Abune Paulos: 5th Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

His Holiness, Abune Paulos, Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Echege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum and one of the seven serving Presidents of the World Council of Churches passed away on Thursday after an illness for which he had been receiving treatment here in Addis Ababa.

Abune Paulos was born Gebremedhin Woldeyohannes in 1935 in Adwa in Tigray region, and entered the Abba Garima Monastery as a young boy to train as a deacon, eventuallyAbune Paulos - Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church taking monastic orders and being ordained a priest. He obtained his first degree in theology at the Trinity College in Addis Ababa, and subsequently studied for a second degree and his doctorate at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and the Princeton Theological Seminary in the United States. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on “Filsata: The Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Mariological Tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.”

He returned to Ethiopia after the revolution in 1974, and was appointed a bishop, taking the name and title of Abune Paulos, and being given the responsibility for ecumenical affairs. He was subsequently arrested and spent seven years in prison. Released in 1983 he went into exile to complete his doctorate at Princeton. In 1986 while still in exile he was raised to the rank of Archbishop by Patriarch Abune Tekle Haymanot. Following the overthrow of the Derg in May 1991, the then Patriarch of the Church, Abune Merkorios, resigned. The Holy Synod of the Church authorized a new Patriarchal election. Abune Paulos was elected and was enthroned as the Fifth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahdo Orthodox Church in 1992.

Abune Paulos was a renowned scholar and peace advocate who worked on reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea, taking the initiative to organize a series of peace meetings between Ethiopian and Eritrean religious leaders during the war launched by Eritrea in 1998. He had earlier acquiesced, if reluctantly, in the breaking away of the Eritrean Orthodox Church when Eritrea became independent after 1993. Himself a victim, he continually championed the cause of the many victims of the Derg regime, presiding over the funerals of the 60 ex-officials of the Imperial government murdered in 1974, of Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen in 1997, of Emperor Haile Selassie in 2000, and his daughter Princess Tenagnework in 2004.

Abune Paulos was responsible for building an impressive new Patriarchal office and residence, and for reforming the bureaucracy of the Patriarchate. He made the Church one of the major relief organizations in the country and showed keen interest in youth, women’s issues and the problem of HIV/AIDS. He was the patron of the national program on HIV/AIDs. Abune Paulos received the Nansen Medal from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for his work for peace and humanitarian causes in 2000. He launched a project to build a University on Entoto that would help to commemorate the Ethiopian millennium. This is intended to provide a study and research center at the Entoto Debre Hayl Saint Raguel Church.

Abune Paulos travelled widely, strengthening the ties of the Church with other sister churches. Notable among his visits was one to Egypt in 2007 to meet with Pope Shenouda IIIof the Egyptian Coptic Church, re-establishing the relationship of the two churches after a time of separation. A year later he travelled to India to meet Baselios Thoma Didymos I, Catholicos of the East, strengthening the communion of Ethiopian and Indian Orthodox Churches. He also attended the 40th anniversary celebration of the enthronement of Pope Shenouda III along with Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and Catholicos Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Orthodox Church in November last year. Abune Paulos was a member of the central committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Faith and Order commission, and was elected as one of the seven Presidents of the World Council of Churches (Oriental Orthodox) in 2006.

“He was a champion of many causes, and a fighter for the unity of Christianity”

The funeral will be held on Thursday, August 23, at the Trinity Cathedral .The Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers its deepest condolences to the family and friends of His Holiness and to the faithful of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church.


*The text above was originally posted on Mfa.gov.et (except my tweet at the top and the photo).

*Though this blogger was among the first to have the story confirmed on social media early on Thursday, there was no post on this blog until Friday evening due to several impediments, inc. electricity. Thus, the delay shall not be taken as a disregard of the significance of the matter.

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Daniel Berhane

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