The main religions in Ethiopia are:

  • Christianity,
  • Islam,
  • Judaism
  • and Paganism.

Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian country and the majority of Christians are Orthodox Tewahedo Christians, who belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

    The Ark of the Covenant is the most reserved holy relic of God’s incarnate and became part of the Orthodox Tewahedo Christian belief. A replica of the Ark of the Covenant, known as the tabot (the tablet), is kept in the holy of holies (Maqdas) in every Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The presence of the Ark indicates that the church has been duly consecrated and the belief in the Ark of the Covenant exerts a profound influence on the imaginations and spiritual lives of many Ethiopians.

    Many Ethiopians believe that the Ark of the Covenant exists and still rests in Aksum.

It seems likely that the Ark was brought to Ethiopia when Menelik I returned to Aksum from his visit to his father, King Solomon, in Jerusalem. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Ark of the Covenant has remained in Ethiopia ever since and is now kept in a small chapel, which stands at the heart of Aksum’s monastic complex of Saint Mary of Zion. This makes Aksum the holiest sanctuary in Ethiopia.One holy monk is elected and charged with its care and preservation. He becomes the guardian of the Ark. No-one, except the official Guardian (a monk), who looks after the Ark of the Covenant, is allowed to enter the chapel. Before the guardian dies, according to Aksumites tradition, he must nominate his successor.

    Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and diary products i.e. egg, butter, milk, and cheese on fasting days.

According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church belief, the faithful must abstain from eating meat and diary products to attain forgiveness of sins committed during the year, and undergo a rigorous schedule of prayers and atonement.

    Church services are held daily in all Orthodox Tewahedo Churches from early morning to 3 PM.

    Only one meal is allowed during the fasting days and the first meal is taken after the church mass is complete at 3 PM, except Saturdays and Sundays, where a meal is allowed after the morning service.

 History of the Church of Ethiopia

    The Church of Ethiopia, according to tradition, goes back to the 4th century when a Christian ascetic by the name of Meropius came to Ethiopia with two young men – Frumentius and Aedesius.

Meropius became sick and eventually died, but the two young men, who came with, him became aids to the Aksumite king. Frumentius went to Alexandria to the Patriarch Athanasius with a request to help in evangelizing the kingdom of Aksum. Athanasius consecrated Frumentius as the first bishop of Aksum. After this, Frumentius returned to Ethiopia, where he led missionaries and churches in spreading the the faith. What led to the Christianization of Ethiopia however was the conversion of King Ezana (330-356 AD). Once Ezana converted to Christianity, he made it the state religion and, within a few centuries, the church came to dominate the life and culture of the nation.

    Until 451 AD, the Ethiopian Church was in direct communion with the universal Catholic and Apostolic church which included both the Western and Eastern churches at the time.

Fission came in 451 AD at the Council of Chalcedon where the bishops who were in charge of the church in Ethiopia disagreed with the conclusions that the Council of Chalcedon made regarding the relation between the divine and human natures of Christ. That led to a schism separating Christendom into churches which accepted the Chalcedonian creed and those which didn’t.

    The Ethiopian Church was under the jurisdiction of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church until the 20th century.

Since the Coptic bishops rejected the Chalcedonian creed, the Ethiopian church became a “non-Chalcedonian church.” There was an attempt by the Roman Catholic Church through Jesuit missionaries to bring the Ethiopian church into agreement with the Chalcedonian creed. That however proved unsuccessful and the Ethiopian church maintained its non-Chalcedonian theology and non-Romish character.

    Through the centuries, the Ethiopian Church has been successful in preserving its character and existence both in the onslaught of non-Christian opponents such as Muslim invaders and other Christian groups which have disagreed with its theology.