on at least three separate occasions. But Abba Sinoda simply ignored the orders.
As further proof that he has completely cut himself off the synod, not once has the bishop participated in any poceedings of the synod, of which he is supposedly a member, going on four years.
Due to the above developments, multiple sources affirm to ICFC that there is a complete break between Abba Sinoda and Yoftahe Dimetros, the bishop’s erstwhile ally and the political appointee who is running the EOC. The two express their mutual disdain towards one another every chance they get.
Sources in Asmara tell ICFC that the Synod has already made the decision to give Abba Sinoda an ultimatum: return to Eritrea or run the risk of being removed from his position as a “diocesan bishop.”
The same sources tell ICFC that part of the plan for the Yoftahe-Dioscoros delegation that was recently touring Europe had been to extend their tour to North America. The purpose was, aware that Abba Sinoda would refuse to return to Eritrea, to convoke a meeting of the priests in N. America who are operating under the tutelage of the Eritrean Embassy. At that meeting, the priests were to be notified that Abba Sinoda would no longer be their bishop, and they were to be introduced to their new bishop – Abba Yohannes (bishop of Keren). In the event Abba Sinoda showed any reluctance to accede to such a “peaceful” transfer, which the delegation anticipated, they were to read his letter of excommunication in front of everyone.
Unfortunately for the Yoftahe-Dioscoros party, things haven’t worked out as planned. According to reports ICFC has received, the Yoftahe-Dioscoros delegation was denied entry visa into the United States.
In the meantime, numerous reports indicate that Abba Sinoda, reading the writing on the wall, has already applied and received political asylum in the United States with the help of relatives. ICFC has not been able to confirm that. But if this likely development is true, it will mean that the bishop has cut all cords that tie him either to his handlers in the Eritrean embassy or the synod. The dilemma for the Eritrean government and the Yoftahe-Dimetros party is what to do with a renegade bishop.
However future situations unfold, Abba Sinoda’s days of destroying congregations seem to be numbered.