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ST. MARY OF ZION

ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHURCH - LONDON

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'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'

St Matthew 28: 19

Charity No. 282910

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Foreign Relations of EOC in the Days of Christianity

As a rule, all the males of the Children of Israel, had to observe three days of each year on the occasion of  great festivals in fixed places:

 

a. the Festival of unleavened bread.

b. The Festival of weeks (special weeks wherein they offer the first fruit of their barley).

c. The Festival of booths (Deut.16:16).

 

As a fulfilment of this religious duty, the Ethiopian believers of the Old Testament used to observe such days, by going to Jerusalem, the Holy Land of God.  They were also among the faithful who had gathered together with people of Israel to bring God His offering and to join them in their service of thanksgiving to Him on the Festival of weeks, where they offered the first- fruits of their barley. (Zeph. 3:10)

 

This tradition had enabled the Ethiopians to be among those who had the opportunity to attend the Festival observed soon after the ascension of our lord Jesus Christ and to hear enthusiastically the Holy Apostles speaking in all tongues and giving thanks to God after receiving the Holy Spirit on the last day of this Festival. (Pentecost).

 

Well-known Church Fathers like John Chrysostom, assert the reality of this history is written in his homily on Acts 2: 1-13, that Ethiopians were present on the day of Pentecost. That a certain Ethiopian Eunuch, Royal Treasurer in the court of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia, is believed to be the very pilgrim who was there when this happened in Jerusalem about 34 AD.  

Then on his way home, on a road of Gaza, seated in his chariot and reading the book of Isaiah, he encountered St Philip by whom he was baptised Act. (8:26-40). The Holy Spirit commanded Philip to approach the Eunuch.  When the Eunuch was approached by Philip the Evangelist, he was reading Isaiah 53, where the prophetic word about the suffering servant of God is written. So the Evangelist proclaimed to him a fulfilment of this prophecy through the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” John (1:29), and taught him precisely about his redeeming plan worked out through His crucifixion.

 

As they were going along the road, they came to a water spot where the Eunuch said: “Look, here is water, what prevents me from being baptised?” "If you believe with all your heart, you may”, Philip answered.  “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” the Eunuch confessed.  He commanded his chariot to stop, and both of them went down into the water.  Having been convinced of the goodness of his faith in Christ, the Evangelist baptised the Eunuch. As soon as they came out of the water, the Spirit of God snatched St Philip away.  The Eunuch saw him no more and went his way rejoicing. (Act. 8: 26-40)

 

History and tradition assert that ever since his return to Ethiopia, he began to convey the Good News of the Gospel, and the mystery of Baptism, to the Ethiopians around him. So the seed of Christianity was sown in Ethiopia from the very earliest times, and has continued to bear much fruit ever since.

 

Eusebius, who is called the Father of the Church History, mentions that Ethiopians were the first fruit among gentiles (Eusebius of Caesarea, Church History, Page 11:1-13) The Ethiopian Eunuch was also admired by St Jerome (Hieronymus), as he is quoted to have said  the following words about him:"I am no more holy, nor more diligent than this Eunuch.  He came from Ethiopia, that is from the ends of the world; leaving a royal court he went as far as the Temple; and such zeal for the knowledge of God  that even on his chariot he was reading the Holy Scripture.  Yet although he held the book in his hand and was reflecting on the words of the Lord, even articulating them with his tongue and pronouncing them with his lips, he did not know the One whom, still without knowing it, he was worshipping in this book.  Then Philip came along; he showed him Jesus hidden under the letter.  What marvellous power of the teacher!  In the same hour, the Eunuch believed and was baptised; he became one of the faithful and a saint.  He was no longer a pupil but a master; and he found more in the desert spring of the Church than he had done in the gilded temple of the synagogue". (Jerome, Letter. 53,4,5,6)

 

Furthermore, the well-known Church historians, Refinus and Socrates (380-450),  have also stated that among the holy Apostles, Saints Matthew, Nathaniel, Bartholomew and Thomas, had taught the Gospel in Nubia and other provinces of Ethiopia, moving from one place to another.  The two historians also attest that that the Apostle St. Matthew, made his Apostolic journey to Nubia and other parts of Ethiopia via India and suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia.

 

Based on this fact, present - day scholars give witness to the reality of this history, and address  the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as the “Holy See of St. Matthew.” Thus, the basic teaching of Christianity and baptism continued to bear fruit till the arrival of St. Frumentius and Aedesius in the country.

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