The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have deliberately attacked, destroyed, and looted Tigrayan heritage sites since waging a genocidal war in November 2020. The Tigrayan Orthodox Church is among the victims.
The invading forces recognize the importance of the Tigrayan Orthodox Church to the Tigrayan community. For generations, the church has been an anchor of Tigrayan resistance, social cohesion, and culture. Every Orthodox Church priest in Tigray will tell you that Tigrayans have existed since Genesis, surviving earthly calamities, environmental changes, and countless wars while maintaining their religious values and heritages.
The Tigrayan Orthodox Church, known by many followers of the religion as the home of the Ark of the Covenant, was a part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) since its establishment. Although the Tigrayan Orthodox Church had a rocky relationship with the EOTC over the years, their relationship took a dramatic turn when the Ethiopian government waged its genocidal war on Tigray.
During the war, the Tigrayan Orthodox Church continued to be a home for the displaced, an outlet, and a center for healing for those whose lives were turned upside down. In contrast, the EOTC isolated its patriarch of Tigrayan descent and even publicly supported the war on Tigray. Further, deacons and clerics of the EOTC have been actively engaged in the legitimization of the invasion and attack on Tigray.
As part of the cultural genocide, Tigray was abandoned and looted of its religious artifacts and heritage –– its Orthodox churches were bombed, and its congregations were murdered inside the churches, one among many being the horrifying massacre at Mariam Dangilat, which received more coverage by the international media. The invading forces spared no one in Tigray – church leaders, deacons, monks, and nuns became victims of multiple forms of militarized violence: weaponized famine, civilian massacres, sexual and gender-based violence, and extrajudicial arrest and detainment. Tigrayan Orthodox Church leaders outside of Tigray were arrested.
The Tigrayan Orthodox Church fought with prayer and resilience, declaring multiple fasting and prayer days. Tigrayans from all over the world joined in remembrance of the fallen and prayed for these dark days to end. The Church eventually announced its intent to be independent from the EOTC. Tigrayans in the diaspora supported this move, as they had witnessed the EOTC’s support of the genocidal war across the world and built their own churches free of genocidal rhetoric spoken in the Ethiopian churches. The Tigrayan church has been the only church that organized and mobilized the community against the war. In contrast, the Ethiopian church has continued its relentless support of a government that is starving and has bombed its population. In October 2022, nearly two years after the start of the genocidal war, the Eritrean Orthodox church took a stand against the war and issued a call for fasting.
ምህለላ ኣዴታት – “The Fasting and Prayers of Mothers”
War is fundamentally against the very nature of motherhood, and the women of Tigray have faced the brunt of the unimaginable trauma inflicted on the people of Tigray. The invading forces have deliberately targeted the girls and women of Tigray through weaponized rape that aimed to “cleanse them of their Tigrayan blood line.” They went as far as proclaiming that a “Tigrayan womb should never give birth.” Despite the impact of the war crimes committed, they have relied on their faith to resist their subjugation and express solidarity with one another.
Invading forces attacked Tigrayans with airstrikes across Tigray – killing and wounding civilians in markets, residential homes, and kindergartens. Civilians in Tigray are condemned to death inside their homes. Yet, the women of Tigray, like all women, carry with them generations of wisdom, trust, resilience, and faith. Torn by the pain of seeing their homes destroyed, their sons killed, their sisters and daughters facing gender-based violence, and disconnected from their families, countless Tigrayan women in Tigray and the diaspora have relied on each other and their Church.
So, you may ask, how do Tigrayan mothers pray during a period when the world has turned its back on their children, their brothers, their sisters, and their home?
“Mihlela” is one way mothers of Tigray communicate with the higher being. The prayer is often in Geez, the language of their ancestors, and in Tigrigna.
They pray in circles, close to one another, with one palm of the hand against the top of their other hand. Then, they send their message to their God, asking to be delivered from evil. They express their pain and their sadness, wailing and crying out for protection of what remains and for the lives lost. After hours of pleading, they ask for forgiveness and hope–manifesting peace and brighter days.
You can hear the pain in their voices as they praise and plead for the lord and St. Mary to relieve their families from this pain and agony.
“The word of the heavenly king cannot be prevented by the earthly king. But an earthly king can be prevented by the word of the heavenly king” Stephen the Gundagundo
Betty – Omna Tigray External Contributor, December 2022