And Now For Something Completely Different – Music From the Ethiopian Orthodox

I am barely familiar with the Ethiopian Orthodox. They are in communion with the Oriental Orthodox Churches but have a very close relationship with the Eastern Orthodox. Among the most ancient of Orthodox Churches, they are also perhaps the most unique. Ethiopian and East African culture are seen clearly in this music, although this is not the music of the liturgy. It’s religious, but I’m not sure of its position to the Church’s usage. But I thought it worth sharing.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


11 responses to “And Now For Something Completely Different – Music From the Ethiopian Orthodox”

  1. Peter Gardner Avatar

    I stumbled upon this a few weeks ago, and had spent some time trying to find it again! Thank you!

    (This video makes me want to clear up the Chalcedon controversy.)

  2. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    The Tewahedo Ethiopian Orthodox Church dates the coming of Christianity to Ethiopia to the fourth century AD, when a Christian philosopher from Tyre named Meropius was shipwrecked on his way to India. Meropius died but his two wards, Frumentius and Aedesius were washed ashore and taken to the royal palace. Eventually they became King Ella Amida’s private secretary and royal cupbearer respectively. They served the king well, and Frumentius became regent for the infant Prince Ezana when Ella Amida died. Frumentius and Aedesius were also permitted to proselytize the new religion in Aksum (as modern Ethiopia was then known). After some time, Frumentius and Aedesius returned to the Mediterranean, traveling down the Nile through Egypt to do so. When they reached Egypt, Frumentius contacted bishop Athanasius of Alexandria and begged him to send missionaries back to Aksum, since the people there had proved so ready to receive the gospel.

    Athanasius agreed that the need was urgent, and immediately appointed Frumentius to the task, which needed someone fluent in the language and sensitive to the customs of Aksum. He ordained Frumentius the first abuna or bishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Frumentius has since come to be known as the Abuna Salama or bishop of peace. His mission was successful and, with the support of King Ezana, Ethiopia became a Christian nation.

    The link between the Ethiopian church and the Patriarch of Alexandria was not broken until the 20th century, since the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria has sent Ethiopia each of its suceeding Abunas. This has meant that the Ethiopian church has been ruled by Egyptians for sixteen centuries.

    Towards the end of the 5th century nine monks arrived, probably from Syria, though perhaps from Egypt, and introduced monasticism into Ethiopia. Monasticism has remained a dominant feature of the Ethiopian church to this day.

    These monks may have been driven out of Syria after the Council of Chalcedon for being Monophysite Christians. Monophysites (mono=one, physis = nature) believe that the divine and human natures of Christ were fused into a single nature at His birth. The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, on the other hand distinguished between the divine nature of Christ and His human nature, and proclaimed the the Monophysites heretical. At any rate, whether or not it was due to the Nine Saints, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, along with the Coptic Church of Egypt, and smaller churches in Syria,Turkey and Armenia, have remained non-Chalcedonian.. These non-Chalcedonian churches have formed a distinctively Southern branch of the worldwide church.

    The nine monks also encouraged the translation of the Bible into Ge’ez, which was the language of the people at the time. The Ethiopian church continues to use Ge’ez as its liturgical language, though it is no longer a living language.

    During the seventh century, the Muslim conquests cut the Ethiopians off from the rest of the Christian world, except for the Ethiopian monastery in Jerusalem, which continued to be a pilgrimage site for pious Ethiopian monks, and the continuing thread of contact with Egypt maintained because the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria supplied the Ethiopian Church with its Abuna.

    The Ethiopian Church has maintained many more Jewish practices than most other Christian Churches, every Ethiopian Christian male is circumcised, devout Ethiopian Christians keep Sabbath (as well as Sunday), an ark is an essential part of every church, and is carried out of the church for festivals , and priests will sacrifice a goat or a lamb for the sick.

    Ethiopian Christians claim a long Jewish heritage before the coming of Christianity. They trace the royal line back to Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, though that claim cannot be independently verified. They also claim that the true Ark of the Covenant still exists and is kept safe in an Ethiopian monastery.

    Here is a a couple of bits of trivia: Emperor Haile Selassie who was martyred by the communists in 1974; his remains were discovered under a palace toilet in 1992, were then kept in a church in Ba’ata Mariam Geda were finally given a proper funeral in 2000.

    Emperor Haile Selassie was the eldest of the royals to attend the funeral of John F. Kennedy and he can be seen in many of the pictures of the event in his military uniform.

  3. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    We must remember to pray for our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in the Faith. In many places they and their Coptic brethren, face persecution by Muslim jihadists.

  4. David Withun Avatar

    Thank you for all of that, Mary Leah. Ethiopia’s Church has a very interesting story. I would like to add one very interesting fact that came as a huge, but pleasant surprise to me a while back. I grew up a big fan of reggae music (I think it’s required of you if you grow up in Florida), and was amazed to hear that Bob Marley had been baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church a few months before he passed away. I’ve always loved Bob Marley’s music and message, and that’s been a real inspiration to me since I first learned of his conversion.

  5. Rdr. Lucas Avatar

    David et al,

    For more on the Rastafari movement back to Holy Orthodoxy, see

  6. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    Bob Marley’s widow was at the funeral of Halie Selassie, I saw a picture of her. Both recognized that Jesus Christ and Holy Orthodoxy, even though they chose the Tewahedo Church, was the Truth in faith. The link provided by Reader Lucas is a great one.

  7. Justin Farr Avatar
    Justin Farr

    Thanks for this! I love African cultures and Japanese cultures most, so I thoroughly enjoyed this!

  8. Kevin P. Edgecomb Avatar

    There are links to other videos by this lady and other Ethiopian Orthodox here.

  9. Minyahil Belhatu Avatar
    Minyahil Belhatu

    I was really touched by what you guys are saying about the Ethiopian Church. This church did not deny the muslims who fled into Ethiopia because of the persecution that was targeted on them from Quraish millitants when Islam was in its infancy. They were allowed into the country, they disseminated their religion to the extent that nowadays Muslim ethiopians are almost equal in number with christians. They do not seem, however, to show any sign of gratitude for what had been done to their religion when it was persecuted. People quote that the prophet Muhammed has ordered Muslims to leave ethiopians in peace. We don’t get to see that from Ethiopian Muslims. I wish things were so different!

  10. Selam Avatar

    Dear handmaidmaryleah,

    Thanks for the brief decription about Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church. But, here is something for correction. It is completely wrong to write that priests sacrifice a goat or a lamb for the sick. Never has been such practice in the history of the Church. There is no any sacrifice other than the Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ; this is the profound belief and practice of the Church. I usually get sick when people (foreigners) write such distortions about our Holly Church, the true church of God.

    Thank you

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you for this helpful correction. Misinformation is too common in our world.

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