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Eritrea and Christianity

Eritrea, located along the southwest coast of the Red Sea, was the site of the ancient Christian Kingdom of Axum . Eritrea has been attracted and notable for its architecture, hacing a written culture and maintaining a flourishing trade not only with the Axumite kingdom but also with the Middle East and the Far East as well. For hundreds of years, Eritrea was in control of a large area extending into the Arabian Peninsula across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden was particularly important.

Much of the Eritrean Sea bore import and export trade for centuries passed to and from Arabia and was based on different pores such as Eden and Massquo. Many Yemeni and Syrians were ever more ever settled in Eritrea where numerous Arab merchants and Christian missionaries from the Arab world settle in Eritrea.

Relations with ancient Israel, Palestine and Judaic world were also significant. According to Eritrean Tradition in present Christian days most of the high lands of Eritrea were under the Mosaic Law.

By 333 C.E. (Common Era = A.D) churches were built and the Gospel was heard in the high land area, namely in Akeleguzai, Hamasien, and Serae. The Orthodox Church has grown tremendously in the high lands of Eritrea and the Good news spread very fast to the part of Eritrea, and the neighboring country, Ethiopia.

In Tigray, northern part of Ethiopia, there was a newly formed Kingdom under the leadership of King Ezana which the sun and the moon were commonly worshipped in the area, and Christianity was new to them. King Ezana was very impressed with the spiritual movement in Eritrea and therefore, sent a special invitation to Abrha and Asbeha to the Axumite Kingdom and the new Eritrean Priests who were ordained by Abrha and Asbeha. Soon Christianity was adopted by King Ezana as the official religion of the Kingdom of Axum.

Christianity began to decline in the 7th century in the wake of Muslim invasions. The region retained certain independence until it fell under Ottoman rule in the 16th century. Eritrea was an Italian colony from 1890 to 1941, when it was captured by the British. It entered a federation with Ethiopia in 1952, and was annexed as an Ethiopian province in 1962. A lengthy struggle for self-rule culminated with the country's declaration of independence on May 24, 1993.

In July 1993, the bishops of the country appealed to Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church to obtain separation from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and autocephalous status or "family" of self-governing Church. On September 28, 1993, the Coptic Holy Synod (Egypt) responded favorably to this request and authorized the training of as many as ten future bishops for the Eritrean Church in Coptic monasteries. On June 19, 1994, Pope Shenouda ordained five of these new bishops in Cairo.Egypt.

The process of the establishment of an independent Eritrean Orthodox Church took place in accord with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In early September 1993 Patriarch Paulos of Ethiopia and Archbishop Philipos sanctioned the separation of their churches, while stating their desire to work closely together. In February 1994 an agreement was signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that reaffirmed the autocephalous status of both the Ethiopian and Eritrean churches, and recognized a primacy of honor of the Coptic Church among the Oriental Orthodox churches in Africa.

1st patriarch

After intensive prayer and discussions among church leaders in April 1998, Abba Philipos, the bishop of Asmara, was chosen as the first Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

May 8, 1998, Abba Philipos was ordained Patriarch of Eritrea, in Cairo, Egypt, by HH. Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Church.

Also, on this day a protocol between the Holy Synods of the Eritrean and Coptic churches was signed. It provided for close cooperation between the two churches, including the holding of a common general synod at least every three years, the commemoration of the heads of both churches in all liturgies, the formation of a common delegation in theological dialogues with other churches, and the establishment of a standing committee of the two synods to promote cooperation in such areas as theological education, social services, and development projects.

On September 18, 2002. H.H. Patriarch Philipos, after a short ailment, passed away of natural death in Asmara, Eritrea, at the age of 101.

2nd patriarch

December 4, 2002, after the death of the first patriarch, the Eritrean Orthodox Church enthroned Abune Yacob as the 2nd patriarch of the Church. However, Abune Yacob also passed away a year later. 

3rd Patriarch 

March 4, 2004 His holiness Abune Antonios was elected as the 3rd Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church by the joint vote of the Holy Synod, representatives of all dioceses, and delegates from the Holy Synod of the Egyptian Orthodox Church.

The Eritrean Orthodox Church is steadfastly committed to the glory of God. She has seen God's hand guide, protect, and even reprove her in the long seventeen hundred years of her existence. The Church was born out of persecution for the sake of the gospel, nurtured in adversity, and strengthened as she sought to fulfill her Master's call. She strives to keep her eyes fixed on Christ Jesus, her Savior and Lord. By the strength of his Spirit she endeavors to live righteously in full obedience to his Word, her only rule for faith and life.

To God be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all generations , for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3: 21).

FACTS:

Location: Eritrea, Horn of Africa

Head: H.H. Patriarch Antonios

Title: Patriarch of Eritrea

Residence: Asmara, Eritrea

Believers: 3,030,000 (2010,*)

Churches: 1,500

Church’s Age: 1,700 years

Monasteries: 22

Priests: 15,000

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