Thursday, February 28, 2013
Although Ethiopia is not generally considered a Middle Eastern country, the church has many historical links with the Middle East; until 1959, Ethiopia was a daughter church of the Coptic church of Egypt, and its heads were appointed by the Church of Alexandria. Coptic Pope Cyril VI in 1959 recognized Ethiopia as an autocephalous church that elects its own patriarch. During the years of Marxist rule in Ethiopia the church suffered considerably. Mathias spent over 30 years in exile.
Mathias had been serving as well as Archbishop of Jerusalem, where Ethiopia maintains an ancient monastery known as the Deir al-Sultan on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. A dispute with the Copts over ownership of the key has meant that the monks there who live in considerable poverty, cannot directly access the church below. The dispute remains a divisive issue between the Churches of Egypt and Ethiopia. [UPDATE: See the exchange in the Comments for more on the Ethiopian church.]