The main religions in Ethiopia are Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Paganism. Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian country and the majority of Christians are Orthodox Tewahedo Christians, who belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. There are a minority of Christians who are Roman Catholic or Protestant. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is headed by a patriarch and is related to the communion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church and Malankara Orthodox Church of India.
Christianity began in Ethiopia when two Syrian Christians (Frumentius and Aedissius) came to Aksum and started to tell people about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. Frumentius and Aedissius influenced King Ezana, who ruled Aksum in the early part of the fourth century, and successfully converted him to Christianity. Immediately after King Ezana converted to Christianity, he officially decreed Christianity as the main faith of his kingdom in 341 AD and ordered Frumentius to go to Alexandria where he was consecrated bishop under the name of Abba Selama by the Patriarch of Alexandria in 346 AD. Frumentius (Abba Selama) then returned to Ethiopia and became the first bishop of Ethiopia and founded the Ethiopian Church. Ethiopia became a powerful Christian kingdom and empire right up to the fifteenth century. For more information about the history, doctrine and practice of The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, visit www.ethiopianorthodox.org.
Many Ethiopians claim that the Treasurer eunuch probably introduced the Christian faith when he returned to Ethiopia from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem well before the fourth century, but Christianity did not become the officially recognised religion until the reign of King Ezana in 341 AD. The eunuch's pilgrimage is mentioned in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, verses 26 - 39, which says:
Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'start out and go south to the road that leads to down to Jerusalem to Gaza.' (This the desert road.) So he set out and was on his way when he caught sight of an Ethiopian. This man was eunuch, a high official of the kandake, or Queen, of Ethiopia, in charge of all her treasurer. He had been to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage and was now on his way home, sitting in his carriage and reading aloud the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, 'Go and join the carriage.' When Philip ran up he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah and said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' He said, 'How can I understand unless someone will give me the clue?' So he asked Philip to get in and sit beside him. The passage he was reading was this: 'He was led like a sheep to be slaughtered; and like lamb the is dumb before the shearer, he does not open his mouth. He has been humiliated and has no redress. Who will be able to speak of his posterity? For he is cut off from the world of living men. 'Now', said the eunuch to Philip, 'tell me, please, who it is that the prophet is speaking about here: himself or someone else?' Then Philip began. Starting from this passage, he told him the good news of Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water. 'Look, 'said the eunuch, ' here is water: what is there to prevent my being baptized?'; and he ordered the carriage to stop. Then they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water the Spirit snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw no more of him, but went happily on his way.
The Aksumite kingdom adopted Judaism and the Law of Moses during the reign of King Menelik, son of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba and then adopted Christianity as main faith in 341 AD. The visit of Queen of Sheba to King Solomon and the pilgrimage by a high official (eunuch) to Jerusalem shortly after the death of Christ shows that the Ethiopians had close connections with the Israelites and Jerusalem. Since then Ethiopia has been observing both Old and New Testament practices.
The Ark of the Covenant
Many Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant still exists and rests in Aksum. It seems likely that the Ark was brought to Ethiopia when Menelik returned to Aksum from his visit to his father, King Solomon, in Jerusalem (for more details visit Aksum). According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Ark of the Covenant has remained in Ethiopia ever since and is now kept in a small chapel, which stands at the heart of Aksum's monastic complex of Saint Mary of Zion (Mariam Tsion) church. This makes Aksum the holiest sanctuary in Ethiopia. For more information about the history and the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant, visit www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/ark.html and www.ethiopianorthodox.org/amharic/holybooks/arkofthecovenent.pdf.
The Ark of the Covenant is the most reserved holy relic of God's incarnate and became part of the Orthodox Tewahedo Christian belief. A replica of the Ark of the Covenant, known as the tabot (the tablet), is kept in the holy of holies (Maqdas) in every Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The presence of the Ark indicates that the church has been duly consecrated and the belief in the Ark of the Covenant exert a profound influence on the imaginations and spiritual lives of many Ethiopians. One holy monk is elected and charged with its care and preservation. The elected monk becomes the official guardian of the Ark and no one, except the elected Guardian (a monk) who looks after the Ark of the Covenant, is allowed to enter the chapel. Before the guardian dies, according to Aksumites tradition, he must nominate his successor.
The UK Television Channel 4 interviewed the present Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Paulos, regarding the existence of the Ark of the Covenant and its authenticity. He was asked why the church does not allow archaeologists and forensic scientists to test its authenticity and existence and why it is kept secret and from the public view. He replied, "We believe we have the Ark of the Covenant but we do not have to prove its authenticity and existence to anybody".
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and diary products (i.e. egg, butter, milk, and cheese) on fasting days. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church belief, the faithful must abstain from eating meat and diary products to attain forgiveness of sins committed during the year, and undergo a rigorous schedule of prayers and atonement. However, the sick, travellers and the weak may be exempt from or reduce the fasting periods but if they want to observe the fasting, they can fast the whole or part of the fasting periods. As for those who observe the fasting periods, they will continue to do this through out their life or as long as they are able to do without restrictions.
Church services are held daily in all Orthodox Tewahedo Churches from morning to 3 PM (9 o'clock in the afternoon Ethiopian time). Only one meal is allowed during the fasting days and the fist meal is taken after 3 PM (9 o'clock in the afternoon Ethiopian time), except Saturdays and Sundays, where a meal is allowed after the morning service.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christian fasting periods are:
- all Wednesdays and Fridays except the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost.
- Tsome Neviyat (the fast of the Prophets known as Advent): 43 days fasting before Christmas which starts from 15 November to 28 December Ethiopian Calendar.
- Tsome Gahad (The Vigils): one day fasting which takes place on Christmas eve i.e. 28 December Ethiopian calendar and the day preceeding before Epiphany i.e. 10 January Ethiopian Calendar.
- Tsome Nenewe (the fast of Nineveh): 3 days fasting which starts on the Monday proceeding before Abye Tsome (Lent).
- Abye Tsome or Hudade (Lent): 55 days Fasting before Easter which is divided in to the following three categories:
- Tsome Hirkan: 8 days fasting which starts 8 days proceeding before Tsome Arba.
- Tsome Arba: 40 days fasting which starts immediately after Tsome Hirkan up to Palm Sunday.
- Tsome Himamat: 7 days fasting which starts on the Monday after Palm Sunday until Easter
- Tsome Hawaryat (the fast of the Apostles): begins on the day following Pentecost until 5 July Ethiopian calendar.
- Tsome Filseta (the fast of the Holy Virgin Mary): 15 days fasting which takes place from 1 - 15 August Ethiopian calendar.
Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit, varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by injera and/or bread are only eaten during fasting days. Meat and diary products are only eaten on feasting days i.e. Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and at all other times. Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians, Jews and Muslims do not eat pork as it forbidden by their religious beliefs. For more information, visit Religious Festivals.
Even though, The Aksumite kingdom had accepted the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, during the reign of King Ezana in 341 AD, the Ethiopian Jews known as Felashas or Beta Israel refused to accept Christianity and continued to practise their Old Testament (Jewish) faith which they still do today. The Felashas (Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews) were concentrated in Northwest Ethiopia, mainly, in the northern province of Gonder and west of Tigray province. For more information about the history of Ethiopian Jews, visit http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/ejhist.html.
The Falashas (Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews) who kept their Jewish faith were airlifted in the 1980s, 1990s and those who were deemed eligible had also been able to immigrate to Israel until 2008. The immigration of Falashas was halted in 2008 due to the Israel’s “Law of Return” does not permit for non-Jews until they prove their Jewish roots.The Falasha Mura (Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews) community trace their Jewish roots to the biblical king Solomon. They are not eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Israeli’s “Law of Return”, which guarantees "every Jew has the right to immigrate to Israel, and granting automatic citizenship", because the Falasha Mura’s ancestors persuaded or forced to convert to Christianity in the 19th century and they have been unable to prove they are Jewish. For more details about Falasha Mura, visit http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/falashmura.html
However, the Netanyahu government have now decided to bring the remaining Falasha Mura community to Israel. The Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Ministers at a weekly cabinet meeting in November 2010, “Israelis have a moral duty to bring the remaining Falasha Mura as these are the seeds of Israel - men, women and children - that currently find themselves in the worst living conditions”. This was a remarkable move for the first time an Israeli prime minister openly telling his Ministers in recognising the Falasha Mura are “the seeds of Israel” while many Israelis have reservation to their true identity as Jews.
Islam was introduced to Ethiopia in 615 AD when the followers of Prophet Mohammed, including his wife sought refuge in Aksum. The king of Aksum welcomed them, respected their religion and offered them protection. They later settled in Negash, east of Tigray, which became the foundation and one of the most important places for the Islamic faith in Ethiopia.
Islam spread to the east and south east of the country mainly Harar and Somali administrative regions. The Muslim communities are prediominat in these regions. For details, visit Harar and the Muslim and Christian War.
Paganism or Indigenous Beliefs
Paganism or indigenous religious beliefs are widely practised in Gambella, Southern Peoples' State, Oromia administrative regions. These regions also contain considerable animist communities.
- Roderick Grierson and Stuart Munro-Hay, The Ark of the Covenant, 2000, published by Phoenix, London, UK, ISBN 0753810107
- Dr Bernard Leeman, The Ark of the Covenant, Evidence Supporting The Ethiopian Traditions, August 2010, www.queen-of-sheba-university.org, http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/amharic/holybooks/arkofthecovenent.pdf
- Stuart Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, The Unknown Land a Cultural and Historical Guide, 2002, published by I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd., London and New York, ISBN 1 86064 7448
- Jenny Hammond, Fire From The Ashes, A Chronicle of the Revolution in Tigray, Ethiopia, 1975-1991, 1999, published by The Read Sea Press, Inc., ISBN 1 56902 0868
- Philip Briggs, Ethiopia, The Bradt Travel Guide, Third Edition, 2002, published by Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, England, UK, ISBN 1 84162 0351
- Holy Bible, The Old Testimony, the First Book of Kings, chapter 10, verses 1 - 10 and The New Testament, Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, verses 26-39.
- Graham Hancock, The Sign and the Seal : The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Touchstone Books, 1993.
- The Jewish Virtual Library, The Lost Ark of the Covenant. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/ark.html
- The Jewish Virtual Library, Judaism. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaism.html
- The Jewish Virtual Library, The History of Ethiopian Jews. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/ejhist.html
- The Jewish Virtual Library, Law of Return 5710-1950. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Immigration/Text_of_Law_of_Return.html
- The Jewish Virtual Library, The History of Ethiopian Jews, The Falash Mura. January 21, 2010. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/falashmura.html
- The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (2003). The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Faith and Order. http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/english/indexenglish.html
- Binyam Kebede (2002). http://www.ethiopiafirst.com (4ladies.jpg, Afar-lady.jpg, Afar-girl.jpg, lady-artful-lips.jpg, Man-face-art.jpg, Man-face-art2.jpg, Somal-lady.jpg, Debra-Damo.jpg, Buitiful-girls.jpg, lady-face-art.jpg, man-hair-style.jpg, yeha.jpg, harar.jpg,). Many thanks to Binyam Kebede for his permission to copy and use these pictures from his website.
- Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Office of Population and Housing Census Commission Central Statistical Authority, November 1998, Addis Ababa
- Edward Ullendorff, Ethiopia and The Bible, The Schweich Lectures, The British Academy, Published by The Oxford University Press, first published 1968, Reprinted 1989, 1992, 1997, Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, United Kingdom, ISBN 0-19-726076-4
- Mr. Solomon Kibriye (2003). Imperial Ethiopia Homepage, http://www.angelfire.com/ny/ethiocrown. Many thanks to Mr. Solomon Kibriye for the contribution and comments he has made to this website.
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