Cedar Grove, NJ – On Tuesday, April 18, 2023 the culmination of many years of work and dialogue bore fruit through the grace and mercy of God when two of the separated factions within the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church were reconciled and restored to full communion with one another at the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America via the mediation of the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCh).
For many months, the President of SCOOCh – His Grace Bishop David, Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New York & New England – and His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian – Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern) – have been meeting and working with representatives of the two Eritrean groups both separately and, more recently, together.
Multiple schisms occurred within the Eritrean Church more than fifteen years ago when its lawful patriarch – His Holiness Abune Antonios I – was illegally removed from his throne contrary to Orthodox Christian canon law and placed under house arrest. This action was never recognized by any of the Sister Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Since that time, the Standing Conference has consistently supported those Eritrean Churches which have remained loyal to His Holiness and to the canon law common to all Orthodox jurisdictions and which were represented on the Standing Conference by His Grace Bishop Makarios – an Alexandrian bishop of Eritrean origin who was assigned by His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of Thrice-Blessed Memory to oversee those Eritrean churches in diaspora which appealed to the Coptic Orthodox Church for help. The Standing Conference issued many public statements condemning the removal of His Holiness Abune Antonios and calling for his restoration to his throne, including an open letter to the Eritrean Church in 2016 (http://www.scooch.org/official-letter-standing-conference-of-oriental-orthodox-churches-calls-upon-eritrean-church-to-end-schism-and-restore-h-h-abune-antonios-i-to-his-throne/), another in 2019 (http://www.scooch.org/letter-to-the-eritrean-church/), and a statement on the repose of His Holiness in 2022 (http://www.scooch.org/official-statement-of-condolence-regarding-the-departure-of-his-holiness-abune-antonios-i-patriarch-of-asmara-and-all-eritrea/).
In addition to the group officially recognized by the Standing Conference, a second large group of Eritrean diasporic churches overseen by His Grace Bishop Sinoda also condemned the removal and imprisonment of His Holiness Abune Antonios and continued to commemorate him in the Divine Liturgy. Although neither of these groups was in communion with the Synod in Asmara, they were also not in communion with one another. Finding common ground in their support of His Holiness Abune Antonios, the two factions appealed to the Standing Conference to mediate a dialogue between them, and His Eminence Archbishop Vicken and His Grace Bishop David accepted to undertake this task.
For several years, the two groups engaged in dialogue mediated by the Standing Conference, and eventually they found themselves ready to reconcile with one another. A meeting was arranged to sign an official accord and to release a joint public statement together with the Standing Conference. The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church Diocese of North America & Its Affiliated Churches in Europe and the Middle East was represented at the meeting by His Grace Bishop Makarios and his clergy, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Diocese of the Union of the Churches Abroad was represented by His Grace Bishop Sinoda and his clergy, and the Standing Conference was represented by His Grace Bishop David and His Eminence Archbishop Vicken.
Together, the four bishops signed and issued a ten-point joint statement which declares, among other things, the unity of the two groups, the fact that His Grace Bishop Sinoda will join the Standing Conference as a full member, and – above all – that: “It is the wish and prayer of all of the undersigned hierarchs, of the newly-united Eritrean Diocese overseen by Bishop MAKARIOS and Bishop SINODA, and of the Standing Conference to see full unity and reconciliation accomplished in the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church – inclusive of the church in Eritrea and the church abroad – united under a single Holy Synod. If need be, the Standing Conference is willing to play a facilitating role in achieving this unity, even as its representatives facilitated the unity of the above-mentioned Dioceses.”
As evidenced by the above-cited public entreaties to the Eritrean Church, the Standing Conference prays for the unity of the Church and has always stood ready – when officially called upon to do so – to work as a partner towards that unity and to assist in whatever way it can. The Standing Conference rejoices in that fact that the two largest groups in the Eritrean Orthodox Diaspora have now been reconciled through the Grace of God in the abiding light of His Holy Resurrection and prays that this is a first step towards the full unity of the Eritrean Church under a single patriarch and synod.
The joint statement issued by the newly-reconciled Eritrean Diocese and the Standing Conference can be viewed on this page, along with pictures from the reconciliation meeting.