(English) Patriarch Abune Antonios returns in detention

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According to underground activists and other witnesses in the country, his Holiness Abune Antonios was directly placed under house arrest shortly after the gathering at the Church of St. Mary marking his first public appearance since 2007.

The purpose of the gathering was supposedly to „reconcile the church.“ In 2007, just before his dismissal by the Eritrean authorities, the Patriarch had excommunicated Abune Lucas, a priest affiliated to the single party. This excommunication had been communicated to Alexandria by Patriarch Antonios, and he had also requested that it be made public in Eritrea. Instead, the Eritrean authorities detained him directly. Abune Lucas is, since the removal and detention of the Patriarch Antonios, unofficially at the head of the Orthodox Eritrean Church. According to canon law, Abune Lucas can never officially take the place of Patriarch as long as his Holiness Antonios does not cancel his excommunication.

Consequently, these „efforts at reconciliation“ are not sincere efforts which intimately involve the Orthodox Church, but rather a deceptive game from the Eritrean authorities with the aim of (1) having the Patriarch ceded the cancellation of the excommunication of Priest Lucas, (2) to have him prepare grounds for the inauguration of Priest Lucas at the head of the highest religious denomination of the country, and (3) to more effectively control Orthodox religious affairs.

Despite his brief release (which was seen as a humiliation by many), the Patriarch Antonios resists in an exemplary manner to the interference of the government and to the various pressures exerted on him. His advanced age (90 years) and his diabetes-related health issues are concern many people.

This case is a testament to the treatment of the Eritrean civilian population, who, at best, get immediately detained when expressing their opinion or opposition to the government’s policies.

The international community must intensify its efforts in the defense of human rights in Eritrea. Moreover, this is not the first time that political prisoners have been released for certain hours and are then returned to detention without access to justice.

The need for security is one of the fundamental needs of human beings, just after those related to hunger, thirst, sleep and breathing. No population can feel safe in such a hostile, dangerous and unpredictable environment.


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Below, read the English translation of the letter written in 2006 by his Holiness Abune Antonios, Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in response to his dismissal by the Eritrean authorities.

„To: Your Grace Archbishops, Bishops, Episcopes, Member of the Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church

I send you my spiritual greetings. Also, I acknowledge receipt of your letter, dated 13/1/2006 (January 13, 2006) (FN1/225/41/98) informing me that you have removed me from my position as
the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church.

The grave action that you have taken is illegal as it is in total contravention of the Constitution of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, the Canon of the Church, the guidelines enumerated in the Didascalia, the fit’ha negest (Law of the Kings), and the writings of St Clement. According to the above, which are the legal foundations of our church, a Patriarch, once consecrated, can be removed only under the following three specific circumstances:
(1) grave moral failure, such as adultery
(2) falling into heresy, or
(3) physical and/or mental infirmity.

In this case, the false accusations that you have raised against me, and used for my illegal removal, are neither within the bounds of the legal framework of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church,
nor substantive enough to merit the slightest consideration. The reasons for your actions can not be the result of your ignorance of the Canon of the church; it is rather because you have become a law unto yourselves. There is one thing that you need to be reminded of: No one can be above the law. Whosoever tries to trample the law underfoot will himself end up being trampled over by the law. This is a veritable truth.

Even if, in the very unlikely event, you were able to raise legitimate grievances against me, is it not proper for the accused to face his accusers, be presented with the accusations in a formal and properly constituted church tribunal, and the accused given the right to defend himself? Instead, you have appointed yourselves – the very accusers – jury and judges in order to accomplish your sordid plans. Your accusations are all baseless. For this illegal act of yours, the first in the long history of
our apostolic faith and tradition, therefore, the Canon and the Constitution of our church will judge you.

This one fact remains unchallenged. What has propelled you into such a deplorable act, without regard to the life of our Church, is my longstanding belief and vehement stand that it is illegal and
unacceptable for Mr. Yoftahe Dimetros, a layperson of absolutely no clerical credentials, to become the highest administrator of our Church. Considering the grave danger into which you have put our Church, a council consisting of all the abbots of the monasteries and the learned men (liqawnti) of our Church should immediately convene, in front of whom I will respond to your accusation.

Furthermore, the traditions of our sisterly Oriental Churches and the relevant articles in the fit’ha negest(Law of the Kings), and the Canon of the church clearly state that if an accusation is brought up against a patriarch of one church, another patriarch from a sisterly Oriental Orthodox church has to sit in the adjudication of the matter. A patriarch cannot be removed unless these preconditions are met. In ignoring such important procedures, you have, of course, rendered any decision you have made against me totally invalid.

Since the matter has now come to a head, I hereby appeal my case to:
(1) the Council of the Monasteries of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and
(2) The Egyptian Orthodox Church through which we have received our apostolic mandate.

There is no doubt that the person who is orchestrating all that has transpired behind the scene is Mr. Yoftahe Dimetros. Therefore, in consideration of all the above; pending the above mentioned
appeal; and until the matter is adjudicated legally and in accordance with the Canon and traditions of our Church; and, as the duly consecrated Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, and with the consequent power that is vested in me, I hereby issue the following binding injunctions: I order you, in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, to desist from:
(1) Anointing a Patriarch
(2) Consecrating bishops, episcopes, or ordain priests and
(3) Furthermore, since the person responsible for the confusion in our Church is none other than Mr.Yoftahe Dimetros, he is hereby excommunicated, and should immediately vacate the position he
holds in our church as the chief administrator.
(4) Fr. Habtom Russom, deputy secretary of the Synod, has been engaged in an illegal and malicious campaign against the person and authority of the patriarch. Hence, from 6/5/1998 (Ge’ez calendar) (January 14, 2006 ) on he is to be considered excommunicated. Consequently, he is to desist from
any clerical activities either as a deacon or as a priest.
(5) On the basis of the above, I implore Abune Dioscoros to refrain from your negative activities.

May God grant his peace to our Church
May God bless our Country, Eritrea.“

Official seal and His Holiness‘ signature——————


Department of Religious Affairs of the Government of Eritrea

All the monasteries of our Church

Council of the Learned Men (liqawnti) of the Orthodox Church

Department of Censorship

All the Orthodox Tewahdo Churches of Asmara

All the dioceses, including the Diocese of Asmara

All the Oriental Orthodox Churches

Fr. Habtom Russom

Debre M’ewan Abune Aregawi Church , Asmara