Ethiopia is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, historically speaking, but especially in its unique Christian heritage. The Christian church there dates to the 1st century A.D., only a few years after Christ’s resurrection: the Bible recounts that Philip converted an important Ethiopian court official, a eunuch, in Acts 8:26-38. According to the Christian historian Nicephorus, Matthew the Evangelist journeyed there to preach and convert after his early efforts in Judea. In the fourth century, a missionary named Frumentius (Saint Frumentius) traveled there and, around 340 A.D. (almost the same time as Constantine), convinced the monarch to declare Christianity the state religion.
It is the only pre-Colonial church in sub-Saharan Africa, and has remained, with immense effort and faith, an island of Christianity in a sea of Islam. The country’s population of Christians is estimated at 60%. The Ethiopian Church, with @ 45 million members, is the largest Oriental Orthodox church; there are also about 14 million Protestants and half a million Catholics.
One charming tradition is that every baptized person, upon confirmation, buys a personal cross to wear: silver if possible, or wooden for the very poor. They are ornate and handmade. The variety and beauty of these crosses defies description. (A selection is pictured to the left.)
Once again, we remember with praise and humility how vast and varied is Christ’s church, outside the English-speaking world. There are almost as many Christians in Ethiopia as there are total Protestants in the United States!