The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), Abune Mathias, faced resistance a few weeks ago when he decided to disband the influential student organisation, Mahibere Kidusan.
Mahibere Kidusan, which describes itself as “Sunday School Department” has been in existence for the past twenty five years. In addition to its headquarters in Addis Ababa, it has 48 centres across major towns and more than 500 centres throughout the country. The tension between Mahibere kidusan and the church hierarchy over doctrinal and administrative issues is not new, but has never been this severe. It occurred after Abune Mathias decided to outlaw and shut its television program, which is transmitted with the U.S.-based channel Alefe in three local languages for seven hours per week.
The broadcast provoked the Patriarch’s anger for its continued attack on the alleged infiltration of the evangelical renewal movement in EOC administered colleges. The station is targeting the colleges for embracing dissent against essential Orthodox doctrines in favour of the evangelical teachings, and hosting Protestant-trained elements who are operating trying to convert Orthodox members to the evangelical church, a claim the movement has been making for the past two years.
The Patriarch rejects the accusation and even accuses Mahibere Kidusan of exceeding its jurisdiction by bringing unfounded charges against the seminaries. In the recent Synod meeting, leaders of the Mahibre Kidusan were banned from attending, despite their efforts to preserve their good standing with the Patriarch. Other archbishops presented reports recognising the movement’s outstanding achievements and favouring a conciliatory approach towards Mahibere Kidusan, which angered the Patriarch.
Despite protests from the archbishops, the Patriarch refused to change his position on the channel and condemned the station in the final communique. However, he was unable to convince the Synod of the idea of disbanding the whole movement. Although the conflict is seen as an internal church matter, it is however becoming a serious issue that could undermine attempts to achieve reconciliation in the church; and it is an indication of division into ideological groups that could have serious implications for the future of the church and the Patriarch.