Ethiopia’s exiled Orthodox church patriarch returns home after 27 years

BBC – The exiled patriarch of Ethiopia’s powerful Orthodox Church, Abune Merkorios, has returned home to the capital, Addis Ababa, after 27 years.

Ethiopia’s reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met him in the U.S. last week and persuaded him to reconcile with a rival faction of the church.

He was greeted by his followers, who sang and ululated in welcome.


The church split in the early 1990s after Mengistu Haile Mariam’s communist regime was overthrown.

Politics and the church are closely intertwined in Ethiopia – and Abune Merkorios was perceived to represent the diaspora and opposition in exile.

As there are now two patriarchs, Abune Merkorios will be responsible for the spiritual aspects of the church, while Abune Mathyas will be in charge of the day-to-day affairs.

The reunification of the church signals that PM Abiy, who became prime minister in April, is succeeding in his efforts to promote reconciliation among Ethiopians, reports BBC Amharic’s Kalkidan Yibeltal from Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church can trace its roots back to the fourth century – and is one of the oldest organized Christian bodies in the world. It used to be part of Egypt’s Coptic Christian Church, but appointed its own patriarch in 1959.

Bishop Merkorios was forced to abdicate after the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.

His followers objected, saying the position of patriarch is held for life. The cleric escaped to the US, where a synod in exile was established.