Ethiopian Church History #
The Introduction of the Christian Gospel to Ethiopia (33 - 350 A.D.) #
Christianity’s earliest contact with Ethiopia dates back to Apostolic times and is heralded in the New Testament with the Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by the Disciple Philip (Acts 8:25-40). It is reasonable to believe that Queen Candace herself, like the Eunuch, was a true believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; such is based on the fact that she had allowed her ‘chief financial minister' to go to Jerusalem for the Passover. That upon his return, the Eunuch shared with the Queen and others of the Royal House holds the news that God had fulfilled the promise of the Messiah, in the person of Jesus Christ. This much, can be considered a certainty and fits into the oral tradition of the Ethiopian people.
Ethiopian’s may also have been present in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, although there is no direct mention of Ethiopian’s in the Acts of the Apostles. St. John Chrysostom, in his Epiphany Homily, expressly mentions and maintains that Ethiopian’s were among those present at Pentecost when he writes that “the Ethiopians also understood.”
Furthermore, holy tradition holds that the Apostle Saint Matthew preached the Good News of the Gospel in Ethiopia and Baptized the Ethiopian King, Aeglippos. Credence to this tradition is found in that Christianity was received in Ethiopia prior to the common given fourth century date as told by a passage from Origen who wrote: “The Holy Gospel is not said to have been preached to all the Ethiopians, especially to such as live beyond the river…” suggesting that the Good News of the Gospel do in fact reach Ethiopia long before the fourth century, though from Origen we note that not all, but some of Ethiopia had heard the Gospel.
During the Fourth Century however, Orthodox Christianity was expanded and officially established as Ethiopia’s State Religion. Beginning in the Royal Court, the Christian faith gradually penetrated among the lives of the common people, where is played an integral role in all aspects of national life.
The “birth” of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church took place at a time when the Arian heresy was at its peak. Ethiopia’s first Bishop, Abba Frumentius, was Consecrated to the Episcopate by the Patriarch of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, known as the “Column of Orthodoxy,” who was a strong defender of the Nicene faith against Arianism. The first Ecumenical Council held in 325 A.D. which condemned Arius as a heretic served to strengthen and define Ethiopian Orthodoxy. For this reason, St. Athanasius is highly venerated by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. One of its Fourteen Eucharistic Prayers is attributed to St. Athanasius, another to the 318 Fathers of Nicaea. Thus, under the influence of Bishop Frumentius, St. Athanasius, and the 318 Fathers of the Council of Nicaea, Orthodox Christianity flourished in Ethiopia in what is considered to have been the country’s wide-ranging Evangelization.