His Holiness Abune Paulos
Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
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Church Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Reign ended Incumbent
Predecessor Abune Merkorios
Personal details
Birth name Gebre Medhin Wolde Yohannes
Born 3 November 1935 (1935-11-03) (age 81)
Nationality Ethiopian
Denomination Christian Orthodox

Abune Paulos (born Gebre Medhin Wolde Yohannes on 3 November 1935) is Abuna and Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (1992 - incumbent). His full title is "His Holiness Abune Paulos, Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum and as of 2006, one of the seven serving Presidents of the World Council of Churches."

Early life

Patriarch Abune Paulos was born in Adwa in the province of Tigray in northern Ethiopia. His family was long associated with the Abune Gerima monastery near the town, and he entered the monastery as a young boy as a deacon trainee, eventually taking monastic orders and being ordained a priest. Paulos continued his education at the Theological College of the Holy Trinity in Addis Ababa under the patronage of Patriarch Abune Tewophilos. He was sent to study at the St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary in the United States, and afterwards joined the doctoral program at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

In 1974, his education was interrupted by a summons from Patriarch Abune Tewophilos, and returned to Addis Ababa shortly after the revolution that toppled Emperor Haile Selassie. He was anointed a bishop along with four others, assuming the name and style of Abune Paulos, and given responsibility for ecumenical affairs by the Patriarch. But because the Patriarch had named these new bishops without the permission of the new Derg communist junta, all five men were arrested, and the Patriarch was eventually executed. Abune Paulos and his fellow bishops were imprisoned until 1983. Abune Paulos returned to Princeton in 1984 to complete his doctoral degree there, and began his life as an exile. He was elevated to the rank of Archbishop by Patriarch Abune Takla Haymanot in 1986 while in exile.

Actions as a Patriarch

Following the fall of the Derg in 1991, the then Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Merkorios, was dethroned in circumstances that remain under dispute. Patriarch Abune Merkorios and his supporters maintain that he was forced from office by the new EPRDF-led democratic government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and its supporters, while his opponents maintain that the Patriarch abdicated following numerous protests against him by the faithful. His attempt to reverse his abdication was refused by the Holy Synod of the Church which authorized a new Patriarchal election. Abune Paulos was elected in 1992, and Abune Merkorios and his supporters went into exile, establishing a rival synod in the United States. The enthronement of Abune Paulos as Patriarch is still recognized by all the canonical Orthodox Christian, and other canonical churches, and recognized by the Coptic Patriarchate in Alexandria, Egypt.

Abune Paulos has presided over a remarkable period of the Church's history. Much urban property that had been taken from the church was returned, most notably the return of the campus and the library of Holy Trinity Theological College, and the College was reopened. He built a new Patriarchal office and residence complex at the site of the old one, and reformed the bureaucracy of the Patriarchate. He has also traveled widely, strengthening the ties of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with other sister churches. He reluctantly acquiesced to the breaking away of the Eritrean Church when that country declared independence. Abune Paulos also took the initiative to the series of peace meetings between all Ethiopian and Eritrean religious leaders in 1998, 1999 and 2000 in an effort to bring peace between the two countries in response to a bitterly fought border war. Patriarch Abune Paulos and the Orthodox Church have also been extensively involved in the support of war-displaced and drought-hit Ethiopians, making the Church one of the major relief organizations in the country.

In 1995, Abuna Paulos asked for the faithful to fulfill their religious obligations by contributing their share to the restoration of Holy Trinity Cathedral. He led a Fundraising Committee of 15 people which was established to work within the country and abroad on the project.[1]

The Patriarch has continually championed the cause of the many victims of the Derg regime. Patriarch Abune Paulos presided over the funerals of Emperor Haile Selassie in 2000 (even in the face of government hostility to this event), Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen in 1997, and Princess Tenagnework in 2004. He has also presided over the funerals of the 60 ex-officials of the Imperial government in 1993, and the funeral of the leading opposition leader of the time, Professor Asrat Woldeyes in 1998.


Abune Paulos at the Timqat Celebrations January 2005

Abuna Paulos has also found success after he asked a British Museum to return ten “tabots” containing images of the Ark of the covenant. These carvings, so sacred that only ordained priests may look at them, were plundered by British troops in 1868. [2] In March 2006, Abune Paulos was elected to serve as one of the seven presidents of the World Council of Churches, during its summit in Brazil. On June 26, 2009, Paulos along with Prince Makonnen and Duke Amedeo D'Acosta, visited the Pope and came forward at the Hotel Aldrovandi in Rome with the announcement that the true Ark of the covenant, which has supposedly been kept in secret at St. Mary's of Zion in Ethiopia, would be unveiled to the public to view for the first time in history in a museum being built in Axum, Ethiopia. The idea that the Ark is presently in Ethiopia is a well-documented, albeit disputed, tradition dating back to at least 642 B.C. The tradition says it was moved to Elephantine Island in Egypt, then to Tana Kirkos Island in Ethiopia and finally to its present site at St. Mary's of Zion Church in Axum.

Abune Paulos has also implemented a proposal to build a University in Entoto that would help to commemorate the millennium according to the Ethiopian calendar. This University is intended to be a study and research center in Entoto Debre Hayl Saint Raguel Church.[3] The Holy Synod and Abune Paulos appealed for the faithful to protect church heritages with a view to enabling them to be transferred to the next generation.

On July 13, 2007, Abune Paulos visited the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, met with H. H. Pope Shenouda III of Egypt. This visit re-established the relationship between the Ethiopian and Coptic Church after time of separation. Abune Paulos visited some of the Coptic associations in Egypt, and on July 15, He visited a Coptic Egyptian Church named after an Ethiopian Saint St. Tekle Haymanot Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Egypt.[4] . [5]

His ecumenical trip to India to meet Baselios Thoma Didymos I, Catholicos of the East in December 2008, has strengthened the communion of Ethiopian and Indian Orthodox Churches.

Media Apperances

Abune Paulos is regularly featured on Ethiopian Television and also made an apperance in Motherland (film), 2010.Motherland film



Due to controversy over the resignation of his predecessor Abune Merkorios, some Ethiopian churches in North America and Europe recognise Abune Merkorios, and dispute the legitimacy of Patriarch Abune Paulos. Abune Paulos' vocal support for the current EPRDF regime has also alienated many of the government's opponents, who criticise him for taking sides. The fact that the Patriarch is of the same Tigrean ethnicity as the leadership of the EPRDF has led to accusations of ethnocentrism and xenophobia as well as nepotism at all levels of church administration.

The government is often accused of having engineered the rise of Abune Paulos to the Patriarchate because of his Tigrayan ethnicity. Visits by the Patriarch to western countries in the early part of his reign were met with emotional demonstrations and angry protests against him. A great deal of the motivation behind these demonstrations may have been political rather than religious, as the Patriarch was identified as a supporter of the EPRDF regime by those who opposed it. There have been protests in Ethiopia itself against the Patriarch, most notably at the Lideta Le Mariam ("Nativity of the Virgin Mary") Church in Addis Ababa. These were motivated by administrative disputes combined with some political motives as well. In an incident at the St. Stephen's church in Addis Ababa in January 1997, a hermit monk was shot and killed during the feast day of the church. Although the official account was that the monk had attempted to assassinate the Patriarch with a sword, and that one of the Patriarch's entourage had defended the Patriarch with his pistol, the fact that members of the Patriarch's entourage were armed and carried guns into church was as shocking as the allegation of an attempted assassination, and this damaged the Patriarch's reputation. Although the Patriarch's reputation benefited from his dignified conduct of the funerals of the members of the Imperial family and the prominent opposition figure Professor Asrat Woldeyes, in spite of government hostility to those figures, he continues to have critics, although these are almost entirely political rather than religiously based criticisms. His perceived support of the EPRDF and its policies continued to alienate some members of the Ethiopian Church who oppose the EPRDF.

In the aftermath of the controversial General Elections of May, 2005, Abune Paulos was heckled as a pro-government puppet during the public Maskal ("Feast of the Finding of the True Cross") celebrations in September of that year.

On January 21, 2007, 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 Medhane Alem Church (Church of the Savior of the World) in Toronto Canada. As a result, the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa excommunicated Abune Merkorios and the other exiled bishops who carried out the anointing of these new bishops. The exiled bishops retaliated by excommunicating Abune Paulos and the members of the Addis Ababa synod. This seems to be leading towards a schism which would be difficult to reconcile. This has caused an immense upheaval among Ethiopian churches in the west as a large number of them, although not particularly sympathetic to Abune Paulos personally, were angered that Abune Merkorios and the exiled bishops had in effect split the synod and undermined the unity of the Orthodox Church. The recent actions of the exiled bishops have alienated a large segment of church members outside Ethiopia and has cost the exiled Synod much sympathy.


Abune Paulos is a renowned scholar and peace advocate and a former exile in the United States who has worked on reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Patriarch Abune Paulos and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church have also been specially involved in the support of war-displaced and drought-hit Ethiopians, making the Church one of the major "relief organizations" in the country. His peace efforts and humanitarian work were the main reasons for his being chosen to receive the Nansen Medal by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR).[6] The Nansen Medal Award was launched in 1955 by UNHCR's first High Commissioner, G.J. van Heuven Goedhart. It is named after the famous Norwegian polar explorer and humanitarian, Fridtjof Nansen, the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize for Peace. Patriarch Abune Paulos also met with President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir of Sudan in Khartoum to try to find a peaceful solution to the Darfur conflict that has been labeled as a genocide by Western critics. Abune Paulos said “No one loves Africa more than Africans.” The Patriarch stated that finding an "African solution" is significant to curb problems of the continent. [7] He also held talks with senior government officials and religious leaders during his five-day working visit to Khartoum and called for religious leaders to strengthen their efforts towards peace. He has also served as a member of central committee of WCC and the Faith and Order commission, and attended the Nairobi assembly. [8] Abune Paulos is also one of the rare exceptionally educated Patriarchs in Ethiopian history because he had completed various degrees and received his doctoral degree at prestigious institutions. His Holiness Abune Paulos is one of the seven current presidents of World Council of Churches as well. [9] He is an alumnus of Princeton Theological Seminary. [10]

Links and References

  1. Abuna Paulos leds a Fundraising committee
  2. Tabots from the British Museum
  3. church University in Entoto
  4. Photos from the visit of Abune Paulos to Saint Tekle Haymanot Coptic church in Alex
  5. After crisis that started 2 decades ago ETOC reconciles with the Coptic Orthodox Church
  6. Paulos profile and award
  7. Abune Paulos talks about Sudan
  8. WCC service
  9. President of WCC
  10. Princeton University

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