'We have a serious concern', the two synods declared

By T.Goshu

Let me, from the outset be clear why I deliberately chose “the tow synods”. I am well aware that both sides do not want to hear the word “two” let alone giving some sense of attention and willingness to look into it with a reasonable open – mindedness. To my understanding, not to recognize the very ugly facts we are facing and not to deal with them accordingly is something we have to be seriously concerned with. Needless to say, we cannot maintain the very survival of the Church we claim not only as religious institution as such but also as a great player in the history of the country unless we develop courage and determination to admit what went terribly wrong with us and try to do what is right . Whenever we deny the very hard fact we encounter and foolishly try to avoid the fear we fear, we miserably fail to find the way out. Simply put, self-deception breeds self-defeat. And that is the reality we are facing not only in our secular way of lives but sadly enough in our spiritual way of lives.

We may continue hearing the very endless argument from both sides; one is complaining about the serious
violation of the rules and procedures of the Church, and the other side making its argument based on its own cynically orchestrated politico-religious conspiracy of the late Aba Palos and Ato Meles Zenawi and their respective parasitic cronies. Again, despite all the arguments and claims from both sides, the fact remains the same sad story; and that same sad story is the existence of ‘two’ top hierarchical bodies of the Church which of course puts the followers of the Church at a very disturbing environment.

There is a third faction calling itself neutral which sounds stupidly cynical because it is very contrary to the very tradition of the Church. I do not know how this kind of self-positioning is desirable in our secular lives let alone spiritual lives (hoping for life after death). I reasonably believe that this kind of self-positioning is causing great confusion in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church community as it has never experienced a magnitude of this type of falling apart. This line of argument of mine may sound exaggerated to many fellow followers of the Church. I wish it could be. But the very hard fact we are facing does not show that our wishes are credible. What the reality we are encountering desperately demands is to recognize the very disturbing circumstance we face and deal with it in such a way that things could change for good.

Without going into the very terrible mess the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has been going and continued to go through ,I would like , in this piece of writing to reflect the points of view which I sincerely believe do deserve due attention and appropriate treatment. Because I strongly believe that it is always desirable to express one’s points of view with a sense of rationality, civility, due respect; I would try to do so. On the other hand, I strongly believe that there is a need to be straight-forward and critical, not beating around the bush.

What I would like to make clear is that my points of view are not about personal characters and private affairs. Rather, it is about the very agendas and practices being advanced by individuals who occupies various positions of the hierarchy. I do not believe that individuals are stupid or wicked-driven naturally or personally. But I would like to argue that there is nothing wrong to call serious wrong doings that especially hurt the very interests and feelings of the people, be it spiritual or secular straight –forwardly, to the extent of saying stupidity and wickedness. And this, I truly believe should be the case regardless of the hierarchical position individuals may occupy, be it at the very top or at the very bottom.

Another point I want to be clear about is why I wanted to comment on this subject which sounds sensitive not because it is untouchable but because we are products of a tradition with excessive and unnecessary passivity. Neither am I intended to engage in matters that belong to the very doctrine and principle of the Church. The only motive for me to come up with this comment is because the way those religious leaders and all other clergymen behave has a significant impact, one way or the other, on the ongoing struggle for freedom, justice, human liberty and dignity, equal opportunity and sherd prosperity. The followers of the Church expected and hoped that the Church could be in a much better shape after the end of the communist-oriented military dictatorship. Sadly enough, the Church is facing the worst in its history. That is the very hard reality that we cannot afford either to underestimate or foolishly pretend that we doing okay.

Mahatma Gandhi demanded his country of religious folk at a mass meeting, “Are you prepared to share the fate of those of our countrymen whom the cold stone is resting upon today?” When he got a ‘yes’ vow, he expressed his hope that every truly concerned person would have to be prepared not consider his or her abnormal material self-interest because the struggle he devoted himself was “a struggle for human liberty, and therefore a struggle for religion.” (Gandhi: His life & Message for the World; by Louis Fischer, 1954, 1982).

I, as one of millions of ordinary followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, I wish we could be fortunate enough to witness leaders as well as those who belong to the hierarchy of the Church (from the highest down to the choirs) who could honestly and practically claim the characteristics of what Gandhi demands . I am well aware that there may be many of those in the hierarchy as wells as fellow followers of the Church who may feel uncomfortable when I argue that what has been missing throughout a long period of our struggle for freedom and justice, and continued terribly missing at this critical moment in time is the willingness and ability to internalize what Gandhi not only talked but also practiced.

I neither am saying nor expecting that our religious leaders and clergymen should do what Gandhi had done. No, that would be naively unrealistic as far as the very challenging question of what does leading and living by example that should go beyond theological and traditional rhetoric is concerned. What I am trying to say is that we are not fortunate enough to witness honesty, courage and devotion from our religious leaders, preachers/teachers, choirs (singers) to make their services practically meaningful and deeply relevant to the very essence of human liberty which has miserably been and being slaughtered by brutal ruling elites. Agree or disagree, I strongly argue that this is a very ugly reality we need to face and deal with it appropriately and productively instead of deceiving ourselves and continue with the mentality and sentiment of avoidance of issues that matter a lot to the very lives of not only the followers of the Church but also to the innocent people of Ethiopia in general.

We recently are hearing or reading about the decline of the number of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church followers as far as the question of their real sense of participation is concerned. This, not surprising complaint was first voiced by “Patriarch” Aba Matias from his headquarter which self- evidently has become the very dependable sister palace of the palace in Arat Kilo where a very evil-driven political agenda and practice is initiated, developed, orchestrated, and executed. That is why I used “Patriarch” to indicate that to me as the concept is to mean a true father of Christians, I do not believe Aba Matias deserve to be one at all. I know there may be many cronies of his and even many other outside of his palace cronyism get upset with this comment of mine. My answer would be nothing, but telling a spade a spade based on facts on the ground is greatly desirable both in our earthly and heavenly lives. That is what the great teachings of true Christianity teaches us. I have to add that the terribly unsubstantiated tradition and custom of passivity has no place in this 21st century. Because keeping the people as passive as possible (not to ask what? why? who? when and where?) is dehumanization.

Needless to say, the “serious concerns” being voiced from the synod in Addis that is terribly messed up with the politics of ethno-centric tyranny sounds make no sense as the synod itself is at the very forefront of responsibility. I do not know how the Synod of Aba Matias complain about the decreasing trend of the participation of followers of the Church where as it (the synod) is terribly losing its credibility mainly because of aligning itself with the ruling elites who are determined to stay in power by any means available means, including the killing state machinery. Aba Matias and his inner circle that lives on a very notorious deception under the cover of the “highest holy hierarchy “have no moral or practical ground to complain about those innocent Ethiopians who distance themselves not from their church as such but from the those whose open their “spiritual speeches” with the blessings of an ethno-centric tyrannical inner circle of TPLF.

This type of tradition of just listen to what I say or what I preach about, the rest belongs to being sinful does not work at all. This is not the way God brought us to this world with all our human nature and characteristics and the way Jesus Christ taught us right here, on this planet. Yes, I strongly believe that showing respect to any human creature according to the respectful position and place he or she may occupy is the right thing to do. Put simply, respect comes mainly from what, how and why we do things for good, not because the title we hold, be it religious or secular, or because we decorate ourselves with golden clothes (cloaks) and we carry the a well-crafted holly cross . I am sorry to say but I have to say that nowadays it is getting very hard to find leaders and other clergymen, and of course choirs who are selflessly genuine in their services of religious values and principles. I think the more we excessively enjoy very ceremonial stages with highly loaded emotions, the more we either distort or loose the very content of the values of being true Christian. I wish I could be dead wrong. But that is what it is unless we want to deceive ourselves. So, what is be done? Make a genuine effort to make an appropriate and sounding balance between our preaching /teaching/ ceremonial stages and what we do practically, as Socrates says, “unexamined life is not worth living.”

Have we ever seen, heard or witnessed Aba Matias and his disgraceful circle decrying the very politics of ruling with terror for a quarter of a century? Have we ever been fortunate enough to witness the “Patriarch” and his inner circle to have, at least a very basic moral obligation to express their concerns about innocent journalist, activists, members and supporters of peaceful opposition political parties, and thousands of citizens languishing in notoriously horrible prisons in every corner of the country? Have we witnessed those “top messengers” of Jesus Christ such as Aba Matias being genuine partners of the effort to bring “the two synods together and make the Church a symbol of peace and a model for conflict resolution? Have we seen any real sense of regret for not making the Church the very symbol of tolerance, peace, human dignity, justice, love, and shared prosperity for the past many years, and particularly since the coming of Aba Matias to the throne? Are we fortunate enough to see those religious “leaders” and their good for nothing subordinates doing much better than those whom they blame for using religion (Christianity) for their own voracious earthly greed ? Are we witnessing those who are notoriously full of theological/religious rhetoric but empty of living by example trying to distance themselves from dancing their tail wagging dances with the ethno-centric ruling elites? The list of disturbing and challenging but unanswered questions is long. I hope the time at which we would be able to see things changing for the better with the concerted and heroic efforts of the people of Ethiopia.

However, it must be underscored that things will never move to the direction we want to move by themselves or by any other miracle as such. If the miracle should work, there is an absolute need to act and make things happen. God has given us a very miraculous machine (brain /conscience) to be used in the works of his miracle. I sincerely want to believe that mere religious/theological rhetoric and the preaching of “do not worry, just pray” is not the very essence of the teachings Christianity (Jesus Christ).

Believing that not being rationally critical toward the “Synod in Exile” would be unfair , I would like to reflect some viewpoints of my observation about one of the serious concerns, the decreasing trend of the participation of the follower of the Church which is also raised by the Synod in exile. It is the right thing to do so and address the concern accordingly. The problem is when the blame- finger points back to us asking, “What do you in practical terms do? Do you live, teach and lead by example?”

Louis Fischer describes how Gandhi won the hearts and minds of his people as follows: “Mahatma Gandhi loved not mankind in the abstract but men, women, and children, and hoped to help them as specific individuals and groups of individuals. He belonged to them and they knew it and therefore they belonged to him. By harboring the disloyal, he dispelled their disloyalty. ….”

Do not get me wrong that I am naively longing for leaders of this very huge character of the 20th century. The point I want make is that we disturbingly look keep failing the innocent followers of the Church in particular and the people of Ethiopia in general as far as the need to make our religious values practically and meaningfully relevant to the very essence of freedom, human liberty and human dignity right on this planet earth we live in is concerned. Needless to say, although the Synod in exile is in a relatively better shape both in terms of its religious services and expressing its concern about the very dire situation in our country, I do not believe it is doing as it should.

I do not think what we observe and even experience in almost all churches does prove what the Synod tries to claim. I feel something disturbing when I argue that very ugly intra-friction and inter-conflict of interests of leaders and almost all clergymen is rampantly observable from time to time. Aren’t we witnessing the openings of “new churches “here and there and as simple as any small business firms as the result of the very ineffectiveness, if not terrible failure of those who occupy the very top of the hierarchy? I don’t think the answer would be “no we are not”, because it would be a big lie and foolish self-deception. It goes without saying that we as flowers of the Church in general have to admit that we are not courageous and honest enough to break the very undesirable tradition of believing that we are greatly blessed for the simple reason of being regular church goers and staying passive about the notoriously disturbing happenings around the churches .

Fellow Orthodox Christians, is it not terrifyingly disturbing to watch a preacher struggling hard to be extra careful not to bring in what is the fate of freedom, justice and human rights in our country as a case in point in the proceedings of his teaching? I really do not know how a preacher or any other member of the clergy who is not courageous to extend the message of one of the Ten Commandments (do not kill) to the ruling elites of Ethiopia can offer any sense of humane let alone spiritual satisfaction. Is it not deeply painful not to make the teaching of Jesus Christ and his disciples meaningfully and appropriately relevant to the question of how to get out the horrible situation Ethiopians found themselves? Is it not terribly disturbing to listen to a preacher totally attributing the man-made (evil-driven politics) suffering to something beyond our control as if we have no a God-given brain and conscience to act with ? I do not know how these kinds of wrongly perceived and interpreted religious rhetoric could help us. I am not saying prayer, fasting, and most importantly educating/teaching people are less important. Absolutely not. What I , as any ordinary genuinely concerned Ethiopian trying to say is that we are at a very critical moment in time that demands making our teaching and services meaningfully and practically relevant to bringing about freedom, justice, human dignity, peace, love, equal opportunity, and shared prosperity. I strongly believe that is the very gist of the matter we have to face and address. Well, it is one thing to hold regular or especial meetings (Guba’es) and coming up with press releases, Statement (yaquam meglechas), interviews, etc. But it totally another thing to meaningfully and practically to interpret words into deeds in such a way that it could facilitate the true salvation of our country and the well-being of her innocent people.

To sum up, the only thing I want to say about those in Addis is that complaining about the decreasing trend of active participation is one thing, but confessing that you are the most notorious factors for the undesirable trend and committing yourself to getting out of that notorious vicious cycle is totally another thing. So the best choice both in terms of religious and ethical values is to get out of the terrible politic- religious mess engineered and orchestrated by an ethno-centric tyranny.

To those who are in exile I want to say that the very devastating situation that is knocking down the lives of millions of Ethiopians cannot be mitigated let alone be stopped by simply expressing our concerns over very few serious troubles that manifest themselves here and there, and now and then. Neither it makes sense to simply claim having the knowledge and understanding on the question of where and who is the root cause of our illnesses of both secular and spiritual lives. Nowadays, it is not time to keep organizing meetings after meetings and producing papers that tell us nothing new but about the untold sufferings of the people in their secular lives and lack of a real sense of spiritual lives, mainly because of what the majority of those who claim themselves as servants of God. I strongly believe that it is extremely high time to offer the great teachings of Jesus Christ in such a way that it practically and effectively help the people to defeat an evil-driven political system and live with full freedom, justice, human dignity and equal opportunity. I do not believe that the Ethiopia people are experiencing an incredible level of dehumanization because it is not God’s will yet. This very troubling especially when we know very well that we are not doing our part using our God-given brain and conscience. I sincerely believe that God should not be used as excuse for our own miserable failure. I hope even if it is too late, we will get to the right track.

May God help us!