Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church
ቤተ ክርስትያን ተዋህዶ ኤርትራ
Bet'ə K'rstian Tewahədo Ertra
Enda Mariam Cathedral in Asmara, the seat of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Enda Mariam Cathedral in Asmara, the seat of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church
ClassificationEastern Christianity
OrientationOriental Orthodox, Orthodox Tewahedo
ScriptureOrthodox Tewahedo Bible
RegionEritrea and Eritrean diaspora
HeadquartersEnda Mariam Cathedral, Asmara, Eritrea
FounderThe Apostle and Evangelist Mark in 42 AD Alexandria, Saint Frumentius in 328 AD Axum (according to the Eritrean Orthodox tradition),
Abune Phillipos in 1993 AD Asmara (modern)
IndependenceFrom the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in 1991

The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church (Tigrinya: ቤተ ክርስትያን ተዋህዶ ኤርትራ[2]) is one of the Oriental Orthodox Churches with its headquarters in Asmara, Eritrea. Its autocephaly was recognised by Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, after Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Thus, the Eritrean Church accords a primacy of honor to the Coptic Church.[3][4][5]

Sources differ on the percentage of Christians in the Eritrean population, with most figures being close to one-half,[6][7] although some sources report slightly more than 60%.[8] Almost 90% of Eritrean Christians are followers of Oriental Orthodoxy.[7] The rest of the population is almost entirely Muslim.[6][8]


See also: Timeline of Orthodox Tewahedo Christianity


Tewahedo (Ge'ez: ተዋሕዶ täwaḥədo) is a Ge'ez word meaning "being made one", cognate to Arabic tawhid.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917 edition) article on the Henoticon: around 500 bishops within the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem refused to accept the "two natures" doctrine decreed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, thus separating themselves from the rest of Christianity since that time.[9] This separate Christian communion came to be known as Oriental Orthodoxy. The Oriental Orthodox Churches, which today include the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Tigrayan Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, are referred to as "Non-Chalcedonian". These churches themselves describe their Christology as miaphysite, but outsiders often describe them as monophysite.[10][11]

Jesuit interim

Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556) wished to attempt the task of conversion, but this did not happen. Instead, Pope Paul III sent out João Nunes Barreto [pt] as Patriarch of the East Indies, with Andrés de Oviedo as bishop; and from Goa envoys (followed by Oviedo) went to Ethiopia.

Autocephaly after independence of Eritrea

The first independent Patriarch of Eritrea was Abune Phillipos, who died in 2002 and was succeeded by Abune Yacob. The reign of Abune Yacob as Patriarch of Eritrea was very brief, as he died not long after his enthronement, and he was succeeded by Abune Antonios as 3rd Patriarch of Eritrea. Abune Antonios was elected on 5 March 2004, and enthroned as the third Patriarch of Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Eritrea on 24 April 2004. Pope Shenouda III presided at the ceremony in Asmara, together with the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and a Coptic Orthodox Church delegation.

In August 2005, Abune Antonios, the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, was confined to a strictly ceremonial role. In a letter dated 13 January 2006, Patriarch Abune Antonios was informed that following several sessions of the church's Holy Synod, he had been formally deposed. In a written response that was widely published, the Patriarch rejected the grounds of his dismissal, questioned the legitimacy of the synod, and excommunicated two signatories to the 13 January 2006 letter, including Yoftahe Dimetros, whom the Patriarch identified as being responsible for the church's recent upheavals. Patriarch Antonios also appealed his case to the Council of the Monasteries of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. Abune Antonios was deposed by the Eritrean Holy Synod supposedly under pressure from the Eritrean government; as of 2006 he is under house arrest.[12][13]

Abuna Antonios was replaced by Abune Dioskoros as the fourth Patriarch of the church. Patriarch Abuna Dioskoros died on 21 December 2015. Qerlos became the fifth patriarch of the church in June 2021.[14][15]


In common with all Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Western Orthodox churches; the Catholic Church and the Old Catholic churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church professes belief in the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, eucharist, confession, the anointing of the sick, matrimony, and holy orders. It regards the first four as being "necessary for every believer".[16]

The church holds the ancient Christian belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist stating that "The consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. Jesus Christ is truly, really and substantially present in the consecrated elements. In the Eucharist, we eat the blessed flesh of our Lord and drink His precious blood under the form of bread and wine."[16]

As in other Eastern Christian traditions, the bond of marriage is able to be dissolved, but only on the grounds of adultery. To safeguard the practice of the faith, church members are discouraged from marrying people outside of the Orthodox communion. Church members who undergo a purely civil ceremony are not regarded as sacramentally married.[17]

Liturgical language

The traditional liturgical language of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church is Geʽez. This was the language of the early Aksumite Christians of the region. Though Geʽez has no more native speakers, the language is still used for church liturgical functions and festivities. But the sibket or sermons are normally in given in the local Tigrinya language. Geʽez is currently being replaced by Tigrinya, as the principal language for church services.[4][18][19]

Biblical canon

Main article: Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon

The Tewahedo Church Biblical Canon contains 81 books, including almost all of those which are accepted by other Orthodox and Oriental Christians; the exception is the Books of the Maccabees, at least some of which are accepted in the Eastern Orthodox and other Oriental Orthodox churches, but not in the Tewahedo churches (the books of Meqabyan, which are accepted instead, have an etymologically connected name, but rather different content). The Eritrean Orthodox canon and the Ethiopian Orthodox canon are identical.

Similarities to Judaism

Like the Ethiopian Church, the Eritrean Church places a heavier emphasis on Old Testament teachings than one might find in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant churches, and its followers adhere to certain practices that one finds in Orthodox or Conservative Judaism. Like some Eastern Christians, Eritrean Christians traditionally follow dietary rules that are similar to Jewish Kashrut, specifically with regard to how an animal is slaughtered. Similarly, the consumption of pork is prohibited, but unlike Rabbinical Kashrut, Ethiopian cuisine allows the mixing of dairy products with meat. Women are prohibited from entering Eritrean church temples during menses; they are also expected to cover their hair with a large scarf (or a shash) and while they are in church, as described in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11. As in Orthodox synagogues, men and women are seated separately in Eritrean church temples, men are seated on the left and women are seated on the right (while they are facing the altar).[20]

Eritrean Orthodox worshippers remove their shoes when they enter church temples,[20] in accordance with Exodus 3:5 (in which Moses, while he was viewing the burning bush, was commanded to remove his shoes while he was standing on holy ground). Furthermore, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church is Sabbatarian, observing the Sabbath on Saturday, in addition to observing the Lord's Day on Sunday,[21] but in commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ, more emphasis is placed upon Sunday. The Eritrean Orthodox Church requires male circumcision, a practice which is nearly universally prevalent among Orthodox men in Eritrea,[22][23] Eritrean Orthodox circumcise their sons "anywhere from the first week of life to the first few years of life."[24]

Patriarchs and bishops of Eritrea

Main article: List of abunas of Eritrea

After declaration of autocephaly of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church was recognized by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in 1994, the newly established patriarchal seat of Eritrea remained vacant until 1999 when Philipos was elected Abune Phillipos and the first patriarch of Eritrea (1999–2001). He was succeeded by Abune Yacob in 2002 and Abune Antonios in 2004. Abune Antonios's objections to government policy toward the church led to a government decision to depose him and place him under house arrest in 2006.

In April 2007, the Synod elected a new patriarch, Abune Dioskoros, who was the incumbent Patriarch of Eritrea until his death on 21 December 2015, although his reign was disputed by followers of Abune Antonios who endorse the latter as the continuing legitimate Patriarch of the church.

List of abunas

Vacant from 1994 to 1999, and from December 2015 to June 2021.

  1. Phillipos (1999–2001)
  2. Yacob (2002–2003)
  3. Antonios (2004–2006) – Deposed by the Eritrean government and by the so-called "synod" against the canon of the Church but still regarded as the legitimate Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church
  4. Dioskoros (2007–2015) – Replaced Abune Antonios by a vote of confidence from the national body of the church in Eritrea.
  5. Qerlos (13 May 2021 – 2 December 2022)[25]

See also


  1. ^ "2011 Christian Population as Percentages of Total Population by Country". Global Christianity. Pew Research Center. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  2. ^ "ወግዓዊት ዌብ ሳይት ኦርቶዶክስ ተዋሕዶ ቤተ ክርስቲያን ኤርትራ – ቀዳሚ ገጽ". Retrieved 2022-09-03.
  3. ^ "Eritrean Orthodox Church (Oriental Orthodox)".
  4. ^ a b Ph.D, Mussie Tesfagiorgis G. (29 October 2010). Eritrea. ABC-CLIO. p. 157. ISBN 978-1-59884-232-6.
  5. ^ Melton, J. Gordon; Baumann, Martin (21 September 2010). Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, 2nd Edition [6 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 993. ISBN 978-1-59884-204-3.
  6. ^ a b "Eritrea".
  7. ^ a b The ARDA website, retrieved 2023-08-03
  8. ^ a b Archived 2017-10-26 at the Wayback Machine[bare URL]
  9. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: Henoticon". Retrieved 2022-09-03.
  10. ^ Winkler 1997, p. 33-40.
  11. ^ Brock 2016, p. 45-52.
  12. ^ "Eritrea Imposes New Controls on Orthodox Church". Compass Direct News. 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-05.
  13. ^ "Orthodox patriarch of Eritrea sacked". 2006-02-01. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2007-02-05.
  14. ^ "Abune Qerlos Elected as 5th Patriarch". Ministry of Information of Eritrea. 13 May 2021. Retrieved 2021-06-13.
  15. ^ "Official Consecration of His Reverend Abune Qerlos, 5th Patriarch of Eritrea". Ministry of Information of Eritrea. 13 June 2021. Retrieved 2021-06-15.
  16. ^ a b "". Archived from the original on 2008-09-21. Retrieved 2008-09-14.
  17. ^ "". Archived from the original on 2008-09-07. Retrieved 2008-09-14.
  18. ^ NgCheong-Lum, Roseline; Orr, Tamra (15 April 2020). Eritrea. Cavendish Square Publishing, LLC. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-1-5026-5578-3.
  19. ^ Fahlbusch, Erwin; Lochman, Jan Milič; Bromiley, Geoffrey William; Mbiti, John S.; Pelikan, Jaroslav; Barrett, David B.; Vischer, Lukas (1999). The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 121. ISBN 978-90-04-11695-5.
  20. ^ a b Hable Selassie, Sergew (1997). The Church of Ethiopia – A panorama of History and Spiritual Life. Addis Abeba, Ethiopia: Berhanena Selam. p. 66.
  21. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1998. p. 581. ISBN 9780852296332. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  22. ^ "Circumcision". Columbia Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press. 2011.
  23. ^ N. Stearns, Peter (2008). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern World. Oxford University Press. p. 179. ISBN 9780195176322. Uniformly practiced by Jews, Muslims, and the members of the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, male circumcision remains prevalent in many regions of the world, particularly in Africa, South and East Asia, Oceania, and Anglosphere countries.
  24. ^ DeMello, Margo (2007). Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. ABC-Clio. p. 66. ISBN 9780313336959. Unlike other Christian churches, Coptic Christians, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, and Eritrean Orthodox Christians practice male circumcision because their churches require it, and as a result, they circumcise their sons anywhere from the first week of life to the first few years of life.
  25. ^ "Скончался Предстоятель Эритрейской Церкви: новость ОВЦС". Отдел внешних церковных связей. Московского Патриархата.


Further reading