'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
A background to St Mary of Tserha Sion EOTC UK
“Ethiopia Stretches forth her hands to God” (Ps 68:31)
For many people of African descent particularly those born
in the western Hemisphere, the passage of the Holy
Scripture quoted above is an inspiring call to reach out to the Mother
land of Africa. The Holy Prophet Isaiah spoke of the return from
captivity of the children of African Diaspora when he said:
“I will bring your offspring from the East and from the West I will
gather you; I will say to the North, give up, and to the South, do not
withhold; bring my sons from afar; and my daughters from the end
of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I formed and
(Isaiah 43: 75 - 7)
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, those who
dwell in the land of the deep darkness on them the light as shines”
(Isaiah 9:24; St. Matthew 4:16)
In respect of this constant communication 1970-73, in the form of verbal, written as well as physical contact were made to the Mother Church of Ethiopia requesting for a branch of the EOTC to set-up in England. A delegation was invited to attend an Ecumenical conference; the same conference which at the time attended by the then Patriarch His Holiness Abuna Theophilos Echege of the See of St.Tekle Haimanote. It seems fortuitously that this should be occurring by virtue of the fact a delegation of bishops accompanied His Holiness were joined by others from Oriental and Eastern Churches in USA. A year and six months before the insurrection, political conflict of 1974 which saw the dethronement of late Emperor Haile Selassie 1st, the desired request had a favourable response from His Holiness Abuna Theophilus, viewed by the delegates as encouraging.
Pioneering works – Early developments
Further to that, the EOTC responded by sending priests to minister to the needs of the lost sons and daughters of Africa. In 1952 the first official Diocese of the Western Hemisphere of the EOTC was first established in Trinidad, and Tobago, then Guyana by the pioneering work of a delegation of devotees, spear-headed by one of the Caribbean’s most influential and prolific speakers of the Holy Gospel, Archpriest Dr Abraham Garnet Springer. Dr Abraham Springer in his book published and titled, ‘LO HE COMETH EVERY EYES SHALL BEHOLD HIM’, gives an extended analytical account of the early Church’s progress and its development in Trinidad and Tobago, thus became a beacon light to the Glory of God. As a result, today there are Churches in USA, Jamaica, Guyana, Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago. In respect of the England branch of the EOTC it must be noted the attributed works of the Caribbean people in particular and individuals such as one of its early founding pioneers an elderly brother known as Amanuel (Asceto). He was designated to act as the go-between Jamaica/America and England. Communications between the Church in England and the diocesan Archbishop Abuna Athanasius and Abba Mandefro were constant, unabated and centralized with a view of galvanizing and cultivating the minds of aspired believers.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church St. Mary of Zion UK by stark contrast has a unique developmental history. 1972 marks another turning point, its earliest ever contact with a visiting bishop manifested with the arrival of His Grace Abuna Samuel, the then Archbishop of Shoa. Abuna Samuel acknowledge as one of the most humble bishops to have visited England engendered a chemical effect, engaging with inspirational talks and poignant sermons. His first address was taken from the Holy Gospel of St John 15:4; “Attach yourself to the Vine.” Meaning our faith should be centred on the Crucified, Died and Risen Lord, with a Christo-centric view of organising the communities.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abide in Me.” And again, “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done to you.”
(St. John 15:7)
The naming of St. Mary of Zion – “St Mary of Tserha Sion”
‘St. Mary of Zion’ was the name given in 1972-73 to the Ethiopian Caribbean congregation of faithful by the very late Archbishop of Western Hemisphere Abuna Yeshaq who at the time prior to his elevation to the Bishopric, was well known by many Caribbean’s, particulary those of the Rastafarian communities living in England. Archimandrite Abba Liqe Mandefro was didactic, proactive and dynamic; he was at the time assistant to His Grace Abuna Athanasius (Abba Mashasha) diocesan Archbishop of America and West Indies living in Trinidad and Tobago. A period of interruption followed after Abba Mandefro had given the name ‘St. Mary of Zion’. During 1973 – 1989, a series of visits from scholars, dignitaries of the Mother Church in Ethiopia as well as visitors from the Oriental and Eastern Churches evolved, enhancing the profile of St Mary of Zion.
It is important to note that the seed of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church here in the UK initially started around 1968/70 at 356 Portobello Rd, Ladbroke Grove, London UK by a group of African Caribbean believers mostly from the Rastafarian community living “England-wide”, as the word to the gospel spread so was the momentum amongst membership. The Holy Spirit was clearly seen working amongst dedicated individuals to establish the name of Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion in the UK. The actual sight where the Church first began was in fact a historical place, the home address where lived one of the African Caribbean’s greatest statesmen, the Rt. Honorable Marcus Mosia Garvey, during his English sojourn. Garvey in his biography spoke of the missionary work of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to the people of the Caribbean and Africa, Children of the Diaspora.
The Appointment of Abba Gabriel 1974 – 1997
Another turning point in the history of Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion manifested on the 5th May 1974. Archmandrite Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel who later came to be known as Abuna Yohannes (May God rest his soul) was appointed as Priest In-Charge of St. Mary of Zion. He later went on to become the Diocesan Bishop of Western Europe and England UK. St. Mary of Zion then became the first Church to be established in the UK with sole purpose to preach the Gospel of Our Lord God and Saviour Eyesus Kristos to the lost sons and daughters of the Diaspora and the nation before the second coming of Christ. (St. Matthews 24: 1-End)
Mid May 1974, during the time of conflict in Ethiopia, His Holiness Abuna Theophilos sent a telegram to Abba Arrawgawi Wolde Gabriel who at the time had just completed his religious studies in Russia. Abba Gabriel was mandated to take up office in England as the newly appointed Priest In-Charge of St. Mary of Zion (EOTC). Observed as another turning point in the Church’s development Abba Gabriel was received by a delegation at Heathrow Airport with a rapturous welcome accustomed to all visiting dignitaries.
Assisted by the Parish Council, Abba Arragawi wasted no time in establishing essential contact with immediate religious bodies and authorities. He was an honoured guest at Lambeth Palace on many occasions where he met the then Archbishop of the Anglican Church; The Rt. Rev. Dr. Runcie. Abba Arragawi went on to establish bible classes and Sunday schools, Amharic classes for beginners and Church liturgical languages for his African Caribbean Community.
In 1977 to strengthen ties and to enhance the Orthodox dogmatic teaching of our Church in London, Abuna Gregorious of Shoa visited St. Mary of Zion and her congregation. Abuna Gregorious was the newly appointed Archbishop of Shoa and diocesan bishop of St. Gabriel Monastery in Zewai, Ethiopia. He delivered a series of talks on “Faith and Order” of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido (Bete Kristian) Church by that time the general membership of the Church had increased expediential to include Ethiopian nationals who had emigrated to Britain as well as those who sought asylum against the persecution of Marxism in Ethiopia. With this new influx of arrivals – there began a significant shift, changes to the status quo languages, administrations, worship and a division of ethnicities. Hence, the growth of another branch Church arising out of Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion – e.g. ’Debre Sion St.Mary’, now located in South of London, Battersea.
On the 29th February 1979, the first four Deacons were ordained in London: Tesfa Mikael Lewis, Habte Mariam Field, Habte Selassie Mclymount, Tekle Haymanote. His Grace Abuna Yeshaq , the then Archbishop of the EOTC in the Western Hemisphere performed the ordination along with Liqa Siltanat Elias who at the time was travelling from Jamaica to Ethiopia. This marks a significant change in the development of the Church's history in England which was then preceded by further development to expand the spiritual ministry of the Western born faithful and overall administration.
In 1987 three Deacons, chosen from amongst the African Caribbean Orthodox followers, Habte Mariam Field, Tekle Mariam Edwards and Tesfa Mikael Lewis were awarded scholarships to Ethiopia between May ’87 – ’88. These three Deacons were invited to study at the St. Gabriel Monastery in Zewai Ethiopia under the Tutelage/Mentorship of His Eminence, the late Abuna Gregorious, Archbishop of Shoa Diocese, the very same Diocesan Archbishop who had visited in 1977, he eventually died in July 1989, may his soul find peace in paradise of the Saints.
The event that followed marked a high point in annals of EOTC history; a resounding historical event, for never in the history of the EOTC had a Patriarch and four Archbishops conducted the “Sacrament of Holy Orders” on ordinary priests. Yet because this represented a turning point in the history of the African Caribbean people living in the West, it was seen as a great blessing to all African Caribbean and more importantly to the priests themselves.
“Unto whom much is given much shall be required”
(St. Luke 12:48)
The actual ceremony was conducted by The Patriarch, His Holiness Abuna Tekle Haimanot along with Archbishop Abuna Mikael, Abuna Gabriel and Abuna Nicodemus.
Ordination of the Three Western born Deacons to the Priesthood
30th January 1988 at the celebration of the Feast Day of ‘The Dormition of Our Lady St. Mary’, the Mother of God, the Mother of Christ, three of our Deacons were ordained to the rank of Priesthood by the late Patriarch, His Holiness Abuna Tekle Haimanote, the then Echege of the See of St. Tekle Haimanote, and Patriarch of Ethiopia. Our three fathers, Habte Mariam Field, Tekle Mariam Edwards and Tesfa Mikael Lewis were given a rapturous applaud by the people of Ethiopia and especially the Congregation of St. Mary Church Bete Kinete Arrat Kilo, Addis Abba, Ethiopia.
The newly ordained Priests then returned to London with the blessing of His Holiness the late Patriarch Abuna Tekle Haimanot with a commission to teach and preach the Holy Gospel of Our Lord God and Saviour Eyesus Christos and to baptise the people in the Name of the Blessed Holy Trinity, The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (St. Matthew 28: 18 - 20)
The Naming of ‘Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion’ EOTC UK
It was not until the year 2000, three years after the death of His Grace Abuna Yohannes (Abba Gabriel), which saw a change to the super-structure and administration of St. Mary of Zion with a pastoral visit from His Grace Abuna Melkchesidk. Warranted by the fact there were a marked growth in congregational size which had probably served to influence the decision to change, heighten and elevate the naming of St. Mary. On that faithful Sunday, His Grace conducted the Divine Liturgy and after the service he addressed the congregation then gave the name ‘St Mary of Tserha Sion’, EOTC. The etymology of Tserha Sion denotes capacity and edifice, structured in context of a “High Church” (Cathedral) according to Biblical customs and traditions of Ethiopia, a symbolic Biblical connotation of being the “place of the Holy Virgin St. Mary and the Apostles”, or “Upper Room of Holy Zion”, as mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. (St. Mark 16: 14/ Acts 1: 12 - 15)
Pastoral visit from His Holiness Patriarch Abuna Paulos to London (1993)
On 23rd October 1993, His Holiness Dr. Abuna Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church visited the United Kingdom with a delegation of six Archbishops and conducted a Liturgical Service at Clapham North, London. This was the second address of the Church having moved from Margaret Street, West End. His Holiness also gave evening prayers. Then on 24th October 1993, His Holiness and six of his Bishops conducted the Divine Liturgy service at Debre Sion Church then located in Hyde Park – Green Park.
After the visit of His Holiness, a stream of Bishops and dignitaries visited and attended mass in both St. Mary of Tserha Sion and Debre Sion. In August 2005, Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion having no place to rest her head took up resident at Abchurch St. Mary in Cannon Street. Then in the following years between 2006-7 came Abuna Antonious Archbishop of Western Europe, with his seat in Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion Church UK. His Eminence was warmly welcomed by the congregation and especially the membership of St. Mary of Tseha Sion who had worked tremendously hard to get a bishop to replace the late Abuna Yohannes (God grant his soul peace).
Spiritual Growth of Tserha Sion EOTC
There are nine branches of the EOTC in the UK, comprising membership of both Ethiopian nationals, and people from the Diaspora of Africa living in the Western Hemisphere as well as those of the native English speaking. The largest branch Church is Debre Sion with her own Church building and a following of well over a thousand memberships on major feast days (This figure is said to have quadrupled). Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion although the earliest of all the Churches to have been established in England, is recognised as the Mother of all EOTC branches in the UK. Unfortunately, however Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion has no permanent Church building of her own and badly needs support of all Orthodox Christian people to make donations to help with the buying of her own Church Building.
Since the Death of our late Archbishop Abuna Yohannes (24th December 1997), the Mother Church has always endeavoured to ensure pastoral care continues. In respect of this there has always been a continuity of visiting pastoral fathers who have served and administered the Holy rites of the EOTC to Christians living in the UK.
Appointment of His Eminence Abuna Antonious to UK
As was mentioned earlier, in 2006/7 His holiness Patriarch Dr. Abuna Paulos and the Holy Synod in Ethiopia, nominated his eminence Abuna Antonious as Diocesan Bishop of Western Europe - with his headquarters based in England (Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion – EOTC). It must be said since his appointment, His Eminence has been conducting liturgical services at St. Mary of Zion EOTC Cannon Street, London, on a rotary bases communting weekly to Holy Trinity Church in Holloway, London, St. Gabriel Church in West Hampstead (London) and branch Churches in Birmingham, Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Sheffield and Leeds. He is proactive with establishing branch Churches throughout England. On the 25th February 2007 he recently ordained one of the Caribbean deacons to the rank of Priesthood, Deacon Haile Maskal then became Kes Haile Maskel serving the congregation of Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion. In addition, he has ordained many deacons. In Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion we currently have many deacons in service.
Today Tserha Sion St. Mary of Zion EOTC UK has a thriving community of worshippers. Liturgical services are said in three languages, Geez, English and Amharic. The Church has its own Parish Council ([email protected]) which is the governing body that oversees the Church’s administration and in general, arrangements and appointments for His Eminence’s diocese. All the canon laws are strictly observed. The Holy Communion service is conducted every Sunday, the Sacraments are administered, the Holy Gospel preached and the ethics in respect of the social, moral and spiritual welfare of the faithful are ministered to according to the command of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
“to tend and feed the Lambs and Sheep…”
(St. John 21: 15 – 17)
May Our Lord and Saviour Eyesus Kristos continue to bless our work through the intercession of His Holy Mother Our Lady the Holy Virgin St. Mary. A’men