Lessons to be Learnt from the Recent Attempt to Form Oromia Orthodox Synod
The announcement of the formation of the Oromia Orthodox Synod on 22 January 2023 was widely welcomed among the Oromo nationals with an overwhelming degree of positivity. It was felt as though that was a wonderful good news for the new year. At long last the Oromo Orthodox religion followers were to worship in their mother tongue, nevertheless, it was to be a short-lived optimism. What is utterly astonishing is that we are told that the newly formed Synod was to dissolve itself and reunite with the Amhara Orthodox Synod as of 15 February 2023. The good feel factor lasted, alas, just 3 weeks. This brief piece will attempt to digest what the short-lived Synod means and lessons to be learnt for the future.
To analyze the historical acrimonious relationship between the Amhara Orthodox Church and Oromia, not least the Church’s infamous involvement in the brutal colonization of Oromia and the ongoing economic exploitation and cultural genocide to this date, is beyond the remit of this brief article. Rather the author of this piece would like to focus on the last three weeks to understand, draw lessons and postulate what next for Oromia’s millions of Orthodox Christians and the nation as the whole.
The formation of Oromia Orthodox Synod did not happen in isolation as the propagandists would like us to think. Nothing would have been farthest from the truth. Their effort was mischaracterised by the Amhara Orthodox Synod and its followers as though this sort of thing has never happened in the history of the Church and the formation of the Oromia Synod was a threat to not only the unity of the Church but to Ethiopia as a state.
For 13 years, from 2005 to 2018, the so called Ethiopian Orthodox Church was split between Tigray Synod led by a Tigray Patriarch, based in Finfinnee, and Amhara Synod led by an Amhara Patriarch, based in Washington DC. These were two separate churches for all intent and purposes. No one uttered a word about this split. Again, in 2016 Amhara Orthodox broke away and appointed their own Patriarch of Gojam and Gondar, in protest against the so called Ethiopian Orthodox, claiming that the Synod in Finfinnee was the agent of the TPLF. No one raised an eye brow. Then, again, for the last two years, since 2020 the Tigray Orthodox has declared its official separation from the Ethiopian Orthodox and formed its own church. Once again, no one is talking about this either.
Now then, let us look at what the Oromia Orthodox Synod said about its mission. It declared to maintain the unity of the Orthodox Church but form a Synod that would administer Orthodox religious affairs in Oromia. It did not denounce the current Patriarch (unlike the Amhara before and the Tigray currently) or the Church. It proclaimed its central mission to be preaching the gospel in the tongue of its followers. Nothing more, nothing less.
Unchristian Venomous Hate and Racism Laid Bare
The formation of Oromia Orthodox Synod has been as expected greeted by euphoria and jubilation in Oromia. What totally eclipsed this, perfectly understandable, perfectly human and natural reaction to the good news was, however, the choreographed mass hysteria of the Amhara Orthodox leaders and follows alike. One totally bizarre, astounding observation in the context of the absurdity of the Amhara way of life, was that speaker after speaker melting in tears in an inconsolable fit of rage wailing as though they were told that someone very close died. Their histrionic antics is nothing the world has ever seen before. The reason as to why do some people grieve when a fellow human being is given the same birth rights that they enjoy is beyond human understanding unless of course you happen to be an Amhara.
One observation looms large. It was and is fine when Amhara or Tigray split from the so called Ethiopian Orthodox church but it is intolerable when the Oromo decide to establish a Synod to preach Christianity in Afaan Oromoo. The Amhara Orthodox leaders and wider Amhara elite became so incensed by the request of the Oromo to hear God’s teaching in their own mother tongue that they called upon the faithful to rise up against the Ethiopian state and become martyrs to defend their church as they put it. The request by the Oromo Orthodox leaders should have been welcomed unless you happen to be a racist. Racist precisely because if you happily accept when the Amhara and Tigray split but you relentlessly agitate for millions to perish when the Oromo do not split but remain in your church but assert to worship in their own language. Racist if you racially abuse a group of people by calling them with a derogatory term with a racial connotation. Racist when you dehumanize an ethnic group and racially discriminate against.
Undue Pressure on the Oromo Orthodox Bishops
The Oromo bishops who participated in the formation of the Oromia Synod were denounced, vilified and excommunicated by the Amhara Orthodox church within hours. The speed at which the Amhara Orthodox reacted was mind-boggling. The Amhara bishops did not speak with the Oromia bishops or made any attempts to understand what they are proposing. The Amhara bishops called for the government to take measures against the Oromia bishops falsely accusing them of destroying the Orthodox Church when in reality the Oromia bishops were expanding the Orthodox Church.
The Amhara Synod also called for a public demonstration and threatened to bring down the current PM Abiy Ahmed’s administration should he not collaborate with them. They declared a three-day period of national mourning and demanded their followers to dress in black, to mark their sadness, lamentation in grief and mourning. Some of their followers took the lead from the Amhara Orthodox bishops and went on to sound a false alarm and rang church bells that is only utilized in distress, for instance, when a foreign country invades the country. At the same time, we saw the frenzied groups of thousands of Orthodox youths marauding the city streets attired in black (as requested by the Amhara Orthodox) reminiscent of ISIS black uniform, armed with sticks and other soundless offensive weapons. Here, sadly, the role of religious leader in the Rwanda genocide is to be recalled. The hateful pomposity by the Amhara Orthodox leaders and the response from the menacing looking youth has caused huge terror in the minds of the residents of Finfinnee. Furthermore, the Amhara Synod went to Egypt, Russia, India and the US state department to ask for support for their position and denounce the Oromia Synod.
Demonstrations were held in north America by the supporters of the Amhara Orthodox falsely accusing and denouncing the newly formed Oromia Orthodox Synod instead of lending christian friendly hands of good will to the Oromo. The protesters were all dressed in black and some had shaven their hair in rage. The picture lends itself to a clear division as to what the Oromo Orthodox perceives as good news and what the Amhara Orthodox understands as good news. That is worshiping in your own language is joy for the Oromo but a tragedy for the Amharas since the Amhara believe that God only understands their language. How bizarre but it is true, I am afraid. This is the sort of mind-bending reality that the Oromo nation has endured sadly for the past 150 years.
To understand the Amhara mindset and how confusing this is to the rest of the human race, suffice to note the fact that the Amhara Orthodox excommunicated the Oromia bishops and stripped them off their religious titles and called them Ato/Mr so and so when they preached in the Oromo language, however, reinstated their titles and privileges when they accepted to preach in Amharic under an immense duress. In short, the undue pressure and threat to the lives of the Oromo bishops must have taken its toll on them.
Furthermore, the role played by PM Abiy Ahmed cannot be ignored. Initially, he appeared to take a neutral position looking for a favourable political gain in Oromia, however, he quickly moved away from his stand when the Amharas threatened his political future, presumably arm-twisting the Oromia Archbishops so that they are forced to accept an unfair outcome in the negotiation he was the chief mediator.
One interesting observation noteworthy is that the Amhara Orthodox church has ignored the Tigray Orthodox Church breakaway for two years, nevertheless, wrote a letter to invite the Tigray Orthodox church after the formation of the Oromia Synod for what seems to be garnering support against Oromia. It was again worth nothing that the Tigray Orthodox Church rebuffed the Amhara Orthodox pointing out to them that their hands are stained with blood as the result of their support for the earth scorching joint military campaign by Amhara Fanno and regional special force, Eritrean, Somalia and Ethiopian armies.
Lessons for the Future
During the past three weeks, one of the things that has become abundantly clear is that, for one reason or another, the Amhara deep state sees the Oromo very differently from all other ethnic groups, nations and nationalities suffering in the hands of the Amhara empire. It seems obvious that the deep state and its policy of allowing extremist ideologies of the Amhara Orthodox Church is of a significant concern and should be treated as such.
Affecting any change in the establishments and the deep state like the so called Ethiopian Orthodox Church, name that is a coded word for Amhara Orthodox Church, is so difficult and a tough nut to crack. The process of any reform is made impossible due to their outright hatred and disdain for anything and everything Oromo. As can be seen from what transpired over the past three weeks, the main lesson here is that the Amhara truly hate the Oromo with vengeance. Hence, any hint of Oromo self-assertion triggers a convulsion of maximum hateful emotion and impulses of aggression.
Nothing sustainable can be achieved in the Ethiopian empire without paying a heavy sacrifice with, not only sweat, tears and blood, but also human lives due to the savagery and warlike nature of the deep state. Yet again, the events of the past three weeks have exposed how vulnerable the deep state, in actual fact, is and shown how the Oromo are united more than ever before. Whatever the end of the process of forming Oromia Orthodox Synod maybe, the genie is out of the bottle, and you can get some of it back but never the whole thing. “Ilkaannii socho’e odo hin buqqa’in hin hafu, meaning, a wobbly tooth will inevitably be lost in the fulness of time. So, the Amhara Orthodox Church may have thwarted the formation of the Oromia Synod for now, nevertheless, not for ever. It is only a matter of time.
It would appear that the Oromia clergy have pocked the bear too hard. The bear that is deep state and will do anything necessary, including inciting inter-ethnic violence, and prepared to endanger lives, in order to maintain its power. Oromia clergy and their followers, and the general public too, need to understand religious, political and economic freedoms come with self-determination and independence of one’s own country – republic of Oromia.
Finally, the main lesson here is that Oromia needs a total self-determination, not a piecemeal approach. Not religious self-determination in isolation because not only this is impossible but downright dangerous. Oromia has no future within the confines of the empire, as has been witnessed time and again. The Oromo nation cannot even worship in its own language and the cherished goal of praising the almighty in Afaan Oromoo freely can only be achieved and protected by an independent state of the Gada Republic of Oromia. The future of Oromia within the empire is humiliation after humiliation, the kind of torture that we have come to experience over the past three weeks. The Oromo nation is best advised to muster all of its might and invigorate the liberation struggle to reach the promised land – free Oromia.