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Surrounded by steep escarpments to the north, south and east, Ethiopia has always been geographically and culturally set apart. It has the longest archaeological record of any country in the world
Indeed, this precipitous mountain land was where the human race began. It is also home to an ancient church with a remarkable legacy. The Ethiopian Church forms the southern branch of historic Christianity. It is the only pre-colonial church in sub-Saharan Africa, originating in one of the earliest Christian kingdoms-with its king Ezana (supposedly descended from the biblical Solomon) converting around 340 CE. Since then it has maintained its long Christian witness in a region dominated by Islam; today it has a membership of around forty million and is rapidly growing.
The Church of Ethiopia (or formally, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) has a recognized place in worldwide Christianity as one of five non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches. As Dr Binns shows, it has developed a distinctive approach which makes it different from all other churches. Dr Binns will discuss why this happened and how these special features have shaped the life of the Christian people of Ethiopia. He discusses the famous rock-hewn churches; the Ark of the Covenant (claimed by the Church and housed in Aksum); the medieval monastic tradition; relations with the Coptic Church; co-existence with Islam; missionary activity; and the Church's venerable oral traditions, especially the discipline of qene-a kind of theological reflection couched in a unique style of improvised allegorical poetry. There is also a sustained exploration of how the Church has been forced to re-think its identity and mission as a result of political changes and upheaval following the overthrow of Haile Selassie (who ruled as Regent, 1916-1930, and then as Emperor, 1930-74) and beyond.
Revd Dr John Binns is a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies and was Vicar of Great St Mary’s the University Church Cambridge. He is a retired Anglican priest who started his priesthood in Southwark Diocese. Dr Binns has a long commitment to building understanding between churches of east and west. He studied at the Serbian Orthodox Theological Faculty at Belgrade (1972); and was awarded a PhD degree by Kings College London for his thesis on Cyril of Scythopolis (1986).
He has been Chair of Trustees of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, and was a founding director of the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies. His publications include Ascetics and Ambassadors of Christ, the Monasteries of Palestine 314-631 (OUP 1994) and An Introduction to the Christian Orthodox Churches (CUP 2002). The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia: A History (IB Tauris 2017)