His Holiness Abune Mercurius laid to Rest!

Ethiopian Patriarch His Holiness Abune Mercurius has laid to rest at Holy Trinity Cathedral Church after his death at the age of 84 while receiving treatment at a hospital. The late 4th Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation Church was buried on March 13, at the funeral ceremony where Patristic Fathers from various countries, government officials, Members of the diplomatic community, Bishops of Coptic Church of Egypt, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India, Representatives of the Holy See and All Africa Conference of Churches and thousands laities gathered were present. His Holiness Abune Matias, extended his benediction at the funeral ceremony where his life story was read.

Abune Mercurius  was born in Gondar from his father Belata Fenta and His mother Lemlem Gesese where he was also raised until he went to Gojjam for furthering his education. He was considered something of a liturgical expert, and served for many years at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa. Abba Ze-Libanos was raised to the rank of Bishop by Patriarch Abuna Takla Haymanot in 1976 over his home province of Beghemidir (then known as Gondar Province), taking the name Mercurius. Abune Mercurius served as Archbishop of Gondar until he became Patriarch of Ethiopia in 1988. Abune Mercurius ‘ tenure of Archbishop of Gondar included the period known as the “Red Terror” in Ethiopia, and which was carried out with particular brutality in the town and province of Gondar under the governorship of Melaku Teferra, a particularly notorious member of the Derg. Abune Mercurius would later face accusations of not only having kept silent during the horrors of the “Red Terror” in Gondar, but of having a particularly close relationship with Governor Melaku. In a sign of the favor of the Derg regime, in 1986, Abune Mercurius was appointed one of a very small and select group of clergy to serve as a member of the Shengo, the national parliament set up by the Derg when it proclaimed the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia that year. He remained a member of the parliament until his enthronement as Patriarch. These allegations of closeness to the Communist Derg regime helped undermine the Patriarch, when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power.

An Ethiopian bishop and the Fourth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Incarnation Church was elected after the death of Abuna Takla Haymanot in May 1988. Abune Mercurius remained Patriarch for three years until 1991, when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew the Communist military junta known as Derg in Addis Ababa. After spending almost three decades living in exile, he was allowed to return to Addis Ababa and be recognized as Patriarch alongside Abune Mathias.

Abune Mercurius was ousted by EPRDF regime in 1991, particularly on the orders of then Prime Minister Tamrat Layne. He was followed on the throne of the Ethiopian Church by Abune Paulos, the fifth official patriarch of the church, although many Ethiopian churches in the diaspora continued to recognize Abune Mercurius as Patriarch in opposition to Paulos. The following year he fled to Kenya, later relocating to the United States in 1997, where churches had begun to secede from the synod in Ethiopia following the leadership of Abuna Isaac. These churches formed a synod in exile and eventually both synods were mutually excommunicated.

In 2011, a Wikileaks cable was released in which former Prime Minister Tamrat Layne, during a 5 January 2009 meeting with U.S. ambassador Donald Yamamoto, revealed that “he wants to assist in the reconciliation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church based in America, because he signed the order that removed the original patriarch and bifurcated the church.”

Efforts to heal the threatened schism had shown promising results through late 2011 and early 2012. However, the sudden deaths of both Patriarch Abune Paulos and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi caused efforts to slow down as the synod in Ethiopia went through a leadership transition. During the reconciliation negotiations, the synod in exile insisted that Abune Mercurius be allowed to resume the Patriarchal throne, something that neither the synod in Ethiopia nor the Ethiopian government was willing to consider. With the election of Abune Mathias as the 6th Patriarch of Ethiopia on 28 February 2013, reconciliation talks were ended for the time being.

The two rival synods began anew, and on 27 July 2018 representatives from both synods reached an agreement. According to the terms of the agreement, Abune Mercurius was reinstated as Patriarch alongside Abune Mathias, who will continue to be responsible for administrative duties, and the two synods were merged into one synod, with any excommunications between them lifted.