Ethiopia’s Two-Thousand-Year Legacy of Christianity

A crucifix is held by a priest at a mass funeral at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Sunday, March 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

In early December, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Specifically, the Norwegian Committee cited Ahmed’s “decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.”

Prime Minister Ahmed is a Pentecostal Christian and the second African Evangelical in a row to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Kenyan physician Denis Mukwege won in 2018.

Ahmed’s story is only the latest chapter in the ancient history of Ethiopian Christianity, which began in Acts 8 when an angel told Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” On that road, Philip met an Ethiopian court official puzzled over the meaning of Isaiah 53.

Philip told the man known as the Ethiopian Eunuch the good news about Jesus, and when the official professed faith, Philip baptized him. Afterward, the “Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.”

Where he went, of course, was Ethiopia. According to second-century church father Irenaeus of Lyon, “This man … was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed.” And according to church historian Nicephorus, Matthias, the one chosen to replace Judas, also preached the gospel in Ethiopia.

Over the next two centuries, Christianity continued to spread in the region. Then in the early fourth century, in another momentous chapter in Ethiopian Christian history, a Christian boy from Tyre named Frumentius was shipwrecked and sold into slavery at a port along the Red Sea. His new master was the king of Axum, a region in what is now Ethiopia. Like Daniel and Joseph before him, Frumentius gained the trust of the pagan king who, upon his death, freed Frumentius. But Frumentius remained as a tutor to the new king, Ezana.

When Ezana came of age, Frumentius returned to Tyre to be trained as a priest. From there he went to Alexandria and asked the great theologian and patriarch Athanasius to send a bishop and missionaries to facilitate the further conversion of Ethiopia. Athanasius decided that the best man for that job was Frumentius himself, and so he was consecrated as the new bishop.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press