Keepers of the Lost Ark

There are many worthy pilgrimage sites all over the world, but none can boast of anything approaching the Church of Ethiopia’s singular claim to fame: the Ark of the Covenant. Ethiopian Christians maintain that the Ark, the portable shrine holding the stone tablets of the original Ten Commandments that were written atop Mount Sinai by the Finger of God, and bearing (according to numerous Old Testament accounts) the Presence and Power of God, was brought to Ethiopia in 950 B.C. Menelik, son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, is said to have taken it there, and it is now housed in a modest chapel next door to the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum, a city in northern Ethiopia.

However, before you book a flight to Addis Ababa and flag down the next land rover for a lift to Axum, be aware that while Ethiopians insist that the Ark is there, no one is actually allowed to see it. No one, that is, except the High Priest of Axum, an aged monk who is charged with protecting the Ark and is expected to spend his days doing nothing else. Indeed, he can’t do anything else, for he is confined to the chapel that houses the Ark, and a small yard outside.

On his deathbed he is charged with designating his own successor, who may be forgiven for taking the duty as a dubious blessing: the Ethiopians remember and take very seriously all the Old Testament prohibitions on touching the Ark, and the accounts of its fearsome holy power. One British explorer who tried to get permission to see the Ark recounted what the monks told him, sounding as if he were reading from the script of the next Indiana Jones movie:

If I approached the Ark I would be punished. The theory is that it would become invisible and unleash upon me its terrible power. I would be killed outright, probably incinerated.

Yet the Ark was not always kept so hidden. In the late 1100s, a Coptic priest known as Abu Salih the Armenian wrote a description of the churches and monasteries of Egypt and the surrounding areas. In it, he noted almost casually that “the Abyssinians possess also the Ark of the Covenant.” He explained that four times a year, Ethiopian priests would celebrate the Divine Liturgy using the Ark for an altar: on Christmas, Theophany (the Great Feast of the Baptism of the Lord), Easter, and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In more recent times, the Ark would be taken out in processions, but endless wars and oppressive anti-Christian regimes led to the discontinuing of such processions.

Many people doubt that the Ark is really in the Church of St. Mary of Zion or anywhere else in Ethiopia, and the head of the Ethiopian Church did not help matters on June 25, 2009, when His Holiness Abuna Paulos, Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum and one of the seven serving Presidents of the World Council of Churches, announced that he would place the Ark on display the following day. When the next day dawned, however, he changed his mind.

Whether or not it really possesses the Ark, the Church in Ethiopia has an illustrious history. It traces its origins to an incident recounted in the Acts of the Apostles (8:26-39), when Philip the deacon encounters on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza “an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.” With a fine disregard for RCIA requirements, the Ethiopian asks to be baptized right then and there, after hearing Philip explain the words of the prophet Isaiah. Philip complies.

The Ethiopian “went on his way rejoicing,” presumably back to the court of the Ethiopian Queen Gersamot Hendeke (or Candace) VII, who reigned from 42 to 52 A.D. Early in the fourth century, St. Frumentius, a Christian from Tyre who grew up as slave of the Emperor of Axum, converted his former master’s son, the new Emperor, Ezana. The Christian community grew so rapidly that Ezana sent Frumentius to Alexandria to ask Pope St. Athanasius, the hero of the Council of Nicaea that had elaborated the doctrines of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ, to appoint a hierarch for the Church in Ethiopia. Athanasius complied by sending Frumentius himself back to Ethiopia as the Abuna (Father), the Archbishop of the Ethiopian Church. Frumentius became known as Abba Selama, Kesaté Birhan — Father of Peace, Revealer of Light.

Even though Alexandria willingly supplied the Ethiopians with a hierarch, the Alexandrian patriarchate stipulated that the Abuna of the Ethiopians must be an Egyptian, and actually prohibited Ethiopians from holding hierarchical positions in their own Church. This curious rule, unparalleled anywhere else in the Christian world, remained in effect for nearly 1,600 years, until 1959, when the Coptic Orthodox Church granted autonomy to the Ethiopian Church.

Because of its close ties to Alexandria, it is not surprising that the Church of Ethiopia refused to accept the Council of Chalcedon, and went into schism with the rest of the Alexandrian patriarchate. The Ethiopian Church began to refer to itself as the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which is its official name to this day. Tewahedo is a Ge’ez word meaning “being made one” or “unified.” The Ethiopians took this name in order to emphasize their belief in the oneness of Christ, for which they had gone into schism: while the Council of Chalcedon declared that Christ had two natures, divine and human, the Ethiopian Church and the entire Patriarchate of Alexandria insisted that He had only one nature, hence the name “Monophysites”: one (mono) nature (physis). Ge’ez is the ancient language of the region, once the official language of the Axumite Empire — the Ethiopian answer to liturgical Latin.

The Monophysite schism is one of the most tragic in Church history, for it carried off what was at that time essentially half of Christendom over what was a quarrel more over words than meaning. Like the Church of Alexandria, the Ethiopian Church has always rejected the “Monophysite” label. An official history of the Church of Ethiopia declares:

The wrongly called Monophysites reject the allegation that they teach one Nature and one Person in Christ….The teaching of the Ethiopian Church is the faith of the Fathers expounded by the great theologians of the Alexandrine tradition, especially by St. Cyril and his illustrious theological followers. Accordingly the Ethiopian Church maintains that Christ is perfect God and perfect man, at once consubstantial with the Father and with us; the divinity and the humanity continuing in Him without mixture or separation, confusion or change. He is one and the same person both in his eternal pre-existence and also in the economy, in which he performs the redeeming work of God on behalf of man, from the indivisible state of union of Godhead and manhood.

This formula is entirely consistent with the Council of Chalcedon, yet because the Chalcedonians understood the non-Chalcedonians’ statements in a heretical sense (and the latter returned the favor), a schism began that has never yet been healed. The Church of Ethiopia was effectively cut off from contact with all Christian bodies outside of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, and before too long the coming of Islam to Ethiopia further isolated the Ethiopian Church.

Ethiopia is famous in the early history of Islam because, according to Islamic tradition, when the Muslims were facing persecution from the Quraysh, the pagan Arabs of Mecca, the Islamic prophet Muhammad sent a group of Muslims to seek refuge in Ethiopia. Ashama ibn Abjar, the Emperor of Axum, welcomed them and was impressed by their confession of Jesus as the word of God and a prophet of God, born of a virgin. If they told Ashama that they also denied Christ’s divinity and salvific death and resurrection, it evidently didn’t faze him, for eventually, according to the Muslim tradition, Ashama converted to Islam himself. The Ge’ez word tewahedo, referring to Christ’s unity, became in Arabic tauhid, the fundamental Islamic principle of the unity of God — yet another indication of how strongly various elements of Eastern Christianity influenced the development of Islam.

Today Ethiopia is about one-third Muslim, with forty-six percent of the population belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, nineteen percent to Protestant sects, and less than one percent to the Ethiopian Catholic Church, which was formally established in 1930. Latin-Rite churches, however, have a longer history in Ethiopia: Portuguese traders established them in Ethiopia in the seventeenth century, and even converted an Ethiopian emperor, Susenyos, to Catholicism in 1624. Susenyos proclaimed Roman Catholicism the official religion of Ethiopia — a moved that proved to be so wildly unpopular that Susenyos had to abdicate under pressure in 1632 in favor of his son, Fasilides. Fasilides defused the crisis by restoring the official status of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (which it held until the Communist takeover of the 1970s), expelling the Jesuits from the country, and ordering incinerated all the “books of the Franks.”

Although some European missionaries in the nineteenth century used the Ethiopian liturgies while they were in the country, there was no Eastern Church in communion with Rome in Ethiopia until the Ethiopian Catholic Church was founded. Today, while there are many countries in which Eastern Catholics are under the jurisdiction of the local Roman Catholic bishop, Ethiopia the former Ethiopian province of Eritrea (where most Christians are Ethiopian Orthodox) is the only country in the world in which all the Catholics who live there, including Latin-Rite Catholics, are in the care of the local Eastern Catholic hierarchy.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Ethiopian Catholic Church share a rich liturgical tradition. The Ethiopian Liturgy is derived from the Church of Alexandria’s Divine Liturgy of St. Mark, considerably elaborated: it boasts no fewer than fourteen Anaphoras, or Eucharistic Prayers, although only one is in general use and the others reserved for particular feast days. Three deacons are required for the celebration of the Liturgy, which creates a high demand for deacons that may be the chief reason why the Tewahedo Church (although not the Ethiopian Catholic Church) ordains young boys as deacons.

Today this Church, and the people who have so lovingly protected and preserved it for so many centuries, is – like all the strains of Eastern Christianity – increasingly endangered. Muslims make up only one-third of the Ethiopian population, but they are in in recent years in Ethiopia (as in many other parts of the world) growing markedly more assertive and aggressive. In March 2011, a Muslim mob in Ethiopia burned down 69 churches and displaced thousands of people in riots triggered by rumors that a Christian had desecrated a copy of the Qur’an. Then last April, four Muslims went to Kale Hiwot church, a Protestant church in Worabe (a predominantly Muslim area of Ethiopia) and told the pastor, Abraham Abera, that one of his closest friends was seriously ill and that he should visit him immediately. Once they had convinced Abera to go with them, they turned on him and beat him to death. When his pregnant wife ran up to try to save him, they began beating her as well. One of the attackers made their motive clear, saying: “You (Christians) are growing in number in our area. You are spreading your message (the gospel). We will destroy you.” And in November, a mob of 500 Muslims, including policemen, shouted “Allahu akbar” (Allah is greatest) as they burnt down a church that they claimed had been built without the proper permits, although it had been standing on that spot for over sixty years.

These incidents are likely to become more frequent as the “Arab Spring” brings still more violence and fanaticism to the Muslim nations surrounding Ethiopia. As we pray for the Church in Ethiopia, we should also hope that they really do have the Ark, and it really does work they way they say it does. In that case, no one will be able entirely to overcome the venerable and heroic Church of Ethiopia.


Robert Spencer is the author of several critically acclaimed books about Islam, including the New York Times bestsellers The Truth about Muhammad and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is a columnist for FrontPage Magazine and the director of Jihad Watch.

  • Brennan

    I also heard an interview with a man who had been to Ethiopia and the church of the Ark of the Covenant more than once. He said that the monk he spoke too had cataracts in his eyes and was almost blind. He said this is what normally happened to the monk who was charged with overseeing the Ark, and this overseer most likely would not live too long.

    Interesting comments, but of course I am unable to verify this personally.

    • Mel Middleton

      Brennan, I met the monk in 1989 in Axum during the civil war there. I didn’t notice if he had cataracts but he certainly had poor eyesight. And he was a very interesting man, relating to me in detail the whole history of how the Ark came to Ethiopia, where it had rested, as well as the rather sordid tale of how King Solomon seduced the Queen of Sheba, who bore Ethiopia’s first emperor — Menelik I.

  • Howard

    Read 2 Maccabees chapter 2.

  • Joseph J. Tembreull

    I spent several years in prison and am familiar with Islam and it’s followers. I’m sure some will say that you shouldn’t judge the “religion” of islam by prison experience; all I can say is that the face of this cult is pretty much the same wherever it is allowed to flourish.
    Fortunately for the muslim world that our Blessed Popes are much more patient and prudent than I; were I in their position I would have declared the next Crusade against this abomination already.

    • mc

      Joseph, keep in mind that its the Islamic ideology and sharia law that we need to fight and resist and NOT Muslims as people.

      After reading the Koran, I now understand why some turn to violent and supremist behaviour.

      From my reading im also a bit more sympathetic, because I understand that they have been brainwashed into thinking that violent jihad is expected by God.

  • Cord Hamrick

    Yes, I also am uncertain how the Ethiopian claim to have the Ark of the Covenant can be reconciled with 2 Maccabees 2 being inerrant Sacred Scripture, and thus with the Catholic faith. (Or, for that matter, the faith of the Copts and other Eastern Churches who, after all, also regard the deuterocanon to be, well, canon.)

    Very puzzling. Can anyone help enlighten us about this?

  • Jim

    The Ge’ez Rite holds the Liturgy every Sunday in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, Massachusetts.

    ad Iesu per Mariam.

  • David Owens

    The ark of the covenant? Really? Spencer just lost all credibility.

    • mc

      from Roberts article I’m pretty sure that he did state that the ethopian church “claimed ” to have the ark. Also Robert did gently allude to the fact that the ark might not be there, but it was a subtle.

      While anything is possible, especially when is comes to God, I think the fact that no one else is allowed to see the ark, is a big red flag that it might be a hoax.

      Also not allowing pilgrims to venerate holy relics seems to really go against the grain of orthodox tradition and devotion.

      Its also worth mentioning that the Ethiopian church is not in communion with mainstream orthodoxy ie eastern orthodoxy.

    • Mel Middleton

      Why would he lose credibility? Have you read the “Sign and the Seal”, by Graham Hancock, who documented the evidence of the Ark’s presence in Ethiopia? And can you account for the fact that up until the time of Solomon, the Ark is the centerpiece of the Jewish faith, but it receives no mention afterwards. Why would that be? In 1989, during the civil war in northern Ethiopia, I was a food aid monitor on behalf of a consortium of aid agencies. I got stranded for some days in Axum (which at the time was under “rebel” (now the current regime in power) forces. I was allowed to meet the priest whose job it was to guard the Ark. His description of it convinced me that it was very possible…even probable, that what he was describing was the real thing.

      • Howard

        “The Sign and the Seal” was a sorry excuse for a book. Hancock got weirder and weirder as it went on, tapping obelisks and listening to them ring (as though that had anything to do with the Ark) and writing down speculations in his notebook, then acting as though their presence in the notebook was some sort of independent confirmation of his original speculations.

        • Mel Middleton

          Howard, do I dedect some ecclesiastical jealousy? I get similar responses from other Catholics when I relate my experiences in Ethiopia. (I’m assuming you are Catholic since you referred us all to Macabees, a document which is not regarded as canonical by most Protestants.) Hancock’s obelisks aside, what he wrote about the Ark’s journeys up the Nile, its resting in Lake Tana, and other locations in Ethiopia, can be verified if one takes the time to follow his footsteps.

          • Howard


            I was Protestant when I read Hancock’s book, though now that you mention it, I did notice even then that he showed no awareness of the Maccabees passage. I was doing a lot of reading outside the normal Protestant range — including 3 and 4 Esdras, which are not part of the Catholic canon — and the omission showed that Hancock was a careless researcher.

            As I say, the bizarre egocentrism was also a huge warning flag. General Tommy Franks did the same kind of thing in his autobiography — he started quoting his own poetry (which was nothing to be proud of) and referring to himself in the 3rd person, at which time I’d had enough of his book.

            I thought Hancock’s conjectures were interesting, despite his faults as a writer and a researcher, but they were ultimately nothing but conjectures.

    • I’ve lost credibility so many times in the eyes of so many readers for different things they objected to in various writings of mine, it is amazing that I still have any readers at all. I’ve lost credibility for quoting the Qur’an and Muhammad and showing how jihadis use them to justify violence. I’ve lost credibility for revealing Rick Perry’s close ties to Grover Norquist and his whitewashed Islam curriculum for Texas Public Schools. I’ve lost credibility for offering to debate opponents who declined my offer. I’ve lost credibility for buying John Zmirak a beer.

      But in this case, the other commenter is correct: I never claimed that the Ethiopian Church really had the actual Ark of the Covenant. They certainly think they do, however. It is rather like when jihadis breathe threats and murder against non-Muslims, and then I report what they say and for doing so am charged with “hate.” The hate is theirs, not mine, and the Ark is the Ethiopians’.

  • Andrew

    There are at least two factual difficulties with this article.

    First, as a Catholic, Mr. Spencer ought to have at least mentioned the Biblical explanation for what happened to the Ark. Namely, that Jeremiah the prophet, according to divine instruction, removed the Ark from the Temple and buried it on Mount Nebo, after which it was never to be seen again until God revealed his glory. (Cue Revelation 11-12, when the Ark is seen again in Heaven and turns out to be a Lady clothed in the sun, with a crown of twelve stars and the moon at her feet.) Mount Nebo is, of course, the same mountain where Moses, under whose guidance the Ark had been built, was buried and from which he was assumed (hint, hint). The fact that Mr. Spencer doesn’t even mention the inspired account of what happened to the Ark from 2 Maccabees is pretty unsettling. This account and not the credibility (or lack thereof) of the Ethiopians is the primary reason why CATHOLICS generally don’t believe the Ark to be at Axum.

    Second, I imagine the EIGHT (Latin Rite) Vicars Apostolic assigned to the Vicariates Apostolic of Awasa (Givoanni Migliorati), Gambelli (Angelo Moreschi), Harar (Woldetensae Ghebreghiorghis), Hosanna (Woldeghiorghis Mathewos), Jimma-Bonga (Markos Ghebremedhin), Meki (Abraham Desta), Nekemte (Theodorus van Ruijven), and Soddo (Rodrigo Mejia Saldarriaga) will be very surprised to hear that the local Latin Rite faithful are not under their care. The country that Mr. Spencer meant to refer to, the one which really is the only one in the world where all Catholics, including those of the Latin Rite, are subject to Eastern Catholic hierarchs, is not Ethiopia, but Eritrea.

    I am disappointed both in Mr. Spencer and in Crisis for these errors.

    • John Zmirak

      Yes, Andrew. You have every reason to be disappointed that Crisis doesn’t fact check every minor assertion in every paragraph of every article. After all, we do have the resources of a major world newspaper at our disposal–why aren’t we using them? It’s a crime, I tell you.

      Here’s what I’d like you to do, Andrew: Spare yourself future disappointments like this (which are sure to recur) by NEVER, NEVER reading Crisis again, okay?

      We will starve to death in your absence.


    • Andrew is quite right. The Ethiopia/Eritrea confusion is my error, for which I apologize. At one point I inadvertently saved over the latest version of this piece, and had to reconstruct my most recent edits, but I neglected this one. The sentence in question should have read (and I hope it can be changed now): “Today, while there are many countries in which Eastern Catholics are under the jurisdiction of the local Roman Catholic bishop, the former Ethiopian province of Eritrea, where most Christians are Ethiopian Orthodox, is the only country in the world in which all the Catholics who live there, including Latin-Rite Catholics, are in the care of the local Eastern Catholic hierarchy.”

      As for 2 Maccabees 2, I didn’t mention it because I didn’t want this entire piece to be about the Ark, and it is a vexed question. 2 Maccabees 2 is in the Ethiopian canon of Scripture too, and for some reason it doesn’t trouble them. In it, Jeremiah hides the Ark and then says this about the place where he has hidden it: “The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear…”

      Does this absolutely mean that the Ark is still where Jeremiah has hidden it? I wish things were that easy. But given that in Scripture also, the Lord says that “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power,” one would think that attentive readers would realize that Biblical statements about “the glory of the Lord,” “the kingdom of God,” and God’s “power” do not necessarily mean what they might appear to mean at first glance.

  • Howard

    By the way, there are a few possible “outs” to reconcile 2 Maccabees with the Ethiopian claim, if not their whole historical explanation.

    1. “Now it is found in the descriptions of Jeremias the prophet …. And these same things were set down in the memoirs and commentaries of Nehemias: and how he made a library, and gathered together out of the countries, the books both of the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings. and concerning the holy gifts.” It doesn’t simply say that Jeremiah hid the Ark; it says that certain records describe Jeremiah hiding the Ark. It might be that the records, though accurately summarized, where themselves wrong. Maybe.

    2. “And when Jeremias perceived it, he blamed them, saying: The place shall be unknown, till God gather together the congregation of the people, and receive them to mercy.” One might argue that this happened when the 2nd Temple was built. Maybe. However, there seems to be no evidence of the Ark being recovered at that time. Instead, it seems to refer to the end of time. I think it also foreshadows the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    • Cord Hamrick


      Yes. I can think of a third possible “out” similar to your first one: That the Ethiopian story about Menelik was accurate, that they swapped one ark for another and took the original to Arabia / Africa, leaving the copy in Jerusalem…and that that is what Jeremiah ended up hiding.

      But that explanation leaves a bad taste in my mouth: You wouldn’t think Jeremiah, a true prophet of God, would be able to be fooled about something like that.

      • Howard

        Jeremiah did not write 2 Maccabees. He may well not have written the “descriptions”, either — he seems to have been the subject of them, not necessarily the author.

        When Scripture says, “This is what is written somewhere in a non-inspired document,” I’m not sure the contents of that non-inspired document have to be taken as *guaranteed*. Maybe. But you’re right; this does leave a bad taste in the mouth.

        As I wrote below, I think it is more likely that the copy is in Ethiopia, and the original is still hidden.

  • Mel Middleton

    When I was in Axum in 1989 and met the priest/monk who guarded the Ark, I was told that it had been moved from St. Mary’s church and taken to a secret cave named Bate Giorgis (House of George). They moved it because they were afraid that the Communist government would take it and sell it for weapons if the army was able to retake the town from the rebel TPLF forces (who are now the government in Addis). I was also told by the TPLF cadre leader there that the Israeli government had approached the TPLF and asked them to return the Ark to Jerusalem.

    • Howard

      So, you believe that it is the real Ark, because the priest who watches over it told you he believed it to be real. Do you also believe the story about it being brought to Ethiopia by the son of David and the Queen of Sheba, which he would have told you he also believed? Or do you believe instead the story concocted in “The Sign and the Seal”, in which the Ethiopians are right about having the real Ark but wrong about how they got it?

      I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the Ethiopians, but it is just as likely as any of the above scenarios that a copy of the Ark was made long ago — after all, the construction of the Ark is clearly specified in Exodus. This may have been done honestly, as something to PLAY THE SAME ROLE as the original, perhaps in the Jewish temple built by Onias. Or it may have been done dishonestly; certainly there has been a dishonest trade in relics in the past and antiquities today (think of the recent “James Ossuary”). In either event, it would be easy for subsequent generations to confuse the substitute for the original.

      • Mel Middleton

        I’m not dogmatic about it. But I think the evidence for it is compelling. I would lean more to the original Ethiopian story (Menelik switching the arks) than Hancock’s account. The main reason for this is the sudden Biblical silence on the Ark following the time of King Solomon, who obviously would have had a lot of egg on his face. Whereas prior to him, it was the centerpiece of the Jewish faith. And why would an athiest TPLF cadre tell me that they had been approached by the Israeli gov’t for its return? Also, James Bruce, the Scottish explorer who “discovered” the source of the Blue Nile claims to have seen the Ark. So it hasn’t always been so restricted from viewing. I’d bet on it being the real thing.

  • Rebecca

    The Ark isn’t in Ethiopia. It’s in a US government warehouse after it was rescued from the Nazis by Indiana Jones.

    On a more serious note, the point the author was trying to make, imo, is NOT that the Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia, but rather that the Ethiopian people BELIEVE that they have the Ark of the Covenant. The veracity of their claim is irrelevent.

    In the same way, Muhammed did not receive the Koran from God, but that does not change the fact that 1 billion people believe that he did.

    On an even more serious note, how is it that I am the first person to reply with a mention of Indiana Jones? Troubling.

    • Howard

      Don’t worry — we were all thinking about it! 🙂

      I bet a poll of Americans would show the Indiana Jones scenario as the 1st or 2nd most widely believed. Probably #1 would be the idea that it was destroyed by the Babylonians.

  • Eric Giunta

    I think it worth keeping in mind that the “historical” books of the Old Testament are not modern Western histories, and because of this we need to grant the inspired authors a significant degree of artistic license.

    Everything related in the Bible is true, and some of it actually happened. One does not have to assert the precise factuality of II Maccabees’ discussion of the subject in order to properly uphold its inspiration or inerrancy.

    The Church’s shepherding authority has adopted a much more liberal (in the best sense of the word) understanding of the possibilities of inerrancy and inspiration than internet pop-apologetics tends to give credit to.

  • Eric Giunta

    Also, to add to what Mr Spencer wrote about the ordination of child deacons: historically, the Ethiopian Orthodox ordained children and even *infants* to the diaconate and even the priesthood. Latin missionaries were astounded by the practice, but the theological consensus was (and still is, by the way) that these ordinations are perfectly valid; an infant can be validly ordained for the same reason they can be validly baptized and confirmed. Though, given the responsibilities of the priesthood, the Catholic Church’s discipline forbids such and regards them to be illicit (but still valid).

    I suspect the Ethiopians ordained infants (the children of clergy) for the same reason they maintain a lot of odd customs: this is a very Judaized church. Ethopian Christians traditionally circumcize their children, and celebrate the Sabbath with great solemnity, refraining from manual labor. They also don’t eat pork, and if I’m not mistaken celebrate many other Jewish rites (Christianized, naturally).

  • Greenman

    Mr. Spencer, you have given us much information in this article. I’m thankful for some of the comments that have added a personal dimension to the story. I must say that I do not know much about Aksum or the Ark other than what The Discovery Channel or PBS has put out. I’m happy to see the article from a Catholic perspective. I look forward to researching the story some more.