Immediately after Pentecost, Christian teachings spread into Ethiopia. The book of Acts records the story of Philip baptizing an Ethiopian official, who then, it is assumed, carried the Good News to the queen and many other people in the nation. During the fourth century, however, some beliefs shifted, and the Orthodox Church, with its holy sacraments, its emphasis on fasting rituals, and its reverence of the virgin Mary and the saints, was established. Many priests today still lead liturgical church services in an ancient, now unspoken, language called Ge’ez.
Significance of Monasteries
Since many Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are unable to read, the paintings on monastery walls help them understand the stories and truths of the Bible. Over time, non-biblical stories, like paintings portraying Mary as the intercessor and provider of grace, have also appeared on the walls and into the common man’s theology. This causes great confusion among believers. How can they know which stories are true? What does the Bible actually teach?
Orthodox Christians sometimes seek guidance, counsel, and encouragement from the monks. The monks are devoted to the Orthodox Church, spend their time at the monasteries praying and leading services, and are seen as wise elders. However, even the monks rarely grasp the true concept of Christ’s sacrifice for man’s sin and the beauty of God’s grace.
Because the majority of Orthodox Christians in Ethiopian do not understand the concept of God’s grace and, instead, adhere to a works-based theology, they are considered an unreached people group. They are taught that Christ’s death and resurrection atoned for all the sins of the past, but all the sins committed afterwards, in our current age, are still awaiting forgiveness. As a result, Orthodox Christians work hard to obtain that forgiveness, never knowing if their actions and prayers are sufficient.
If you have a deeper spiritual conversation with [the Orthodox Christians], they will tell you they are not certain they will be saved. They will tell you that life is a pilgrimage and that you have to do lots of good works. If you do well enough, you maybe will be approved to enter heaven. That idea is living very strongly amongst Orthodox Christians.