United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

Former Eritrean Orthodox leader excommunicated and accused of 'heresy'

Sun 21 Jul 2019
By Cara Bentley

Fears have arisen for Patriarch Abune Antonios's health as he is expelled from the Church. 

On Wednesday, a statement from five senior Eritrean Orthodox bishops accused Patriarch Abune Antonios of heresy, stripping him of his official authority. 

Patriarch Abune Antonios was the former head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, a state-registered denomination. 

He was deposed in 2006 for repeatedly objecting to government interference in ecclesiastical affairs and refusing to expel 3000 members of the Church’s Sunday school movement. 



The bishops stated this week that the EOC (Eritrean Orthodox Church) would continue providing him with food and shelter despite his excommunication. 

However, in a video from April 2019, the patriarch, who is severely diabetic and suffers from high blood pressure, described how his fellow clergy had abandoned him and did not care for his health or wellbeing.

He is currently living in the ‘servant’s quarters’ of a villa inhabited by Bishop Lukas, who is widely thought to harbour ambitions of becoming patriarch, and another pro-government bishop.

His removal in 2006 cemented the government’s control of the EOC and created a schism in the Church. 

On 18 July, the patriarch’s case was highlighted by Eritrean Gospel singer and former prisoner of conscience Helen Berhane, who raised it with President Trump

Later, the patriarch’s case was highlighted by Vice President Mike Pence. He said: “Abune Antonios continues an already 12-year-long house arrest because he refuses to ex-communicate critics of the government in his church.”

Religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We reiterate our call for Abune Antonios’ unconditional release and reinstatement, and urge representatives of sisterly Oriental Orthodox churches to visit him, not only to ensure his reinstatement and wellbeing, but also to facilitate healing and reconciliation within the Church, which has been damaged by political exigencies in violation canon law.

"We also appeal to the international community to make urgent representations with the Eritrean authorities regarding the patriarch’s current situation, calling for his immediate release and restoration, and leaving the government in no doubt its responsibility for his continued wellbeing.”


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