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Mr. Yemane Gebreab: Hands off the Eritrean Orthodox Church!

Mr. Yemane Gebreab, a high official of the ruling party in Eritrea and who often speaks on the government’s behalf, is touring three US cities – Seattle, Atlanta and Washington DC. As was seen in the meeting he held for party members in Seattle on Saturday, May 18, 2013, his main target again is none other than the Eritrean Orthodox Church. It is to be recalled that the Eritrean Orthodox Churches and the priests in these cities were subjected to virulent attacks by the government of Eritrea through radio messages orchestrated from its embassy in Washington DC back in 2007.

Mr. Yemane’s message to his party members in Seattle was simple. It goes something like this: Eritrea has now won its independence. The Orthodox Church has also become “independent.” Therefore, it does not need to have any relationship with the Coptic Orthodox Church. Mr. Yemane goes on to announce the governments most egregious restrictions over doctrinal and worship matters by declaring that the Eritrean Orthodox Church, which has remained under the government’s complete control, no longer recognizes a tabot from Egypt. The tabot is a facsimile of the arc of the covenant without which an Orthodox Church cannot be consecrated. This is now the Eritrean government’s promulgation (policy) on the tabot, as clearly enunciated by Mr. Yamane.

Does the government of Eritrea’s tabot policy also make all the tabots in the Orthodox Church’s in Eritrea change their tabots. I am not sure he realizes that nearly 90% of the Orthodox Churches in Eritrea have tabots consecrated by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church prior to the country’s independence. Pray tell, Mr. Yamane, are all these tabots to be considered illegal based on the new tabot policy of the Eritrean government?

What is sad for Orthodox Christians in Eritrea is that this is not the first time that non-Orthodox officials of the ruling party have so brazenly appointed themselves as spokespersons for the Eritrean Orthodox Church and intruded in its ecclesiastical affairs. Mr. Yemane, it should be noted, is a convert in his youth to a small evangelical church (Faith Mission), now declared illegal by the government he represents. Mr. Ali Abdu, the former information minister who has recently defected, Mr Tsehaye Fasil, a Lutheran and who until recent times served the government at the Embassy in Washington DC, Ms. Sophia Tesfamariam, a Roman Catholic, and Dr. Gideon Asmerom, a Seventh Day Adventist (the latter two being unofficial spokespersons to the government of Eritrea) have all committed similar acts of behaving as if they could, with impunity, speak for the Orthodox Church at one time or another.

Using the logic of “Eritrea-is-now-independent”, is the government now going to force the Orthodox Church to eliminate any mention of the Coptic Church and our historic Alexandrian Church Fathers and saints from our liturgy (qdassie)? Will the ruling regime now proceed to provide the Eritrean Orthodox Church with its own list of saints that are “approved”  by the ruling party? Just as importantly, using the same argument to its logical conclusion, will Mr. Yemane’s government now put the same maniacal intrusion into the Catholic Church’s historic relationship with the Vatican?

The government has already committed the following flagrant abuses against the Orthodox Church: (1) deposed the church’s canonical patriarch, H.H. Abune Antonios, kept him under detention for the past seven years, and placed a false-patriarch on the patriarchal throne (2) Imprisoned numerous clergies of the churches (3) forcibly conscripted priests, monks and deacons  into the army in their thousands, and (4) isolated the Eritrean Orthodox Church from all the Churches that are in communion with it – the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the See of St. Mark.

The government Mr. Yemane represents now takes its abuse of the Eritrean Orthodox Church by forcing it to severe its historic link and identity, as well as its apostolic chain of succession to the See of St. Mark (menbere markos). By doing so, it expects to gut and erase the heart and soul of our Orthodox existence and heritage?

Eritrea’s independence, for which scores of thousands of Orthodox Christians, as did so many from other Eritrean faith communities, have paid the ultimate price is barely twenty years old. During this brief period of existence, Eritrea has known only one president. The Orthodox Church’s heritage and link to the Coptic Church and the See of St. Mark (menbere markos), on the other hand, has had a 1700 year-long-and-deep relations. In fact, until the 1950s, the Coptic and Eritrean/Ethiopian Orthodox people existed under a single Holy Synod. We have had the same 116 patriarchs since St. Mark, our first patriarch.

It is, therefore, with the above in mind that:

I call on all followers of Eritrean Orthodox Church to stand firm and united to resolutely resist the Government of Eritrea’s yet another egregious intrusion into the ecclesiastical affairs of the church. The defense of our faith and church today becomes the duty of every Orthodox.

I call on all the clergy of the Eritrean Orthodox Church to take a bold and united stand and say “Enough!” to the government’s total control and manipulation of the church for its own political ends.

I also call on all friends of the Eritrean Orthodox Church – Eritreans and non-Eritreans – to stand in solidarity with the church in captivity during this trying period.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne” Psalms 97:2

About Fr. Athanasius Ghebre-Ab

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  • YAY

    Dear All: Hands off what part of the Eritrean Christian Church?

    Abba Athanasius Gebre-Ab was Habtu Gebre-Ab, Ph.D., a professor of history, anti-EPLF/PFDJ activist, before he was a Father. Athanasius or Atnatios is the name of the Patriarch(?) of the Egyptian Orthodox Church around 300 A.D. who is known for fighting Arius [ኣርዮስ], a heretic , who taught that Christ was half-human and the Son of God, and thus could not be of equal nature to God. St. Athanasius taught the current doctrine of the Orthodox Church–i.e. that God may have presented himself to humans in three basic forms (Father, Son, and Spirit) but is one and the same in identity. ስለዚ፡ በዚ ምኽንያት ከኣ እዩ ሓደ ካብ እቲ ቀንዲ እምነታት ተዋህዶ ቤተክርስትያን “ንሕና ኣብ ሓደ ኣምላኽ ወ ተወሃህዶ ስላሴ (ማለት፡ኣብ ኣቦ፡ ውሉድ፡ወ መንፈስ ቅዱስ) ንኣምን ፡ ስላሴ ከኣ ሓደ ይኾኑ ሰለስተ ይኾኑ” ዝብህል መርገጽ ዚኾነ።

    I am really surprised why he did not go back into history and teach us a background in Church-to-State relationships in ET and ER and specifically present what GoER’s interference he alleges currently is, as a historian would, in the Eritrean religious institutions. It is alleged that Ezana, King of the city-centered Kingdom of Axum proclaimed that Orthodox Christianity be the faith of his realm, but King Susenios of Abyssinia could not make Catholicism the State religion. Emperor Haile Selassie of ET succeeded in making Orthodox Christianity an independent State religion in 1959 while King Vittorio Emmanuelle III of Italy failed to make Orthodox Christianity a national and/or independent of the Egyptian Coptic Church in Eritrea. I also expected Abba Athanasius to briefly say what it practically means (historically or contemporarily) for a Church to be independent (in theological doctrines, rituals, church administration, etc.) and compare GoER ‘s policies/practices to the historical roles sovereign powers had in ET and/or ER. He could have taught us more as a historian and member of the ecclesiastics rather than a political activist, I thought. I believe he took his responsibility very very lightly. What we need are facts as a ground for knowledge and unity, not the usual polemics.I was disappointed, to say the least.,20326.45.html

    Abba Athanasius Gebre-ab [Abba AG] starts by stating that Yemane Gebreab often speaks for PFDJ and the GoER, and “As was seen in the meeting he held for party members in Seattle on Saturday, May 18, 2013, his main target again is none other than the Eritrean Orthodox Church.”
    Yemane Gebreab is the head of PFDJ’s Political Department and a Political Advisor to the President of Eritrea. So, he could speak as a person responsible in either or both positions. But what did he exactly say “As was seen in the meeting he held for party members in Seattle on Saturday, May 18, 2013….”? Abba AG does not elaborate on, or link us to a source for us to see, the evidence that “was seen” and let us judge for ourselves. Abba AG does not say that the evidence “was seen” by him or whom else. What did Yemane Gebreab exactly or precisely say for Abba AG to demand the his hands be off the Eritrean Orthodox Christian Church? Therefore, Abba AG has failed to first establish the truthfulness of the allegation that initiated his commentary. Abba AG is also not clear which Eritrean Orthodox Christian Church he is referring to, for that Church (which was led by Antonius) is split into two—the first, an Eritrean Orthodox Christian Church that is independent (now led by Dioskoros), in its administration, of the Egyptian Orthodox Christian Church; and a second, an Eritrean Orthodox Christian Church that is an appendage (now led by an unknown), in its administration, to the Egyptian Orthodox Christian Church?

    Abba AG continues to say that, “Mr. Yemane’s message to his party members in Seattle was simple. It goes something like this: Eritrea has now won its independence. The Orthodox Church has also become “independent.” Therefore, it does not need to have any relationship with the Coptic Orthodox Church. Mr. Yemane goes on to announce the governments most egregious restrictions over doctrinal and worship matters by declaring that the Eritrean Orthodox Church, which has remained under the government’s complete control, no longer recognizes a tabot from Egypt. ”

    If a Church is “independent,” does that necessarily mean its theological doctrines or its administration within certain territory (local, district, province, nation, etc.) is unlike others, Egyptian or Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s, for example? To the best of my understanding, the Eritrean Orthodox Christian Church is independent in the sense that “the organization of that denomination [Orthodox Christianity] within a given nation [e.g. Eritrea] , which acts independently of the churches of the same denomination in other nations [e.g. Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Lebanon, Russia, Syria, Turkey, etc.].”

    Abba AG takes our focus on to the Tabot (the Ark of the Covenant). Two questions arise: (1) Did Yemane Gebreab actually say that “the Eritrean Orthodox Church…has remained under the government’s complete control”? or “no longer recognizes a Tabot from Egypt”? I want to “see” the evidence. Also, the Father has yet to explain why each of other nations has an independent Orthodox Church with its own Tabot and Eritrea has to receive only from Egypt?
    (2) Couldn’t the Eritrean Church consecrate its own replica Tabot instead of only Egyptian Church’s Tabot once its Patriarch, etc. are blessed by the Egyptian, etc. long estav=blished Churches? Is there no holly enough an Orthodox Christian in Eritrea to consecrate one such a replica of a Tabot? Any Tabot that any Orthodox Christian Church possesses in the world today is not the a box containing the original and authentic Tabot of Moses, but a replica (or a box made of wood, etc. that house the Two Tablets made out of rock, or metal, etc. on which The Law (Moses’s Ten Commandments) are written in understandable language) of the original that is, then, in a ritual performed by a recognized Church person, consecrated (i.e. declared to be sacred in a religious ceremony). The Tabot is important because of The Law in it. Is the Tabot more important than the Ten Commandments, or without the Ten Commandments? The importance of the Coptic Egyptian Church was because of the evidence ( at the times where the principal medium of storing evidence was often a witness, the word of a human being) proving that Christ truly existed–i.e. the Church was established by a person who personally witnessed by listening [ሰማእት፡ ብሓቂ ብቁመንኡ ወ ህልውናኡ ዝሰምዐ ወ ዝምስክር ሰብእ] the actual teachings of the real Jesus Christ [እዚ ሰማእት እዚ ድማ ቅዱስ ሃዋርያ ወንጌላዊ ማርቆስ ምዃኑ እዩ።] But today, thanks to further research technologies and discoveries, there exist additional evidence by other means confirming historical facts related to Biblical times. That is not discussed by the Abba. And that is in addition to the uninterrupted tradition of witnesses carrying over the evidence of Christ’s true existence.

    In which part of these or other Church processes, procedures or administration has Yemane Gebreab interfered? What theological doctrine, worship, or tradition in church practice has Yemane Gebreab put his hands on without the consent of the Eritrean Orthodox Christian Church Synod (or religious governing supreme council)? Do we have tangible and credible evidence for such of his alleged practices?

  • libona

    Aboi Kesh,
    I would like to thank you for bringing this into light so that we also understand how the church is being abused by the Government. I also would like to thank you for the eloquence of your presentation.
    Humbly, I would like to build on your last recommendation in which you asked all friends to stand in solidarity with the church in captivity during this trying period. The trying period for the church, as you know very well, did not start just now.
    1. In contravention to the church’s independence, the Patriarch HH Abune Antonius has been deposed and put in house arrest. He is in frail health due to his age.

    2. More than three faithful priests, your compatriot in the work of God-priests like yourself- Namely Dr. Keshi. Fitsumberhan, Dr. Keshi Tecleab, Keshi. Gebremedhin, who served the church for so many years since their childhood, have been in prison for more than seven years.
    Aboy Keshi, I am among those who are highly inspired and encouraged by your writing. As a leader you are doing what you must. However I feel your concern needs to go beyond posting on a websites.
    Circulating a petition is one. Escalate the issue to the State Department of the US, the Security Council, EU and council of churches is also possible through a formal letter. To this end you can organize all priests or the SEBEKA GUBAIEs in North America and Canada.
    I believe we should not tire. Nor should we leave any stone unturned.
    Thank you Aboy Keshi.

  • keshi

    How in the world a person become keshi without learning all the dogma of orthodox church.
    Dr habtu are you a priest or politician you need to decide.

  • Michael, B.

    Fr. Athanasius Ghebre-Ab

    Our country, big or small, is ours. The people of Eritrea, rich or poor, is also ours.
    This pervert regime however cannot possibly be ours. It belongs to no generation. It must be dismantled. Eritreans deserve much better government of their own! Free from any enslaving system: we need a modern rule, Illin sir`Atin Adebon Adeden!

    This illegitimate, autoritarian and bankrupt gang rule of a greedy megalomeniac is beyond redemption. It has to be only dismantled. It is alien to the people of Eritrea, the maker of history. In its conception, it is perhaps, the ugliest copy of any conceivable totalitarian regime.

    In this particular instance of meddling into the affair of churches without being any member of the clergy, infact unfaithful and nihilistic gang of mafiosi should not have even a voice. It has yet to learn the rudiments of diplomacy, economy and politics.
    The Coptic Egyptian community are themselves suffering persecution and do not interfere into the affairs of the Eritrean independent Tewahdo Church. With the pretext of sovereignty? or else, this gang of mafiosi have no right to step into the tabot.

    It should not mess with canonical custom or dictate articles of faith as if it attained experstise in liturgy, dogma or theology. Is this gang going to say mass or dissacrate and consacrate patriarches in order to prove the independence of the Church of Eritrea. Hands off church affairs!
    Religious people, Christian, Moslem communities leaders, please, join force against this Eritrean scourge.

    Traditions and relevant canons must be upheld, I think. Even though I am not Tewahdo, I read about our traditional Christian church history enough to tell, this regime of shifta is unique, seraqi meba`e. Never in the past, a gang of warlords misruled our church, turning the priesthood into some sort of enslaved soldiers to some sort of concentration camp. The gultawiyan and zemato of history may have been barbaric but they endowed churches with gult and granted land to monasteries!

    Let us build a free, prosperous, peaceful non-shaìbya Eritrea.

    I hope my English is not too erratic or clumsy.

    • Kokhob Selam

      “This pervert regime however cannot possibly be ours”

      No sir, they are ours. but we don’t want them.

  • Father, I just don’t understand nor accept your allegations against the GOE policy on this regard, what is so wrong with having faith and religion sovereignty equivalent to territorial and national sovereignty & integrity we hold sacred. In our region & especially Egypt, religion has often been instrumentalized as a political weapon and pressure tool to influence society and countries. By becoming independent of Alexandria and Ethiopia the Eritrean Orthodox Church and its adherents will be less entangled with the politics and politicking of Egypt or Ethiopia.

    • Well said bro… that is this father won’t to understand.

    • dawit

      the issue is to leave the churches alone. What is the need to change the 1700 years history if the church members are fine with it? does the pfdj has the right who/how to worship? what is next, to rip part of the bible that doesnt agree with their polices? as a believer (if you are one) where do you draw the line as far your religion concern? From what i have read so far, the line has been drawn/re-drawn by DIA for all pfdjites and never complain. So, stop spinning and have some courage to stand for the truth. be on the right side of history.

  • Kokhob Selam

    hgdef didn’t leave a single space for peace.

  • Yemane Johar

    This timely piece of information must be translated into Tigrigna so that the common people could comprehend and digest the gross violation and intrusion that is being perpetuated by this Godless mafia regime against the orthodox church. Thank you for raising our awareness. Enough is enough!

  • mo

    Love your country!
    Love your people!
    Love you tradition!
    At the same time you can hate Hegdef! Agreeing with Hegdef does not make you a good citizen. They are horrendous, awful for Eritrea!!

  • If this guy really priest we need him to prey, don’t use our religion for political issue. we don’t want use our religion to attack politician. GOD BLESS ERITREA.

  • One wonders if there any limit to how far Eritreans can jump over the cliff in their quest to run a away from anything that makes them look like Ethiopians..His monkeyness pope Yemane can run but can not hide even if he goes for the most sophisticated skin surgery which he can never afford.

    • Belata Awate

      Well said

  • Sami

    Thank you Aba for reiterating and voicing the views of the majority of the believers and indeed for all Eritreans who oppose these bunches of holligans whose sole purpose is to remain in power at any cost. Your message is clear and I would encourage you to find a channel of communication inside Eritrea so the mass can hear it and demand some concrete change. It is another deadly venom of Higdef that they have been spitting to divide and conquer us. I call upon all believers and in particular Orthodox christians to stand up against the likes of Yemane Gebreab and challenge him on facts and not recoil until we get a valid response.
    God Bless Eritrea!!

  • Tewolde Tesfamariam

    It is really sad that hgdefites are dismantling everything we have and are proud of (our culture and our religions). Their system is that they just put their intention forward in meetings and if no body stands on their way they implement it. When they implemented all the above evil acts (FR mentioned) they met with just a very weak or non resistance and now have the feeling that they can do whatever they want and get away with it.Let us stand together and act.

    I join FR and reiterate that we all regardless of our faith stand and opposite this evil intent.

  • teclehaimanot

    Meron wake up again the real Tewahdo in diaspora aresending chills to your bosses in higdef land.Higdef never jails ex Dergue Commandos woyto rapists and those even who fled from them durig and the struggle who fought and bled them. Why do they jail True blievers Tewahdo who stood for their blief and patriarch .couse they shake Higdef diaspora for your imformation the diaspora real Tewahdo are getting stronger by the day they are getting a lot of friends and supporters. You can’t intimidate us we know you better than any one.

    • What is wrong with ‘Eritrea is independent so as the Orthodox Church’ whom i follow.

      And this is not Yemane’s decision buy the Synods…. So What is the point with this diaspora’s religious cry?

      Unlike to Catholic church’s. which have links with the Center -Vatican, Orthodox churches are not function under the blessing of or auspices of another countries church. So what is wrong if the Eritrean Synod’s wants to use its independent right?

  • Semere Habtemariam

    Selam aboy Qeshi,

    Izgabhier msakha ykun: ab tselotka aytreseAna. Izgabier kea adna ybark.

    I commend you for the specific charges you’ve made. I’m not a big fan of those who speak in general terms, and what you’ve written her is the way to go. Indeed, people need to back off from the Tewahdo church and the government intervention has to stop and our legitimate patriarch has to be restored to his papal throne. With the promising leadership the Archidioces of North America is showing, I think the rebirth of the church in sight. Keep up the good work.

    As far as Yemane goes, all I can say is the Tigrinya proverb, “hbey kenblo hbey konynu smu”. No wonder the Itlaians wanted him as a mascot; he was destined for the role.

  • danny

    This article is one more evidence that the PFDJ thugs have no profession they can master other than shooting with a kalashinkov. They are at a disarray and obsessed with being control freaks just because they are lethargic to anything else other than shooting in their wild west mentality and behavior.They have committed immeasurable crimes under the banner of “independence” where they have forced everything and anything in the poor state to depend completely on ghedli misery. The Orthodox Church thus is one more victim in the land where victims are made by the minute.

  • rahe

    Its right we don’t need any thing from Egypt.But its not this time,they are suppose to say it when Eritrea was Independent.Why now.Yeman really monkey.

  • Sami

    As a Muslim, I highly suggest the government must not interfer with people religion. Period – no matter what.

  • What’s wrong with the priests in diaspora if the serving synods in the country (Eritrea) decides to freed our Orthodox church from dependence and blessings of Ethiopea’s and Egypts churches. This shows how diaspora’s religions is alien to the country as the diaspora’s politics.

  • teclehaimanot

    The bulls human worshipers Hade libom will be challanged to their bones.The real Tewahdo are sending chills to their bones no mattter what they do reporting to the crude cadres in higdef land they will fail.It is funny a Maoist party and boss trying to be more Tewahdo than Tewahdo.

  • haile

    Selam Fr. AG

    Firstly, I am glad you reverted the article author by-line from admin into Fr. Athanasius Ghebre-Ab. It was really confusing, as one would thing it is one of saay or Sal. Under your previous entry ( on Catholics with the same urgency. Can you be more specific about your sources and other relevant evidences of your claims?

    • awtestaff

      Haile, admin was a placeholder until we enter the correct byline; it was there for exactly four minutes …

      • haile

        Thanks SG (it happened to be admin at the time I looked, seriously I don’t live inside!)

        Fr.Athanasius Ghebre-Ab is kindly sharing with us a very serious issue. If true (I have no reason to doubt) I suppose the tabot issue would be a great scandal. I am trying to get more information on how or when this information was communicated.

        Selam N’Akhum Aba