Christianity has long existed as a religion in Ethiopia since the reign of King Ezana of Axum in 330 AD. The largest dominion of the faith in the country is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which belongs to the Eastern Churches of Christianity.
During the early days of Christianity’s acceptance into the known world, the Eastern Orthodox Churches remained close, but suddenly split after the Council of Ephesus in AD 431 due to disputes. Over 1,500 years later, Emperor Haile Selassie I attempted to show unity to the various churches that had not been seen in modern human history.
On January 15, 1965, Emperor Selassie brought together the five church leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa, bringing together various sects of Christianity after several schisms were of the highest priority in his reign. The heads of the Eastern Churches came from Egypt, Syria, India and Armenia to join with the heads of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Tewahedo and the Emperor.
The conference lasted 15 days, which was ironic as Ephesus in 431 lasted 15 days. Some of the main conference discussions included cooperation despite differences and spiritual plurality as well as new discoveries in the age of science. The meeting participants included Pope Cyril VI (head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria), Mor Ignatius Ya`qub III (head of the Syriac Orthodox Church), Vazgen I (head of the Armenian Apostolic Church) , Khoren I (head of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia) and Baselios Augen I (head of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Malankara).
He was greeted by Abuna Basilios, head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Abuna Theophilos. Towards the end of the conference, HIM Haile Selassie I was venerated with the title of “Defender of the Faith” by the Patriarchs of the Eastern Orthodox Churches of the world.
The following year, the emperor would address the World Evangelical Conference in Berlin on how Christianity needed unity more than ever. An excerpt from his speech included the quote: “As the unity of the church is of great concern to us, and God willing, hoping that this sacred purpose could be achieved in our day, we were glad to have called a meeting of the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Churches in our capital, Addis Ababa, to deliberate on ways and means to achieve harmony and unity in the Church.
Indeed, the last Ethiopian monarch left his mark on the world; so much so that he would later be rewarded with other titles for his work and dedication to bringing together the different branches of Christianity and practicing daily. These included the Knight of the Chain Grand Cross Necklace of the Order of Pius IX and Knight of the Necklace of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem from the Holy See in 1970. Later the Grand Cross Necklace of the Order of the Orthodox Crusaders of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Grand Cordon of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Athenagoras Mount Athos Millennium Order and the Grand Cordon of the Order of Saint Paul of Greece.
Haile Selassie truly left a legacy not only for her family and people, but the whole world to learn in regards to religious education and understanding. Most of his lessons and philosophy can be found in the “Teachings of His Imperial Majesty,” which was the name of the crown during his reign.
Today, the world should unite more than ever in regard to the tragedies, suffering and persecutions announced by the emperor in one of his quotes from his life as an old man: “When the righteous Africans will reunite , the world will come together ”.
Today, many Africans and Rastafarians practice his teachings and regard the late emperor as a symbol of Pan-Africanism and resistance to colonialism. It could be argued that the emperor lived up to his titles – Lion of Judah, King of kings and chosen of God – titles bestowed on him as his supposed ancestors, King Solomon and Queen of Sheba.