The controversy in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church appeared to intensify this week with the Holy Synod excommunicating four Tigray archbishops over their appointment of new bishops.
The leaders from the breakaway See of Selama Kesate Birhan had appointed the nine bishops to serve in the region and four dioceses in the diaspora.
The synod responded by excommunicating the four Tigray prelates, Archbishop Isaias of Mekele, Archbishop Mekaryos of Aksum, Archbishop Merja Kristors of Adigrat and Archbishop Petros of Shire Indaselassie.
The leaders of the synod in Addis Ababa said the appointments were illegal and heretical, as it stripped the four archbishops of clerical powers.
The nine new bishops were also stripped of their clerical titles and banned from using Orthodox churches in the region.
But the archbishops – from the recently-established Tigray Orthodox Tewahedo Church – have denounced the excommunication.
They have said that the Addis synod does not have the moral authority to take such a decision after providing financial and moral backing to the brutal war in their region, fought from November 2020 until November last year.
The prelates warned that the excommunication will not change their decision and called on the synod to review the move if it wishes to foster better relations between the two churches.
Church leaders in Tigray accuse the national church of abandoning their region during the conflict between the national army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church faced a similar threat of schism in January, when three archbishops from the Oromo region announced the formation of a new patriarchate. The move triggered violent protests, with dozens of faithful being killed by security forces acting to restore Church unity.
In Addis Ababa, the synod leaders have been urging the government to stop the Tigray archbishops from taking actions that divide the Church.