Posted by Stephanie Baker on
The Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, rumored to hold the original Ark of the Covenant
Ethiopia is the oldest Christian state in the world, after Georgia and Armenia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, an Oriental Orthodox Church which is the largest Christian denomination in Ethiopia (it claims that 50% of the Ethiopian population are church members) and was part of the Coptic Orthodox Church until 1959, is the only pre-colonial Orthodox church in Sub-Saharan Africa. The apostle St. Matthew is said to have died in Ethiopia.
According to the government's 1994 census (which the CIA World Factbook follows), 61.6% of the Ethiopian population was Christian: 50.6% of the total were Ethiopian Orthodox, 10.1% were various Protestant denominations (such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Tehadeso Church, and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus), and Ethiopian Catholics constituted 0.9% of the population). The U.S. State Department estimates that just over 50% of the country is Christian (40 to 45% of the population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, about 10% are members of Christian evangelical and Pentecostal groups)Orthodox Ethiopian Christians are predominant in the Tigray (95.6%) and Amhara (82.5%), while the majority of Protestants live in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region or SNNPR (55.5% of the inhabitants) and the Oromia Region (4.8 million or 17.7%). The government's most recent 2007 census, Christians constitute 62.8% of the total population, with the largest group being Ethiopian Orthodox Christians at 43.5%, followed by Protestant 18.6% (which include Ethiopian Orthodox Tehadeso Church and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus) and Catholics at 0.7%.
This leather painting depicts Ethiopian Orthodox priests playing sistra and a drum.
The Kingdom of Aksum was one of the first nations to officially accept Christianity, when St. Frumentius of Tyre, called Fremnatos or Abba Selama ("Father of Peace") in Ethiopia, converted King Ezana during the 4th century AD. Many believe that the Gospel had entered Ethiopia even earlier, with the royal official described as being baptised by Philip the Evangelist in chapter eight of the Acts of the Apostles. (Acts 8:26–39) Orthodox Christianity has a long history in Ethiopia dating back to the 1st century, and is dominant in northern and central Ethiopia. Both Orthodox and Protestant Christianity have large representations in southern and western Ethiopia. A small ancient group of Jews, the Beta Israel, live in northwestern Ethiopia, though most emigrated to Israel in the last decades of the 20th century as part of the rescue missions undertaken by the Israeli government, Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. Some Israeli and Jewish scholars consider these Ethiopian Jews as a historical Lost Tribe of Israel. Today, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, part of Oriental Orthodoxy, is by far the largest denomination, though a number of Protestant (Pentay) churches and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tehadeso Church have recently gained ground. Since the 18th century there has existed a relatively small (uniate) Ethiopian Catholic Church in full communion with Rome, with adherents making up less than 1% of the total population.
The name "Ethiopia" (Hebrew Kush) is mentioned in the Bible numerous times (thirty-seven times in the King James version). Abyssinia is also mentioned in the Qur'an and Hadith. While many Ethiopians claim that the Bible references of Kush apply to their own ancient civilization, pointing out that the Gihon river, a name for the Nile, is said to flow through the land, most non-Ethiopian scholars believe that the use of the term referred to the Kingdom of Kush in particular or Africa outside of Egypt in general. Some have argued that biblical Kush was a large part of land that included Northern Ethiopia, Eritrea and most of present day Sudan. The capital cities of biblical Kush were in Northern Sudan.
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