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“Dark and lovely”
Posted By Eric Sammons On March 18, 2009 @ 7:58 am In Eastern Christianity | Comments Disabled
The Pope is currently visiting the African countries of Cameroom and Angola, and Sandro Magister takes the opportunity to report  on the Christianity practiced in another African country, Ethiopia.
“Nigra sum sed formosa,” I am dark but lovely. These words from the Song of Songs are traditionally seen in reference to the queen of Sheba, the progenitor of Ethiopia in the national epic poem “Kebra Negast,” the glory of kings.
According to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, the first pagan converted to the Christian faith was an Ethiopian follower of Judaism, a high official in the kingdom, baptized by the apostle Philip along the road between Jerusalem and Gaza.
In any case, Ethiopia was already Christian by the first half of the fourth century. Its closest connection was to Alexandria in Egypt, the patriarch of which appointed the metropolitan archbishop of the kingdom’s capital. The two Churches, Coptic Egyptian and Ethiopian, have also been bound together since then by their Monophysite faith, which recognizes only the divine nature of Christ. They accept the first three councils, of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus, but not the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which established the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, divine and human. For this reason, the Coptic and Ethiopian churches are also called “pre-Chalcedonian.”
Ethiopian Christians always wear around their necks a cord called a “mateb,” which they receive with baptism. Boys are circumcised eight days after birth, and presented at church forty days later, just as Jesus was. They enter church barefoot, as God ordered Moses from the burning bush. They do not eat unclean foods, such as pork, as prescribed by Leviticus. They claim to have the Ark of the Covenant and the Tablets of the Law, entrusted to them by King Solomon. In other words, they have preserved some features of Judaism.
I have long been fascinated by the wide diversity of Christian practice throughout the world. How the Christian Faith is practiced in Kansas is very different than how it is practiced in Russia or Ethiopia. Yet the foundations are the same: faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. I don’t think there is any church as distinctive as the Ethiopian Church, especially due to its continued attachment to Judaism. Yet it has kept the Faith for centuries despite many hardships and persecutions. Will we in the West be able to say the same some day?
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