Patriarch Abune Paulos, Seminary Alumnus, Reposes in the Lord

16 August 2012 • Memoriam

Alex Machaskee, Executive Chair of St. Vladimir's Board of Trustees, meeting with His Holiness Abune Paulos in 2008 to discuss major relief programs in Ethiopia.Alex Machaskee, Executive Chair of St. Vladimir's Board of Trustees, meeting with His Holiness Abune Paulos in 2008 to discuss major relief programs in Ethiopia.His Holiness Abune Paulos, who was Patriarch and Catholicos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Archbishop of Axum and Ichege of the See of St. Teklehaimanot, fell asleep in the Lord in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, early this morning, according to a BBC report.  Other news sources, including "The Orthodox Church" OCP Media Network, report that His Holiness had been undergoing treatment for a serious illness for a long time, and that he reposed in Dejazmach Balcha Hospital.

It has been reported that the final resting place of Patriarch Abune Paulos will be at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Addis Ababa. The funeral will be held on Thursday, August 23, 2012. The Divine Liturgy will begin by 6 a.m. and funeral rites are expected to start by 9 a.m. The Cathedral also is the site of the tombs of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Hallie Selassie I, and other members of his royal family. Patriarch Abune Tekle Haimanot is buried in the churchyard of the Cathedral.

Delegations from various Oriental, Eastern Orthodox Churches and ecumenical organizations are expected to attend the funeral ceremony. The Indian Malankara Orthodox church has confirmed that they will send a high level delegation to attend the funeral

The 76-year old Patriarch was an alumnus of St. Vladimir's Seminary; he studied here from 1962 to 1965, and completed his Master of Divinity degree in May 1966. Dr. Sergius Verhovskoy, professor of Dogmatic Theology during that period of time, perceived great potential in the student (and then priest) Abba Gabre Madhin G. Yohannes, who would eventually become the Patriarch of Ethiopia. In seminary archival correspondence, Professor Verhovskoy noted that "Father Gabre was highly intelligent, very capable, and eager to study."

After his graduation from St. Vladimir's, the course of young "Abba" (Father) Gabre's life was determined by dramatic church and political affairs in Ethiopia, which included both his imprisonment and exile. Although his life had begun modestly in the village of Adwa in Tigray Province, its unfolding placed him in the center of many controversies that required from him enormous determination and spiritual strength in their resolution.

As a young boy, Gabre Madhin had entered the Abba Garima Monastery, a place near his hometown with which his family had had a long association. He began his life there as a deacon-trainee, eventually taking monastic vows and being ordained to the Holy Priesthood. He continued his education at the Theological College of the Holy Trinity in Addis Ababa, under the patronage of Patriarch Abune Tewophilos, who then sent him on to St. Vladimir's Seminary for further study.

After graduation from St. Vladimir's, Abba Gabre entered a doctoral program at Princeton University, but in 1974, his studies were interrupted by extraordinary circumstances in Ethiopia: the revolution that toppled Emperor Haile Selassie. Patriarch Abune Tewophilos summoned him back to Ethiopia, and along with four others, anointed him as a bishop. Abba Gabre took the name "Paulos" at his episcopal elevation, and was given the responsibility of ecumenical affairs by the Patriarch.

However, because the Patriarch had anointed the five bishops without the permission of the newly empowered Derg communist junta, all five men were arrested, and the Patriarch was eventually executed. Abune Paulos and his fellow bishops were imprisoned until 1983. After serving his sentence, Abune Paulos returned to Princeton in 1984 to complete his doctoral degree there, and began his life in exile. He was elevated to the rank of Archbishop by Patriarch Abune Takla Haymanot in 1986, while in exile.

Subsequently, following the fall of the Derg in 1991 (replaced by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, or EPRDF) and the dethronement of Patriarch Abune Merkorios, the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church authorized a new Patriarchal election. Abune Paulos was elected in 1992, and amidst ecclesial and political controversies that gripped Ethiopia, his election and enthronement were recognized by the Coptic Patriarchate in Alexandria.

As Patriarch, Abune Paulos took great pride in the history of the Ethiopian Church—noting the continuing 3,000 year-old Jewish and Christian presence in his country—and its astounding size: 45 million faithful; 50,000 church buildings; and 500,000 clergy. During his term of office, much urban property taken from the Church was returned, notably the campus and library of his alma mater, Holy Trinity Theological College. His Holiness also led restoration efforts for Holy Trinity Cathedral. As well, he rebuilt the patriarchal complex and reformed the bureacracy of the Patriarchate. Futher, he regained treasured church artifacts, for example, those that had been plundered by British troops in the 19th century: ten "tabots" containing images of the Ark of the Convenant, which had been held up to that time in a British Museum.

During his tenure, His Holiness became widely recognized as a scholar, peacemaker, and advocate for the suffering and poor. He championed the cause of victims of the Derg regime and presided over their funerals, including that of Haile Selassie in 2000. With great reluctance he acquiesced to the breaking away of the Eritrean Orthodox Church when that country declared independence, and he never ceased to try to bring peace between the Ethiopia and Eritrea and to heal the devastation wrought by their border wars; he initiated peace meetings between religious leaders of the two countries in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

Additionally, Patriarch Abune Paulos continually sought to strengthen ecclesial relations among Oriental Orthodox Churches. In 2007, he visited the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, meeting with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and re-establishing a relationship with that church body; in 2008, he traveled to India to meet with Baselios Thoma Didymos I, Catholicos of the East. As one of the seven presidents of the World Council of Churches (WCC), representing the Oriental Orthodox Churches, he was instrumental in encouraging interfaith dialoue in Ethiopia. In that same capacity, he participated in many international meetings, including the World Economic Forum and the World Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the United Nations in New York.

Most notably, he became extensively involved in the support of war-displaced and drought-hit Ethiopians, making the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church one of the major relief organizations in the country. He showed keen interest in providing solutions to problems involving youth, women's issues, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the protection and welfare of refugees, he was awarded the Nansen Medal for Africa by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2000.

In the summer of 2008, Alexander Machaskee, Executive Chair of the Board of Trustees at St. Vladimir's, witnessed first hand Patriarch Abune Paulos's care for the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church and his country. Mr. Machaskee, who at that time chaired the Board of Trustees for International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), met with His Holiness for two hours, discussing such IOCC projects as the multimillion-dollar AIDS campaign, the children's clinic in the city of Waliso, and several agricultural projects and demonstration farms.

The entire seminary community is saddened by the loss of His Holiness Abune Paulos, and we pray for his repose. Memory Eternal!


Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Patriarch Buried, By The African Report, 23 August 2012

See a gallery of photos of the funeral services, here.