What would Ethiopians (at least the great majority) be without the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC)? As hard as it is to imagine an Ethiopia without an EOC, for centuries Ethiopians did not know or seek any faith, other than the EOC’s to bring them closer to the Almighty. Indeed, the EOC was (and still remains) an institution with millions of faithful members in thousands of churches across the country.
Today though there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the new trajectory the EOC is adopting. That of favoring making money, more and more money! Mainly in real estate, which proved to be an enormous blessing to some of its churches and its leaderships. And now with the launch of its banking project, expecting to make even greater profits.
But here’s what the savvy EOC doesn’t get. Local businesses don’t want no more rotten debt; they are up to their eyeballs in it already.
In the EOC’s earlier history, when it preached the Gospel in the remote mountains of Abyssinia, some of businesses may have been necessitated by the simple fact that they didn’t exist elsewhere in the community.
Modern life undid it all.
The deadly sin of greed and love of money and material possessions has taken over the EOC. The latter seems never content and is even more willing to sacrifice everything (and everyone) to acquire more and do more commerce. The leadership has ceased to invite dialogue, advice, evaluation, and questions from outside its immediate circle. There is no system of accountability, low tolerance for any kind of difference in behavior. The rule is, don’t ask questions and don’t make waves.
Why would anyone be surprised if people are leaving the EOC?
And yes, people are leaving!
Does the EOC know why they are leaving? I’m not sure it does.
It thinks it’s because people, the young ones in particular, are ignoring their culture and mores, that people have turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things. It thinks that the “Pente’s” are seducing them all.
But those aren’t the reasons people are leaving the EOC.
They are leaving the EOC because the EOC is the problem.
And if the EOC wants to know the real causes why a growing number of people are seeking spiritual growth outside the EOC, here are five reasons:
• For Christians the EOC has become a white noise – rituals and chants – to those really seeking to encounter God. More people are simply outgrowing the EOC’s ability to spiritually nourish their faith. Yeah, the chants are cool and the show is great, but ultimately Sunday morning isn’t really making a difference on Monday afternoon or Wednesday morning, when people are wrestling with the awkward, messy, painful stuff in the trenches of life.
• The use of a dead language in the services. The EOC should understand it’s holding onto dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, and just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. People need the EOC to speak in a language that they can understand. At least to start reflecting on the issue!
• By the way, a rich EOC is not the problem, but a stingy one is. So start building hospitals, clinics, schools, hospices etc. and even banks that are at the service for the poor. What is worthy for EOC is to place bigger emphasis on understanding the economic and financial lives of poor people and create a bank, or other alternative services to ensure that wealth is fairly circulated.
For the record, I do not consider the pursuit of wealth, as sinful or the wealthy as inherently sinful. What matters is how that wealth was acquired, at what cost, for what purpose and to what end.
• Most of the EOC’s time, money and energy seem to be about luring believers to it instead of reaching them where they already are. If the EOC is really missing its believers, then let it get involved in the community.
• There was a period the EOC liked to fight (Adwa comes to mind), today every day we see our country suffocated by poverty, and violence, and human rights abuses, and hunger; and in the face of that stuff, the EOC has gotten awfully, frighteningly quiet.
So my message to the EOC: Keep up your current path, and you’ll be talking to an empty hall by the time of the return of Christ.