Abuna Theophilos - Second Patriarch of Ethiopia

Second Patriarch of Ethiopia

Abune Tewophilos presided over a period of administrative reform in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Attempts were made to bring the church into the 20th century by introducing modern educational methods both in the theological schools and in the churches themselves. The Patriarch encouraged ecumenical ties with other Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and began the process of raprochment with the Roman Catholic Church. The Patriarch visited the Holy Land, several Orthodox sees in Eastern Europe, and also toured the new Ethiopian Orthodox parishes in the Caribbean basin and North America.

In 1974, revolution toppled the monarchy in Ethiopia, and the Marxist-Leninist Derg regime replaced Emperor Haile Selassie in government. As a result, the Ethiopian Church lost its standing as the state church, and equality of religions was proclaimed, although the new government professed official atheism. While at first staying out of politics, the Patriarch became disillusioned with the Derg's professed ideology, and was horrified with the massacre of the 60 ex-officials of the Emperor's government in November 1974. He was refused permission to receive custody of the Emperor's remains when Emperor Haile Selassie was murdered by the new government in August 1975, and was also warned not to conduct public memorial services in his name. The Patriarch is said to have performed a private requiem for the Emperor, with only his own personal staff present in his chapel. The government suspected that the Patriarch was secretly corresponding with the leadership of the monarchist Ethiopian Democratic Union (EDU), which had raised an armed rebellion in northern and western Ethiopia.

With the disestablishment of the church and the severing of ties between church and state, the Patriarch believed that he was entitled to make all decisions concerning the church independent of the authorities, and appointed five new bishops without consulting the Derg. Among these bishops was Abuna Paulos, who would eventually become the fifth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. The Derg used this excuse to seize the Patriarch and place him under arrest in May, 1976. Under orders from the Derg, the Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was ordered to elect a new leader, and Patriarch Abuna Tekle Haymanot was elected to lead the church. The Coptic Patriarchate in Egypt, however, angrily denounced the imprisonment of Abuna Tewophilos, and refused to recognize the election and enthronment of the new Abuna. The Coptic Church argued that the removal of Abuna Tewophilos was not canonical as it was done by the government and not by the Synod of the Orthodox Church. As a result, ties between the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches were severed. Patriarch Abuna Tewophilos was imprisoned, and was brutally executed a year later. Following the fall of the Derg regime, his remains were disinterred, and reburied in full ceremonial state at the Gofa St. Gabriel church which he himself had built in southern Addis Ababa.

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