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|His Holiness Abune Merkorios|
|Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church|
|Church||Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church|
|Predecessor||Abune Takla Haymanot|
|Birth name||Abba Ze Libanos|
Abune Merkorios was the fourth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, succeeding Abune Takla Haymanot in 1988. Previously known as Abba Ze Libanos, and a native of Farta in Beghemidir province, and born into the lower nobility of the region, he served as a monk priest at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa during the later years of the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie. He was widely regarded as a liturgical expert. Following the fall of the Ethiopian monarchy in 1974, he was identified as sympathetic to the changes being instituted by the new Marxist authorities. He was made Archbishop of Gondar in 1979 with the name and style of Abune Merkorios, and served in that capacity for many years. Personally a quiet, unassuming and humble man, he was however regarded as acquiescent to the rule of the Marxist Derg regime of that era. Abune Merkorios was one of a handful of Orthodox Church clergy who were granted seats in the Shengo, the Parliament of the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Following the death of Abune Takla Haymanot in June 1988, the government determined that a more compliant figure should be placed at the head of the Church as the late patriarch had proven to be a stumbling block to the government in moving Ethiopia towards a Soviet style culture. Abune Merkorios was identified as such a person, and his election was virtually guaranteed thanks to the sponsorship of the Derg.
Accession and Removal
After three years as the Patriarch, Abune Merkorios was dethroned in 1991 under intense pressure by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) upon taking power in Ethiopia. It is unclear whether or not the Patriarch willingly abdicated at first or acted under duress, but when he made an effort to reverse this action, the Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church stepped in and announced it had removed him, stating that his election had been under direction of the Communist government, and so his continued occupation of the Patriarchate was not legitimate. Abune Merkorios was accused of complicity during his tenure as Archbishop of Gondar, in the execution of a large number of deacons who were executed during the Derg regime by Governor Melaku Tefera, known as "the Butcher of Gondar". The deacons had refused to enlist in the local militia to fight against the Ethiopian Democratic Union that had gained a significant foothold in the province in the 1970s, and had sought sanctuary in churches in the city of Gondar. The previous Archbishop Abune Endrias. Shortly thereafter, Abune Endrias was retired and summoned to Addis Ababa upon the deposition of Patriarch Abune Tewophilos, and Abune Merkorios was appointed as Archbishop of Gondar to replace Abune Endrias. Abune Merkorios, who had a much more cordial relationship with Melaku Tefera, is alleged to have handed over the deacons to the governor's custody. The deacons were then brutally executed by being thrown over the cliffs at Lamalamo in northern Gondar province. Another charge leveled at the Patriarch was that he donated a significant financial gift from church coffers to the Derg government on the eve of the counter-offensive of the Derg regime in Tigray province that resulted in the massacre at Hawzen, which explained the intransigent opposition of the EPRDF government to the possibility of his restoration to the Patriarchal throne. Although these allegations have been made against the Patriarch, they have not been proven in court. Nor has the Patriarch Abune Merkorios demanded a hearing to clear himself; instead he retreated from further efforts to regain the Patriarchal throne.
A new Patriarcal election was authorized by the synod and Abune Paulos was elected. Allegations that both the removal of Abune Merkorios and the election of Abune Paulos were engineered by the EPRDF government would cloud both these events.
Synod in Exile
After leaving Ethiopia, Abune Merkorios announced from abroad that his removal was illegitimate, and carried out under duress from the new transitional government of the EPRDF. He claimed that he was still the legal Patriarch of Ethiopia, as canon law did not support the enthronement of a Patriarch while another lived. The Synod however replied that it was entitled under canon law to remove the patriarch which it had done prior to the election of the new Patriarch. Several bishops left Ethiopia to join him in exile and now live mostly in the United States where they proclaimed a parallel synod, "The Holy Synod in Exile". These actions, who should be the legitimate occupant of the Patriarchate, and other issues have aroused much argument among the clergy and faithful. However, the other Oriental Orthodox Churches, most significantly the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, have refused to acknowledge Abuna Merkorios' legitimacy from the moment of his election during the Derg era. The Coptic Church maintains that the two Patriarchs installed during the Derg era were illegitimate due to the improper removal of Abuna Tewophilos from the Patriarchal throne, and his unannounced execution. With no official acknowledgment of Abuna Tewophilos' death, the Alexandrians argue that no Patriarch could legally be installed in Ethiopia. Therefore although Abuna Tewophilos had been dead for over a decade at the time of Abuna Merkorios' installation, without public acknowledgment by the Derg of the death and the the funeral of Abuna Tewophilos, Abune Merkorios would not be recognized. Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria of the Coptic Church publicly stated this policy during meetings with the Ethiopian exile community in the United States during visits there in the late 1980s. After Abune Merkorios was deposed, the remains of Abune Tewophilos were ceremonially reburied with full Patriarchal honors, followed days later by the enthronement of Abune Paulos. The Coptic Church thus recognized the Patrarchate of Abune Paulos as legitimate. Efforts continue to avert a permanent schism of the Ethiopian church. However, the so called "Synod in Exile" has recently also suffered further splits, and the Synod inside Ethiopia is faced with challenges to its authority inside Ethiopia as those disgruntled by even minor disputes have taken to questioning Abune Paulos's authority and legitimacy. The Church in exile is being buffeted by accusations from certain quarters that it has split the church, and that the exiled bishops would have done better to remain in Ethiopia, and in the legitimate Synod fighting for their cause. There have also been accusations that some of local bishops intend to make the despute over the bishops living in exile. Both synods and both Patriarchs have been buffeted by questions of illegitimacy, accusations of ethnic and regional prejudice, and hunger for power. Abune Merkorios has had a low public profile in the west, but his claims are forcefully advocated by his adherents.
On January 21, 2007, Patriarch Abune Merkorios and those Archbishops who make up the exiled synod presided over the anointing of thirteen new bishops of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in exile at a ceremony at the Church of St. Gabriel in Washington D.C., and at the Church of St. Mary in Toronto, Canada. This was quickly followed by the excommunication of Abune Merkorios and the bishops who presided over the anointing of the 13 new bishops, by the Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa. These bishops retaliated by excommunicating the Church Synod at Addis Ababa.
Patriach Abune Merkorios currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia.
- ↑ History of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church Homepage