When Emperor Haile Selassie brought together the various Christian communities

Julian McBride December 25, 2021
Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in 1965. In this conference, Emperor Selassie was formally awarded the title "Defender of the Faith.” P/C Public Domain

Christianity has long existed as a religion in Ethiopia since the reign of King Ezana of Axum in 330 AD. The largest dominion of the faith in the country is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which belongs to the Oriental churches of Christianity.

During the early days of acceptance of Christianity around the known world, the Oriental Orthodox Churches remained close, but then suddenly split after the Council of Ephesus in AD 431 over differences. Over 1,500 years later, Emperor Haile Selassie I attempted to show unity to the various churches that hadn’t been seen in modern human history.  

On January 15th, 1965, Emperor Selassie brought together the five church heads of the Oriental Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa, as uniting various sects of Christianity after several schisms were of the highest priority in his rule. Heads of Oriental Churches came from Egypt, Syria, India, and Armenia to link up with the heads of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the emperor.

The conference lasted 15 days, which was ironic as Ephesus in 431 lasted for 15 days. Some of the main discussions at the conference included cooperation despite differences and spiritual plurality along with the new discoveries in the age of science. The meeting attendees included Pope Cyril VI (head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria), Mor Ignatius Ya`qub III (head of the Syriac Orthodox Church), Vazgen I (head of the Armenian Apostolic Church), Khoren I (head of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia), and Baselios Augen I (head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church).

It was hosted by Abuna Basilios, head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Abuna Theophilos. Towards the end of the conference, H.I.M Haile Selassie I was venerated with the title of “Defender of the Faith” by the Patriarchs of the Oriental Orthodox Churches of the World. 

The next year, the emperor would address the World Evangelical Conference in Berlin on how Christianity needed unity more than ever. A snippet of his speech included the quote: “As the unity of the church is of great concern to us and, God willing, being hopeful that this sacred objective might be achieved in our day and age, we were happy to have convened a meeting of the heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in our capital city of Addis Ababa to deliberate on ways and means of bringing about harmony and unity in the church.”

Indeed, the last Ethiopian monarch made an impression on the world; so much so that he would later be rewarded with other titles for his work and dedication of bringing together the different branches of Christianity and practicing daily. These included the Knight of the Chain Grand Cross Collar of the Order of Pius IX and Knight of the Collar of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem from the Holy See in 1970. Later, the Grand Cross Collar of the Order of the Orthodox Crusaders of the Patriarchy of Jerusalem, the Grand Cordon of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Athenagoras Mount Athos Millennium Order, and Grand Cordon of the Order of St. Paul from Greece. 

Haile Selassie truly left a legacy for not only his family and people, but for the world to learn from in regards to religious education and understanding. Most of his lessons and philosophy can be found in the ‘Teachings of His Imperial Majesty’ which was the crown name under his rule.

Today the world should unite more than ever in regards to tragedies, plights, and persecutions foretold by the emperor in one of his quotes in his elderly life: “When African righteous people come together, the world will come together.”

Today many Africans and Rastafarians practice his teachings and see the late emperor as a symbol of Pan-Africanism and resistance to colonialism. One could state the emperor lived up to his titles — Lion of Judah, King of Kings and Elect of God — titles bestowed upon him as his supposed ancestors, King Solomon and Queen of Sheba.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 24, 2021


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