Eritrea: Orthodox Patriarch dies after 15 years under house arrest



Patriarch Antonios in 2020

The rightful Patriarch of the Eritrean Tehwado Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, has died after 15 years under house arrest. Christian Solidarity Worldwide has learned that the 94-year-old patriarch died in the early hours of February 9. The Patriarch’s body was taken to the Abune Andreas Monastery, where he belonged, and he was buried there this morning, February 10, at 9 a.m. local time. Local sources report that a large crowd gathered at his burial site, many of whom had traveled long distances on foot.

Patriarch Antonios was removed from office for resisting repeated interference by the Eritrean government in Church affairs. Most notably, he refused to expel 3,000 members of the Orthodox revivalist movement, Medhane Alem, protested the November 2004 detention of three revivalist priests, and opposed the imposition of Yoftahe Demitros, a layman pro-government, like its general secretary.

In August 2005, Patriarch Antonios was removed from the administrative control of the Patriarchate, confined to ceremonial duties, and ultimately deposed in January 2006 following secret meetings of the Holy Synod that were called in violation of church canon. The Patriarch remained de facto arrested in his official residence until the early hours of May 7, 2007, when his personal papal regalia and vestments were seized, and he was officially placed under house arrest at an undisclosed location in the capital. Eritrean, Asmara. Months later, he was illegally replaced by Bishop Dioscoros, a clergyman approved by the Eritrean government but who remained unrecognized by the Orthodox papacy in Egypt until his death in 2015.

Patriarch Antonios responded forcefully to the letter informing him of his dismissal in which he excommunicated the laity and clerics who had gathered illegally at the Holy Synod, stating: “There is one thing you must remember No, you can be above the law. Anyone who tries to trample the law will end up being trampled by the law themselves.

The nonagenarian patriarch was not seen in public again until a tightly managed appearance at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral in Asmara in July 2017. He then disappeared once again from public view after insisting on the public dismissal of the charges against him as an assurance of genuine reconciliation. His house arrest conditions, which had been relaxed somewhat, have become stricter again.

Since then, the patriarch has only been seen in smuggled videos in which he continued to fearlessly criticize the conditions and reasons for his detention. In July 2019, and in apparent retaliation for one of these videos, five pro-government bishops signed a statement accusing Abune Antonios of committing heresy, stripping him of all official authority and effectively excommunicating him. Once again he responded defiantly, saying of his detractors, “The Eritrean Synod is the accusers and the judges, not listening to my side. They broke the law of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

The kidnapping and mistreatment of Patriarch Antonios has opened a deep schism in the denomination that risks being exacerbated by his death in custody. Many Orthodox adherents and clergy continued to support him, both in Eritrea and in the diaspora. In June 2019, five priests from Debre-Bizen monastery in the northern Red Sea region were arrested, reportedly for supporting him and protesting government interference in church affairs.

On May 13, 2021, the Eritrean government confirmed a second non-canonical replacement, announcing that “His Reverend Abune Qerlos” had been elected as the fifth patriarch and would be consecrated on June 13. However, the Abune Andreas Monastery was among many Orthodox sources and adherents who refused to accept it.

CSW Founding President Mervyn Thomas said, “Abune Antonios was a deeply principled man who prioritized his calling over the politicization of the Church by a regime deemed to have committed crimes against humanity. since 1991. Despite 16 years of relentless pressure, mistreatment and defamation, the patriarch has never compromised, even when it could have led to his reinstatement. He instead chose to protect the integrity and doctrine of the Church entrusted to him, at the cost of freedom and comfort in his twilight years. community to honor Patriarch Antonios’ courageous stand for freedom of religion or belief by reinvigorating efforts to secure the release of the three Orthodox priests he advocated for, along with thousands of other arbitrarily detained in Eritrea for reasons of conscience, religion or We also urge the Egyptian Orthodox authorities, to whom the late Patriarch appealed, to ensure a succession which conforms to the tradition of the Church. To recognize the current incumbent would be to legitimize the unjust and unlawful removal, imprisonment and mistreatment of a hero of the faith.”

The three Orthodox priests who were arrested on 19 November 2004 and believed to be held in Wengel Mermera prison in Asmara are Dr. Futsum Gebrenegus, at the time Eritrea’s only psychiatrist, Dr. Tekleab Menghisteab, a highly respected physician and the Reverend Gebremedhin Gebregiorgis, an expert theologian. All were involved in the revival movement within the Orthodox Church and were based at Medhane Alem Church.


Christian solidarity in the world –

Keywords: Patriarch Antonios, Abune Antonios, Eritrea, Tehwado Eritrean Orthodox Church, CSW, Christian Solidarity Worldwide

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