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Date: July 23, 2005
To Abba:                     [names of addressees inserted]
Archbishop of:           [names of dioceses inserted]

I have read with utter shock the letter entitled, “minutes: decision of the Holy Synod” which was not signed by the entire Synod in a meeting not presided by the patriarch. It was instead written in conspiracy. [The following is the written response of HH Abune Antonios to his accusers].

1.It is true that when the decision was made to have the Sunday School students of Mekane-Hiwot Medahane-Alem [Savior of the World] Church, young people numbering one thousand four hundred, were asked to disperse to their respective zones. My suggestion was that we should instead appoint teachers for them. When the majority demanded that they be dispersed, I signed on the decision. Since I had agreed with you and signed [the document], there should have been no reason to bring this up now. Your reference to them as “heretics” is something new that you have inserted in your letter now. You had never pointed to a single word of their teaching as suspect [unorthodox] at any other time before. There was, as you state, no such statement confirmed by the Council of Scholars. As for the accusation that I wrote to the government using the seal of the Holy Synod, I did so because the matter was taken up by the government, and all I had stated was that a further study be made. The fact that I did so using the Seal of the Synod as a patriarch is not an act that should rise to criticism.

2. In regards to the accusation that I appointed advisors on theological and doctrinal maters that are prerogatives of the Holy Synod, this much is certain. The Holy Synod is the highest authority. But since the clergy of all ranks, based on their unique areas of respective expertise can and should contribute to the Church, I had indeed made a proposal to this effect to the Holy Synod. Even in the Coptic Church, there are councils of learned priests and advisers to the Pope of Alexandria. Unfortunately, because Yoftahe did not find the proposal acceptable, it never came to fruition. Although you now are trying to please Yoftahe [by bringing this up as a point of contention], you were all in agreement [with the proposal] back then.

3. In the case of the self-serving amendments of the particular articles in the bylaws of the Church, they were engineered by Yoftahe; and the amendments in question were designed to arrogate to himself complete authority over the church [as the “General Administrator of the Eritrean Orthodox Church”]. This, the Holy Synod had discussed openly. But, without my knowledge and with great haste, Yoftahe had the document printed and distributed. Because of this, it is true, I had rendered this action an anathema and urged to have the matter be examined by the scholars of the church. Since you were eager to have Yoftahe’s wishes implemented however, you asked me to lift the anathema, which I eventually did. There was, therefore, no reason to bring this up at this time.

4. In regards to the Debre-Bethel Housing, I have expressed my personal opinion. It is well known that the property belongs to the Church and it was purchased with the Church’s money. The fact that I said that the property belongs to the Church should never have come as any point of criticism. Even though Qeshi  Dimetros [Yoftahe's late father] oversaw the construction of the housing project, the fact is he had no financial input in it. You are now raising this issue to curry favor with Mr. Yoftahe, giving him the impression that his father built it with his own funds.

5. In regards to speaking to high ranking authorities in the Government of Eritrea, you state that I “asked in the name of the church for the release of people whom the Holy Synod had deemed heretics and also were accused of other crimes.” If there were any heretics, this supposed heresy should first be clearly pointed out and refuted based on the scriptures and the teachings of the church so that they can be brought back [to the teachings of the church]. Should they refuse to do so, the ensuing action is to be excommunication, not imprisonment. This is a matter that concerns only the church [not the State]. Yes, I said that “if they have committed other [state] crimes, I ask for mercy for them.” As a father, it is my responsibility to plead for mercy towards others. Your response [toward the imprisoned clergy], however, is nothing but cruelty.

6. Regarding the transferring of Abba Sinoda, you accuse me of showing a habit of signing onto decisions only to change my mind later on. The Synod did in fact form a Committee to nominate two monks for ordination to the rank of bishop. Yoftahe was included in the Committee. Nonetheless, against the charges the Committee was given and against the guidelines of the Eritrean Church, all practices of previous patriarchs and the Holy Synod, the Committee, usurping the authority of the Synod and the patriarch, decided to have Abba Sinoda transferred to another diocese. I stated at the time that in doing so the Committee clearly went beyond the scope of the mandate it was given. First, the two monks needed to be ordained. Then, the Holy Synod would take up the question of transferring Abba Sinoda. What I proposed was the correct action. Nonetheless, because you were determined to echo the instructions of Yoftahe, I had gone along with your wishes at the time. There was no need to bring up the matter now for criticism.  

You accuse me of habitually signing onto a decisions only to change my mind later. Since whatever was discussed in the proceedings and what follows later seem to differ in meaning and interpretations, [it was obvious] that you are organized in conspiracy and intrigues by Yoftahe. Moreover, because it is incumbent upon me to do so, I am duty bound to express my opinions and debate the issues. If, after expressing one’s view and the view is not accepted, it is customary to give heed to the opinion of the majority. Since I have done this, there was no need to raise the issue now.

Having said this, [it needs to be pointed out that] never in the history of the orthodox church where the highest authority is the Synod has there been an instance in which a lay person with no training and clerical credential, and one who is hardly seen in the worship services of the church, much less participate in its mystical life, to sit with bishops and archbishops as an equal member of the Synod. Worse yet is for such a person to pose as their superior, participate in deliberations and affix his signature. Because this is against the canon law, I have stood against you on this. I will never allow this to take place during my tenure. But because you are in collusion with him for your own personal gains, you have written this letter in conspiracy with him. This will be left to history.

Finally, Abba Markos, who is an Ethiopian by birth, but Eritrean by upbringing,…has never sworn fealty to the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Moreover, he is known to hold contradictory views, and stands suspected of sowing chaos.

May God grant His peace to the Church, which He purchased by the blood of His Only-begotten Son.

 

Seal and Signature,
His Holiness Antonios 1st
3rd Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox church.

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