Abuna Basilios - Early Life

Early Life

He was born Gebre Giyorgis Wolde Tsadik in Mada Mikael, a village in the district of Merhabiete (woreda) in Shewa. Memhir Wolde Tsadik Solomon, his father, was a respected ecclesiastical official. In his home town Gebre Giyorgis received an elementary education at the local church then entered the Monastery of Debre Libanos where he received advanced religious education. He took the Holy Orders and became a monk at the age of 21. For the next 12 years he served in the same monastery. He went on to be appointed administrator of various churches in Ethiopia, most notably the Church of St. Mary at Menagesha. In early 1923 he was nominated Head of the Ethiopian Churches and Monasteries in Jerusalem with the title of "Memhir".

Memhir Abba Gebre Giyorgis remained in Jerusalem for two years, where he gained the theological knowledge to become Ichege of the Ethiopian Church in 1933. (At the time this was the highest rank open to an Ethiopian within the church, for the office of Abuna, or archbishop, was always a cleric of the Coptic Church). During the Italian invasion, Ichege Gebre Giyorgis accompanied Emperor Haile Selassie and the Ethiopian troops to the Battle of Maychew; following the defeat in that battle the Ichege accompanied the Emperor back to Addis Ababa and participated in the decision of the Emperor to go into exile and present Ethiopia's case to the League of Nations.

During the Italian occupation, Ichege Gebre Giyorgis lived in exile in Jerusalem, where he remained in touch with the Arbegnoch, or resistance fighters inside Ethiopia. During the Italian occupation, the Coptic Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, "Abune" Kerrilos had initially submitted to Italian rule. Later, the Archbishop returned to Egypt and denounced the Italian occupation, and the Italians then un-canonically appointed the Ethiopian born Bishop of Gojjam, "Abune" Abraham as the new Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox church in 1937, and allowed him to annoint new Bishops without the sanction of the Coptic Patriarchate of Alexandria. Upon "Abune" Abraham's death the Italian authorities replaced him with "Abune" Yohannes as Archbishop. Neither the Patriarch in Egypt, nor the Emperor living in exile in Britain recognized these Archbishops appointed by the Italians. However, the exiled Imperial court also regarded the exiled "Abune" Kerrilos as having first collaborated with the enemey and then abandoned his flock. At the eve of Emperor Haile Selassie's return to Ethiopia, the Coptic ecclesiastical authorities suggested that the current Abuna, Kerrilos accompany the Emperor on his entrance into Ethiopia; the offer was declined and the Ichege selected instead. As Margary Perham notes, "The photographs of that dramatic moment when the Emperor stepped across the frontier in the wild region of the Upper Dinder and unfurled his flag, show the Ichegé, a fine figure of a man in his flowing black cerremonial robes, standing beside him."

Following the liberation of Ethiopia in 1941, due to the Emperor's refusal to receive or recognize "Abune" Yohannes as Archbishop of the Ethiopian Ortodox Church, and the refusal of the clergy at large to contenance the return of "Abune" Kerrilos, "Ichege" Gebre Giyorgis acted as the chief administering cleric of the Ethiopian Church while negotiations were undertaken to regularize the status of the church with the Coptic Patriarchate.

Ichege Gebre Giyorgis was consecrated by the Coptic Pope Yussab II as Archbishop of Ethiopia with the name and style of Abuna Basilios July 1948 during a ceremony held at the Patriarchate of Saint Mark in Egypt. In 1950, on the death in Cairo of Abuna Kerrillos, "Abune" Basilios became the head of the Church of Ethiopia, with the full authority to nominate bishops and archbishops. During a solemn ceremony in 1959 at which His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie was present, he was consecrated the first Patriarch Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church by the Coptic Pope Kirillos VI at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo.

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