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Wonders: Ethiopian Orthodox Church


||  THE HOLY LAND EPISODE  ||

Photo: Orthodox priest Not all Ethiopians are Christian. There are millions of Muslims and members of indigenous religions, and by no means have all the Falasha left for Israel, but the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has dominated spiritual and political life in Ethiopia for seventeen centuries. At one of the most critical moments in Ethiopian history -- the removal of the Zagwe dynasty and its replacement by a king who claimed descent from King Solomon -- the church played a decisive role, and it remained immensely powerful until the Revolution of 1974 and the death of the last emperor.

The conquests of Solomonid emperors such as Amda Seyon and Zara Yaqob brought many Ethiopians into the Christian empire, and the custom of the priesthood passing from father to son in isolated villages meant that Ethiopian Christianity was often a mixture of ancient African cults and Christian doctrine. Zara Yaqob in particular was alarmed by what he saw as the spread of magic and idolatry, and attempted to impose a more exacting sense of Christian obedience. As well as promoting his cult of the Virgin Mary, he used holymen trained in the great monasteries to spread a Christian faith that would serve as a basis for imperial control. After all, he claimed to be in the line of the anointed kings of Israel, and as a descendant of King David, he would belong to the same family as Jesus himself, the God to whom the Christian Church and the Christian state were dedicated.

By Roderick Grierson

||  THE HOLY LAND EPISODE  ||


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