Wed | Nov 29, 2023
Understanding The Ethiopian Orthodox Church – Part III

Beliefs, doctrine and sacraments

Published:Sunday | September 24, 2023 | 12:06 AMPaul H. Williams - Sunday Gleaner Writer

THE ETHIOPIAN Orthodox Tewahedo Church believes in one God, the Lord, the Father Almighty, maker of the heavens and Earth, and of all things tangible and intangible. He is one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father, who was with him before the creation of the world.

He is regarded, “Light of Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, equal with the Father in his Godhead, by whom all things were made, but without him was not anything made, neither in Heaven nor on Earth, who for us human beings, and for our salvation, came down from Heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Mary, of the holy Virgin Mary.”

The church believes the Lord was a man who was crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate and rose from the dead on the third day, as it is written in the Holy Scriptures, that he “ascended with glory into heaven, sat at the right hand of his Father, and will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and of his kingdom there shall be no end”.

“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, we worship and glorify him with the Father and the Son, who spoke by the prophets, and we believe in one holy, universal, apostolic Church. We believe in one baptism for the remission of sin, and await the resurrection of the dead and the life to come, world without end,” the church says.

Doctrinally, the teaching of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is rooted and grounded in the five pillars of mystery. They are: the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Mystery of Incarnation, the Mystery of Baptism, the Mystery of Holy Communion, and the Mystery of Resurrection.


The Mystery of the Holy Trinity is the belief in the Triune (one in essence, but three in person) God, and is the core of the Christian faith. This doctrine is a mystery since it could never be known unless revealed by God. The one-God belief is a belief in one divinity and three distinct people.


The Mystery of the Incarnation is the redemptive coming of God into this world of humans. The main reason for the incarnation is a curative one. It is to cleanse and heal and to redeem.


The Mystery of Baptism is the main entrance into the church. It is regarded as mysterious because believers receive the invisible grace of spiritual adoption through the visible performances of the sacrament (ritual). Being the sacrament of initiation into the Christian faith, baptism is performed only once and can never be repeated.


It is said that Jesus Christ instituted the ritual of the Holy Communion during the Last Supper. He commanded the disciples to remember his sacrifice of death, and his triumphant resurrection, in their Eucharist (communion) celebrations. The Eucharist is a sacrament through which believers are separated from the dominance of sin and seek communion with God.


The Mystery of the Resurrection is the mystery of the eternal life in the world to come after believers are physically resurrected from dead. This will happen at the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Church’s belief in the resurrection is based on the triumphant resurrection of Christ.

There are also seven sacraments (rituals) that believers must or may go through. They are baptism, confirmation, penance, holy communion, unction of the sick, matrimony, and holy orders. Baptism is the process of being dipped into water three times in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, to be born again and accepted into the membership of the church. In Confirmation, believers are granted the gift of the Holy Ghost who alone can confirm them in the new life given to them through baptism.

Through penance, sinners can return to God after confessing their sins to the priest. The Holy Communion is the ‘eating of the blessed flesh of the Lord’ and ‘drinking his precious blood’ in the form of bread and wine. Unction of the sick is the sacrament through which the priest anoints the body of the sick, asking for divine grace to care for body and soul.

The sacrament of matrimony is the holy service through which the bridegroom and the bride are united together and given the divine grace, which sanctifies their matrimonial union and makes it perfect and spiritual just like the unity of Jesus Christ and the Church. Holy Orders is the sacrament through which members of the clergy are ordained to celebrate the various church services.

The first four sacraments are necessary for every believer and, although the other three are not necessary, matrimony and holy orders are very important to the Church, for the preservation and growth of mankind and for consecrating the members of the clergy who are required to perform the various church services, which cannot be performed by the layman.