Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch and the rich heritage of the Ethiopian Church

In today’s office readings, we commemorate the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8.

In the Psalms we read that “Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God (Psalm 68.31).” We see the beginning of this passage being fulfilled in the conversion story of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

We do not know much about the Christian presence in Ethiopia after the Eunuch returned there, but we do know that Christianity was firmly established there by the 3rd century CE and that Athanasius of Alexandria consecrated a bishop for Ethiopia in the early 4th Century. Along with Armenia, Ethiopia was one of the first countries to become a Christian state, and the Ethiopian Church to this day maintains a rich and vibrant Christian heritage.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian Churches in the world, and maintains ancient Catholic Orthodoxy, and has it’s own traditions of liturgy and music. Ethiopian liturgical music features drumming and clapping and spirited singing.

The monks at Aksum, the ancient capital of Ethiopia, claim to have the Ark of the Covenant, which Solomon gave to Menelek his son. Menelek is his son through a union of Solomon with the Queen of Sheba.

The Ethiopian Church has the longest canon of Scripture, containing not only the deuterocanonical books found in Anglican, Orthodox, and Catholic Bibles, but several others, such as the Book of Enoch and Jubilees. 

The full name of the Ethiopian Church is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The term, Tewahedo, refers the single nature of the Person of Christ, which is both fully human and fully divine.

The Christian heritage of Ethiopia had it’s beginning in the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

The Five Pillars of  The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
 The Five Pillars of Ethiopian Orthodoxy represent an essentialist, Catholic Orthodoxy. In this sense it is very wise, and is a touchstone for true Christianity:

  1. Mystery of Trinity
  2. Mystery of Incarnation
  3. Mystery of Baptism
  4. Mystery of Communion
  5. Mystery of Resurrection

Today’s New Testament Reading:

Meanwhile, Philip was commanded by an angel of the Lord, Rise up, and go south to meet the road which leads from Jerusalem to Gaza, out in the desert.[1] 27 So he rose up and went; and found there an Ethiopian. This man was a eunuch, a courtier of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, and had charge of all her wealth; he had been up to worship at Jerusalem, 28 and was now on his way home, driving along in his chariot and reading the prophet Isaias. 29 The Spirit said to Philip, Go up to that chariot and keep close by it. 30 And Philip, as he ran up, heard him reading the prophet Isaias, and asked, Canst thou understand what thou art reading? 31 How could I, said he, without someone to guide me? And he entreated Philip to come up and sit beside him. 32 The passage of scripture which he was reading was this; He was led away like a sheep to be slaughtered; like a lamb that is dumb before its shearer, he would not open his mouth. 33 He was brought low, and all his rights taken away; who shall tell the story of his age? His life is being cut off from the earth.[2]34 And the eunuch turned to Philip, and said, Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Himself, or some other man? 35 Then Philip began speaking, and preached to him about Jesus, taking this passage as his theme. 36 As they went on their way, they came to a piece of water, and the eunuch said, See, there is water here; why may I not be baptized? 37 Philip said, If thou dost believe with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answered, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.[3] 38 So he had the chariot stopped, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him there.39 But when they came up from the water, Philip was carried off by the spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch did not see him any longer; he went on his way rejoicing. 40 As for Philip, he was next heard of at Azotus; and from there he went preaching all round the villages, until he reached Caesarea.

- Acts 8.26-40 Knox